Why did the auditor general change his mind about Heath?

Auditor General Shauket Fakie stated this week that the inquiry into the controversial R43-billion arms deal could go ahead without the involvement of the Heath special investigating unit, directly contradicting his earlier position on the involvement of the unit.

His about-face raises intriguing questions about the behind-the-scenes negotiations over the inquiry which was initiated by Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts.

Fakie told the Mail & Guardian this week that it was “not correct to assume that we have changed our position with regard to the Heath investigating unit.
Our stance has been all along that should the unit be granted a proclamation, they would be part of the investigation as was indicated during the preliminary strategy meetings.

“However, as time is of the essence and at the indication of the head of the unit, their specific participation would depend on them receiving a proclamation from the president. In this regard I urged the standing committee to expedite the finalisation of a proclamation. “If the proclamation is not forthcoming it is the view of the joint task team that the investigation could continue within the statutory powers vested in the various agencies.”

However, in a confidential memorandum to the committee, dated December 6 last year, Fakie wrote that the joint investigating team “requires the special skills and experience of the [Heath] unit and therefore requests the committee to make a recommendation to the president to approve the proclamation of the unit, as the contribution of the unit to the investigation could be significant.”

He also said in the memorandum that it was decided at a meeting on November 16 last year that each agency—involving the auditor general, the Office of the Public Protector, the Investigating Directorate for Serious Economic Offences and the Heath unit—would take responsibility “for a broad area of investigation.

“In order to combine skills, legal mandates and expertise of the different agencies, it was further decided on December 1 2000 that the team for each area of investigation would consist of members and co-opted members of each of the four agencies.”

The auditor general would be the coordinator of the project leaders for each area of investigation. He also provided details of a budget for the inquiry, which, he said, were “at best described as a guess-estimate”.

This showed eight areas of investigation with an estimate budget of R13 517 200, with the Heath unit contributing R3 324 550 and being involved in seven of the eight investigations. It is clear from Fakie’s December 6 memorandum that at that stage it was envisaged that the Heath unit would be an integral part of the whole inquiry.

Fakie also denied he and members of his office had held discussions with members of the Cabinet about the inquiry. “It is not correct to state that I met with Cabinet specifically to discuss the arms investigation. Meetings with Cabinet have been an ongoing process in order to provide a better audit service. The outcome of these meetings is also aimed at obtaining certain views of one of our important stakeholders.”

Asked if tensions between the Cabinet and his office had increased recently, he said: “I am not at liberty to react to your specific question other than to state that the tension, if any, would be a healthy tension in order to understand each other’s operational functions.”

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