Committee to Seek Legal Opinion Over Controversial Arms Report
Cape Town - Parliament's ad hoc committee set up to assess the work of auditor-general Shauket Fakie agreed on Friday to seek legal opinion on whether it could or should investigate allegations that he had doctored his final report that had exonerated the government of any irregularities in the controversial arms deal.
Chairman Barbara Hogan said that this was in no way an attempt to sidestep a request by Democratic Alliance MP Eddie Trent that the ad hoc committee consider whether it should deal with the issue rather than the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), which processes Fakie's reports on government departments and entities.
Trent had argued that Scopa was too closely allied with Fakie's work and that the ad hoc committee, which was established late last year as an interim measure until the act governing the auditor-general went into effect and a permanent oversight committee was appointed, would be more appropriate.
Hogan said there was no doubt that the allegations about the reports were serious, but the committee had to consider carefully how "this process should be taken forward" and legal advice would be essential before any decision was taken.
"I do not want the impression gained that I am trying to forestall anything, but I think ... that there are pretty substantive issues here that would require us to apply our minds to," she said.
Hogan said she had been told that there were 36 draft reports and two tons of information on the arms deal in Fakie's office and she doubted whether any of the MPs on the committee had the stamina to go through it all. If they decided to go ahead with the inquiry they would probably need to look only at the last draft report and the final report.
But she had major concerns about "the quality, the substance of the allegations" printed in the media about major changes between the two reports.
Vincent Smith, the ANC's public accounts representative, had already said the party would have no objections to Fakie appearing before a committee of parliament to answer the allegations, but she had not yet been able to discuss this with him or Francois Beukman, the Scopa chairman.
The ad hoc committee also had to take Fakie's views on the situation into account. If he objected on the grounds that there was no substance to the allegations then more substantive proof would have to be presented to parliament before any investigation.
If he felt that he wanted to make certain facts known to parliament, even though there was no substance to the allegations, parliamentary hearings could be held.
Baleka Mbete, the speaker of the national assembly, had to be consulted while parliament had to take into account whether any further legal action was pending after defence contractor Richard Young had won a case to have the reports released to the public.
Her step-by-step approach was unanimously accepted by the committee.
Trent said it was clear that Hogan was "not fobbing off" the issue but had thought clearly about how to tackle it properly.
The committee meets again on Thursday.
With acknowledgements to Lynda Loxton and the Business Report.