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STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
7 February 2001
INTERPRETATION OF SCOPA'S 14TH REPORT: DISCUSSION
Fourteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts
The committee attempted to interpret whether the intention of the meeting with the four agencies on 13 November in Pretoria had been merely exploratory or if the intention for all four agencies to investigate the defence procurement programme was clear. The four agencies were the Office of the Auditor General, the Public Protector, Independent Directorate for Serious Economic Offences.
Nair: Instead of political grandstanding -- the relevant ministers have already offered to brief SCOPA -- will any useful purpose be served now in trying to interpret what we intended with the report?
Woods: I share your concern, yet the work of SCOPA has been brought into question -- including the Speaker's intervention. The public worry means that we must address these concerns.
Taljaard: I echo Mr Nair's concern that the report has been adopted by the House, but we do need to answer Madam Speaker.
Doidge: It is encouraging that the Committee has agreed to an open meeting. The report is now a document of the National Assembly, plus several legal opinions. We must separate the letter from the Deputy President and the Speaker's briefing. There is no decision so far to challenge the Speaker. We are concerned not to engage in an acrimonious debate. On certain issues we may have to agree to disagree rather than get bogged down over what was intended on November 13.
Taljaard: There are allegations that SCOPA did not adopt the report.
Woods: Minutes are not a requirement of parliamentary committees.
Feinstein: It is crucial to keep the tradition of non-partisanship of this committee.
Woods: At the meeting of 24 January, it was decided to establish a sub-group, but now different proposals are being put forward.
Taljaard: I consider it problematic that SCOPA changes its policies mid-stream. I question why the Auditor General is contracting-in the expertise of the Special Investigating Unit, having excluded Heath.
Kannemeyer: How do we reconcile differing views?
Woods: All members of SCOPA have said that they stand by the report. It therefore does not serve much purpose to rehash the whole report, but only where there may be differences. The Speaker took it upon herself to issue a statement with input from the Executive. The Minister of Justice quoted from the Speaker. Was the President correctly informed? Similarly, the Deputy President suggested that I acted ultra vires. We need to know what the separation of powers means. We need to talk that through.
Taljaard: That is what I was seeking clarity on. Do we examine the 14th SCOPA report clause-by clause or do we consider a substantive report? What discussion are we holding?
Woods: On January 24 we decided to have a sub-group to reconstruct the meeting of November 13. Can the groups now report back?
Kannemeyer: When the Speaker intervened and you responded, I was not consulted. I think Woods should start the recollections.
Woods: My understanding of the issues is first a reconstruction of events and, secondly, my understanding of the November 13 meeting. The 14th report incorporates a wish that the four agencies co-operate in investigating the arms deal, and that SCOPA would assist in co-ordinating that investigation.
Between October 16 and 29, I examined the evidence of the hearings and transcripts, and studied various documents. I worked mostly alone, but also with Andrew Feinstein, given the deadline of the closure of Parliament. I drafted the report, and consulted the Committee. There were no changes to the relevant portions. Again on October 30 there was no disagreement. Similarly, at the media briefing it was noted that there was no disagreement.
Before going to Pretoria, the Press noted that the meeting was to organise the investigation. No other members objected. After the 13 November meeting no members objected, and the four agencies agreed. The four agencies then began to develop their modus operandi.
Then the Media started to query the exclusion of Heath. I replied that SCOPA intended all four agencies. Not one SCOPA member made any objection. I am owed an explanation why on January 22 the ANC said that there might be a different interpretation. All statements of record are subject to interpretation, even the Constitution. The words of the 14th SCOPA report clearly intended the inclusion of Heath.
On 13 November in Pretoria, all four agencies stated their intentions, and were engaged. Heath said that he needed a proclamation. The press release declared that the agencies would co-operate. The Public Protector issued a statement. SCOPA does not have the power to instruct, but the four agencies had clearly accepted the role of SCOPA in facilitating the investigation. Notes were taken at that meeting: the intention of members was the co-operation of all four agencies. The Public Protector firmly supported the four-agency investigation. He may have had a subsequent change of heart.
Doidge: Did the discussion include the need for a proclamation for Heath and the Constitutional Court ruling?
Taljaard: Heath said that he had written to the President requesting a proclamation and that, in addition, he was waiting for SCOPA to draft a letter to the President.
De Lille: Who was supposed to process the report? Was it Woods or somebody else? Did anyone object to that implementation?
Woods: The intention was that we would meet the agencies after two weeks.
Doidge: Did any member of the Committee or the House vote against the report?
Woods: The report was adopted without debate -- without interpretation.
Kannemeyer: SCOPA has identified six members who drafted the report -- Woods and five ANC members. Woods's integrity is not in question. Your interpretation and recollection is also accepted with integrity. The media is clear that the ANC changed its mind. In the same way that you (Woods is concerned that the Speaker didn't consult you, I am similarly concerned that you didn't feel it necessary to consult me, although you had consulted others.
You refer to notes of the 13th. I have not seen those notes. What/whose notes are they? We should have those notes. Your conclusion that differences only occurred on 22 January confirmed the lack of communication during the recess. When there appeared to be interference, did you attempt to contact the sub-groups? You did not contact the sub-groups, hence our present difficulties. I liased with Andrew Feinstein.
There was no compulsion for the four units to be involved according to the 14th report. Why did we refer to an exploratory meeting if the matter had been decided?
Smith: As a member of SCOPA and having heard the progress report by the Auditor General, the utmost importance now is to ensure that the investigation is on track. I don't think it will advance South Africa by pointing fingers at the mistake of there being no minutes. We need to focus on ensuring that we reclaim the confidence of South Africans, and that SCOPA operates as it has in the past.
It is not in the public interest to judge who was right or wrong, but to assure the public that the investigation proceeds. I am satisfied we are back on track, and we can respond to the Deputy President, and move on.
Feinstein: I wish to restate the decisions of 24 January that the positions are held with integrity. We need to move on, and forward.
Beukman: Rule 129 covers the role of chairs during parliamentary recess, particularly that of SCOPA on a non-partisan basis.
Doidge: It will be important to set terms for the Chair during recesses to avoid
recurrence of such problems.
Taljaard: Having attended the 13 November meeting -- it is Kannemeyer's understanding that the chair would have to contact him? What is Kannemeyer's recollection of the Pretoria meeting on the sub-contracting powers of Heath?
Smith: Why didn't Kannemeyer approach Woods if he was concerned about differing interpretations.
Kannemeyer: I don't operate through the media.
Taljaard: The Auditor General's report and our view is that the investigation is flawed without the participation of Heath.
Woods: The issues could go to the Constitutional Court.
Taljaard: Whilst we need not seek a resolution today, the problem is that you build a fault line within SCOPA for any engagements with the ministers and the Deputy President.
Bruce: If the matter about the Heath Special Investigating Unit is about Judge Heath, what is the position of the Unit without Judge Heath?
Doidge: The ANC position is not about Judge Heath.
Woods: The Speaker's statement on 27/12 raised uncertainties. Subsequently we have learned that we have not overstepped the SCOPA mandate.
Kannemeyer: If the Auditor General's report recommends the inclusion of the Special Investigating Unit, then SCOPA can so recommend the inclusion of the SIU. You, Mr Chair, have handled the meeting so well that we can now close the meeting.
Koornhof: Would there be a problem in including that recommendation now, as we did four months ago?
Woods: Would you be happy to propose it at the next plenary?
Koornhof: That's fine.
Nair: The Auditor General's report says his Office has Heath's capacity.
Taljaard: The Minister of Justice has indicated that new legislation is in the offing. Can we write to him for clarity and advice so that SCOPA can factor this into its planing?
Bruce: The Auditor General plainly supports the inclusion of the SIU.
Doidge: We'll have to agree to disagree. At 10 o'clock we said the two interpretations are irreconcilable. We don't want to push SCOPA to a vote. We need you, as Chair, to summarise the meeting. We need to proceed with the important work of SCOPA.
The meeting closed at 3.25pm.
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