Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2004-06-13 Reporter: Brendan Boyle

Dignified Mr Fix-It Tasked With Defusing Ngcuka-Mushwana



Sunday Times

Date 2004-06-13


Brendan Boyle

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Ismail Vadi, the soft-spoken historian plucked from the obscurity of Parliament's back benches to manage the ruling ANC's most vicious political row, is hoping to repair the damage he fears has been done to two critical institutions of democracy.

Vadi, 44, is chairman of the special committee considering Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana's damning report on Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka's handling of a corruption probe against Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

Mushwana found that Ngcuka had violated Zuma's right to dignity and recommended that Parliament make him account for his actions. He said Ngcuka should also face censure for refusing to co-operate with the office of the Public Protector.

After two days of preliminary fencing between the ANC's dominant 10-member contingent and the joint opposition's seven committee members, Vadi has won respect for his calm control.

He diverted Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille's early call for votes on procedural disputes that would have polarised the committee before it had started to discuss issues of substance.

He calmed incipient personal arguments and deftly dodged decisions that could have hardened attitudes in an already brittle atmosphere.

"We must keep up the dignity of Parliament. People should feel free to express any view that they have without being shouted down," he said.

Much hard work still awaits Vadi next week, when the two sides will engage on matters of substance that could see ANC heavyweights brought under unwelcome scrutiny.

A key question to resolve will be whether Ngcuka's request to be heard should be granted.

De Lille and the Democratic Alliance insist he should be heard while ANC members have yet to take a position but appear to be reluctant.

Ngcuka promised recently, in a partial apology for insults directed at Mushwana, to "tear the report to shreds".

Vadi would not reveal his position, but insisted that the committee should not reopen Mushwana's investigation. Instead, Parliament should support the work of the prosecutor and the protector, he said.

Citing chapter three of the Constitution, on co-operative government, Vadi said: "All organs of state should co-operate with each other in promoting broad democratic values and efficient governance."

Vadi said he did not believe the inquiry was about people, but rather about a clash between the offices of the Public Protector and the National Prosecuting Authority.

"It is not about supporting one institution against the other. Our task, as the National Assembly, is to restore and defend the dignity of those institutions..."

One challenge is likely to be over opposition calls for access to documents referred to in Mushwana's report, but only partially quoted from.

The ANC team's mandate appears to be to stick to Mushwana's report.

But De Lille and DA delegates Sheila Camerer and Raenette Taljaard argued for access to the complete texts as well as to video coverage of the August 23 news conference at which Ngcuka said he had evidence of corruption by Zuma, but not enough to guarantee a conviction.

"The ANC members are trying to throw up a wall. They're terrified of letting this inquiry get out of hand," said Camerer.

With ANC members already on record as saying the report is all they need to reach an opinion, the committee is heading for a tough week.

With acknowledgements to Brendan Boyle and the Sunday Times.