Publication: News24 Issued: Date: 2004-05-07 Reporter: Iaine Harper Reporter: Sapa

ANC Scopa Chair 'is Bad News'




Date 2004-05-07


Iaine Harper, Sapa

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Cape Town - Parliament's ability to hold the African National Congress to account is being undermined by the appointment of "ANC super-loyalist" Vincent Smith to chair the public accounts committee (Scopa), says the Democratic Alliance.

DA deputy chief whip Mike Ellis said on Friday that Smith's appointment was unprecedented, and now left all of the most important watchdog institutions directly under ANC leadership.

"Parliament's ability to hold the ANC to account is now further undermined, and it becomes increasingly difficult for these institutions to claim independence from the ruling party," he said.

With the appointment of Smith, Scopa had now become the latest victim of the ANC's publicly stated goal to ensure the party leadership in "all parastatals and statutory bodies in order of importance" and in civil society.

The public protector, the national director of public prosecutions, and almost all Chapter Nine institutions were headed by ANC loyalists.

Woods 'systematically marginalised'

Now, the ANC finally controlled Scopa as well, said Ellis.

Instead of being answerable to parliament, Scopa was now directly answerable to the ANC's national working committee.

This was confirmed by Smith in 2002, when he - as Scopa's interim chairman at the time - dismissed a plea from his predecessor, the IFP's Gavin Woods, to de-politicise Scopa.

Smith's response was that "if that means discarding ANC policy, we will say that will not happen".

Ellis said: "Woods resigned after he had been systematically marginalised by the ANC majority on the committee - a majority led by Smith - and following his decision to pursue irregularities in the multibillion-rand arms deal.

"Under the directorship of Smith, Scopa's independence was directly undermined and the investigation into the arms deal diluted."

At the time of his previous appointment, Smith had vowed that the ANC would honour the tradition of appointing a non-ANC parliamentarian to the position.

In stark contrast to other countries

Smith had stated "the ANC accepts without any reservations the principle of an opposition chair in this committee".

Ellis said: "Initially, the ANC gave chairmanship of the committee to its ally, the NNP, thereby negating any real independence.

"With the appointment of Smith, the ANC has reneged on this statement completely, and has clearly decided to by-pass any form of independent leadership.

"This decision stands in stark contrast to the situation in the vast majority of Commonwealth countries, including African democracies such as Kenya and Ghana, where an opposition MP chairs the public accounts committee," said Ellis.

With acknowledgements to Iaine Harper, Sapa and News24.