Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2004-06-06 Reporter:

Time to Clear the Air Once and for All



Sunday Times

Date 2004-06-06


Insight Reporter

Web Link


Editorial Comment

So here we are nearly 12 months on, and we do not seem to have moved an inch. We entered the wintry months of last year with our top institutions of governance at each other's throats - the deputy president's office and the National Prosecuting Authority were the main belligerents in a vicious battle that involved players from almost every sector of society.

The events of the past week have shown us that despite the theatre of the Hefer Commission and veneer of harmony that prevailed during the pre-election period, the fault lines within the government and ruling party echelons are as stark as ever.

The turmoil, sparked by the NPA's investigation into allegations that Deputy President Jacob Zuma solicited a bribe from a company involved in the arms deal, has gone to the heart of internal ANC struggles.

NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka this week found himself having to apologise after he and former Justice minister Penuell Maduna threw a series of beer-hall insults at Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana. Mushwana had ruled that the two men had "unjustifiably infringed" Zuma's constitutional rights to dignity when they declared they would not prosecute the deputy president, even though there was prima facie evidence against him.

Those with rose-tinted glasses would argue that this spat is good for our democracy as it tests the strength of our institutions and sets their operational parameters.

But the fallout from South Africa's multi-billion rand arms deal has undermined the institutions that we have so painstakingly built. The first victim was Parliament, which was strong-armed into conducting the arms-deal inquiry in a manner the political leadership felt comfortable with.

Next in line was the Office of the Auditor General, which rightly or wrongly has been accused of creatively editing the 2001 multi-agency report into the arms deal.

The NPA has suffered the most damage, being accused by ruling-party mandarins of "dirty tricks of a special type" and being an apartheid-era outpost.

Now the Public Protector has also been drawn into the fray.

All of this is the result of obstinacy and poor political management. When questions of corruption were first raised, the government assured us that South Africa had achieved a historic feat by delivering the world's first clean arms deal. It has since emerged - through the government's own multi-agency investigation, the courts of law and intrepid journalism - that all was not well at the subcontract level.

But the government still insists that the first layer was corruption-proof; an assertion that opposition parties, losing bidders and peaceniks refuse to believe.

The saga will continue to eat away at the fabric of our political institutions unless the government relents to demands for a judicial inquiry into the entire arms deal.

The government has nothing to fear from such a process if there was nothing wrong with the first layer. If dodgy individuals took advantage of subcontracting, it is in the government's interest that this be aired in an open inquiry.

We will be able to put to rest the rumour-peddling and, most importantly, end the corrosion of public trust in our institutions of governance.

With acknowledgement to the Sunday Times.