Chief Whip Out to Squash Arms Probe
|Editor||Carol Paton, Simon Zwane & Ranjeni Munusamy|
THE ANC's parliamentary Chief Whip, Tony Yengeni, has been putting pressure on members of the public accounts committee to halt the investigation into the multibillion-rand arms deal.
Several MPs and senior government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed this week that Yengeni had told ANC members of the committee in meetings over the past few weeks that the probe was not in the interests of the ANC and the government.
The probe was ordered after the Auditor-General, Shauket Fakie, found that there might have been irregularities in the granting of subcontracting tenders and that the cost of buying the weapons had escalated from R29-billion to R43-billion.
The public accounts committee, which monitors government spending, is overseeing a probe into the deal being conducted by the Auditor-General, the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Public Protector and the Heath Special Investigating Unit.
The committee is chaired by the Inkatha Freedom Party's Gavin Woods but has an ANC majority. Senior government officials and members of the ANC's national executive committee said this week that Yengeni and other senior ANC leaders had been trying to influence ANC committee members to squash the probe. Yengeni was previously chairman of Parliament's portfolio committee on defence.
The Sunday Times understands that attempts to strong-arm the committee members have been rebuffed by Deputy President Jacob Zuma and the Minister of Defence, Mosiuoa Lekota, who are said to want a "cleanout" of anyone taking kickbacks.
Two weeks ago, Zuma overruled attempts by the Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad, to put pressure on the ANC MPs to back off from the inquiry. Despite Pahad's denials that he had tried to have the probe stopped, senior ANC members who attended the meeting of the ANC's governance committee said he had spoken out against the process. But Zuma, who spoke after Pahad had left the meeting, stressed it should proceed. Zuma has also told Yengeni to stop interfering.
A senior official in the Ministry of Defence said this week that a forensic audit would go ahead, "despite massive political pressure", and that Lekota was determined to have a "proper clean-out". Zuma and Lekota's aides yesterday referred all queries to the ANC.
ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said it was "just a rumour that some high-ranking members had voiced their reluctance". "That process has got to go ahead and any person found wanting on the issue will have to face the wrath of the law and the wrath of the discipline of the ANC."
Yengeni's spokesman, Dennis Cruywagen, said there was "no attempt on the part of anybody to stop the investigation".
With acknowledgement to Carol Paton, Simon Zwane, Ranjeni Munusamy and the Sunday Times.