Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2005-01-28 Reporter: Ferial Haffajee Reporter:

Please Don't Rock My Boat



Mail and Guardian




Ferial Haffajee

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Ferial Haffajee asked Francois Beukmann, chairperson of Scopa, whether he would revisit the arms deal

After a recent court judgement, Richard Young received draft copies suggesting substantial government tampering with the auditor general's final arms deal report. Will Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) be looking at this?

One must go back two or three years ago. Allegations were made and we looked at documentation made available and submitted it to the House.

From what we could gather, there were no substantial changes to the draft report before the final one was released. It was adopted by all parties, including the official opposition. If the latest allegations are raised by members, we will discuss it. My approach is not to prejudge the outcome. It must be a consensus decision.

Were you concerned about the medial reports? Will you, as chairperson, raise it as a possible matter for investigation?

We are a post-mortem committee; we mainly focus on reports of the auditor general, although we can do investigations. I know there is criticism of our committee and its effectiveness, but since it has been reconstituted, we've had consensus decision-making all the way.

If there's a big issue, members can, and often do, raise it. But one should remember the nature of Scopa is looking at events after the fact.

The release of the draft reports is "after the fact" - it is not a process in motion?

We handled it in 2003. From press reports, it seems like the same issues.

Has the reputation of the Office of the Auditor General been damaged by the revelations. What can Scopa do about this?

The Office of the Auditor General is independent and reports to Scopa, though its accountability committee is different. Of course, it's important that his office be held in the highest esteem. At the end of the day, Chapter 9 institutions should play their role.

You seem very hesitant to reopen this can of worms

I would differ with you. It's more about approaches. It's a new Parliament, it's a new committee with seven new members. This committee must decide on ways to deal with the issue, guided by its new approaches. There are only a few members with the whole background of the arms deal since 2000, so the institutional memory is not deep. It's not a hesitation on my part, but if we want to have results by consensus we must have buy-in from everybody. In the past we learnt that for a chairperson to, on his own, make certain commitments without discussing creates difficulties. We're in a political environment, not the private sector.

With acknowledgements to Ferial Haffajee and the Mail & Guardian.