Parties Seek Answers on Arms Report
Political parties have called for a judicial inquiry into whether the report to Parliament on the arms deal was indeed a cover-up, following the disclosure of large discrepancies between the drafts and the final version.
Draft versions of the report, provided to losing defence contractor C²I² after a lengthy legal battle, suggest that the final report was "sexed-down" in order to protect the contractual integrity of government's position in the R30 billion deal and to obscure the central role played by the late defence minister Joe Modise in selecting arms providers.
The changes were made during a period late in 2001 when the drafters of the report were allegedly involved in point-by-point discussions about its findings with government.
Discussions at this time included a meeting between Auditor-General Shauket Fakie, several government ministers and President Thabo Mbeki.
"Press reports indicating that the president and senior cabinet ministers allegedly removed any potentially embarrassing allegations of irregularities and fundamental flaws from the auditor general's draft arms-deal report, is further proof the controversy surrounding the arms deal will not go away until it is properly investigated by a judicial commission," said Democratic Alliance (DA) defence spokesman Eddie Trent.
The DA called for a judicial commission headed by a widely respected judge to investigate the serious questions that continue to hang over the heads of the auditor-general as well as Mbeki.
"Should the president fail to do so, he will send out a clear signal that his government is either unable or unwilling to deal decisively with the mounting allegations of corruption that continue to surround the arms deal."
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa agreed that a judicial commission would be the best option. "That would give them the best ammunition to restore confidence."
Holomisa said it was clear the auditor-general had betrayed the trust of Parliament. The commission should specifically be asked to evaluate his role, he said.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said she was not confident that another commission would work. A court might be a better forum, she said, suggesting that those who misled Parliament could be charged.
She said the heads of the agencies involved in the report, the auditor-general, the public protector and National Directorate of Public Prosecutions should explain to Parliament why they had made the changes involved.
Trent agreed the credibility and independence of the auditor general were now both severely compromised .
He said it appeared Fakie had faced political pressure.
Neither the presidency nor the ANC spokesman responded to inquiries about the arms-deal report yesterday.
With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen and the Business Day.