Oilgate report timing questioned ahead of Mangaung

Opposition parties have welcomed the decision by President Jacob Zuma to release the report of the Donen Commission of Inquiry into the involvement of South Africans in the Iraq oil-for-food programme.

But the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus have voiced concerns over the timing of the report's release, questioning the motive behind its sudden release after failed attempts to access it under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia).

The Donen report allegedly implicates Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale in potentially unethical activities. Both are seen as potential challengers to Zuma's presidency of the ANC in the run-up to the party's electoral conference in Mangaung next year.

"The timing of the presidency's announcement is ... interesting, given that the report is said to implicate two figures who appear to be opposed to Zuma's continued leadership of the ANC," DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip said on Tuesday.

"It is crucial that information is released into the public domain for the right reasons, and not as a means to fight internal political battles."

The FF Plus said it wondered whether the Donen report had become part of an internal struggle in the run-up to the ANC's elective conference next year in December.

"The fact that Zuma is at this specific time prepared to release the Donen report, nearly 30 months after he took up his office ...
begs the question whether ... he would possibly gain politically from it," parliamentary spokesperson on minerals Anton Alberts said.

He said the FF Plus wrote a letter to Motlanthe in October 2008 requesting him to release the report. The request was denied.

"It is high time that South Africa finds out what advantage the ANC had gained from this scandal."

On Tuesday, Zuma's spokesperson Mac Maharaj was at pains to distance Zuma from speculation of political manoeuvring, saying the report would be released in recognition of the public interest in the subject matter.

"The presidency is aware of the potential misuse of the contents of the report," he said.

"We wish to caution that the comments made ... about individuals must not be elevated to findings of fact as these were interim and untried comments."

In 2006, former president Thabo Mbeki commissioned an investigation into illegal transactions by South African individuals and companies in the United Nations oil-for food programme.

The programme was established in 1995 to allow Iraq to sell oil in exchange for food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid without building up funds for military purposes.

It was tainted by corruption and abuse, with the Iraqi government demanding illicit payments from its customers.

Mbeki's commission of inquiry was headed by advocate Michael Donen, with assistance from advocate Andrew Chauke and senior superintendent Lucy Moleka.

Their report apparently implicated some top leaders in the ANC, including Motlanthe and Sexwale, and was not released to the public.

Maharaj said on Tuesday that the report "clearly established that the conduct of the individuals from South Africa affected by this report did not constitute any offence under South African law".

"Those who were caught up in the subject matter of the inquiry did not have an opportunity to deal with their alleged involvement fully."

Zuma will make the report available by December 7.—Sapa