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February 20, 2001

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King a pawn in a wider plot?

Paul Martin in Johannesburg

Is he a man without a mission -- or a man without a commission? Is he a King without a kingdom? Has the chairman of the Commission of Enquiry into Cricket Match-Fixing and related Activities lost the plot -- or is he a pawn in a wider plot?

This week was supposed to herald the long-awaited and long-delayed resumption of the Commission's hearings. As we wrote a couple of weeks back, it has been Judge King's astonishing timidity that has led him to stay home. He claims he is not sure if he is legally allowed to do his job -- because the Consitutional Court ruled, in a different case about another Commissioner conducting a different kind of Inquiry with different powers, that an active judge should not head such a Commission (King is a retired judge).

It hardly needs a legal genius to note that there is hardly any comparison between the two cases.

Now, though, hints have emerged that there is more to it than mere legal incompetence from King.

His own evidence-leader Shamila Batohi, smells a rat. "There is a lack of seriousness to really get to the bottom of things," she has told a Johannesburg newspaper.

"It will, to say the least, be a sorry day if the hearings do not resume. It will be good to get everything out in the open and get to the truth," she added.

Batohi said she would not be surprised if there are people who would like to see the commission disbanded, but she would not identify them.

Most tellingly, perhaps, Batohi gave an entirely incorrect (perhaps deliberately incorrect) analysis of the role that Ex-Judge King is playing. "He has to consider several things before taking a decision about the future of the commission -- things like the interest of the game and the country," she said.

This is actually untrue -- he is a Commissioner whose primary task, assigned by President Mbeki in a government proclamation, is to discover and uncover facts. Only then should he make some recommedations. It is essentailly up to the cricket authorities to decide on the interest of the game, and it is largely up to the government to represent the interests of the country through taking policy decision. It's not Mr King's responsibility.

Seemingly, what Batohi is saying is that King is being influenced by factors other than fact-finding and objective investigation.

Indeed, there has been an interesting reaction to a report in a British newspaper that "powerful people behind the scenes" are "twisting King's arm" to stop the commission's work. Arm-twister-in-chief -- the paper suggests -- could be Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour (is this the same man who told and everyone else who would listen on Day Two of the hearing that he wants the King Commission to be "rougher" on the witnesses and "grill them" so it could force the truth out of them?)

"I am not aware of any pressure on me to disband the commission," King said in a statement. "In contrast, the decision about the commission's future activities rests on me. I am considering all options. I have never said or hinted that I have been driven into a corner over the commission's work."

Balfour said in his own statement that there is "absolutely no basis" for conjecture that he wants to disband the commission. "It is King's prerogative to decide about the commission's future. He is, in any event, obliged to hand over a final report to the president, to whom he is responsible."

In the meantime opposition politicians are getting increasingly suspicious. The small but influential right-wing white Freedom Front's Leon Louw said the delay is doing incalculable damage to sport in South Africa.

"The impression is being created that sports administrators in South Africa and the government are not serious to contain and eradicate corruption in sport. The image of cricket, in particular, and sport in general in South African can only recover after positive investigations and actions are taken against the guilty," he said.

Louw added that the delay leads to more questions and suspicion about the whole affair. "The way the commission is going creates the impression that the government is quick to interfere in sport when it suits them, but slow to act decisively when corruption is involved."

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