/ 13 June 2010

Tender ruling a victory for transparency

Tender Ruling A Victory For Transparency

The Mail&Guardian’s court victory this week, giving it access to tender documents for the Fifa World Cup, is a victory for soccer fans and football transparency.

A year ago the M&G was tipped off that security arrangements for the Confederations Cup were in a shambles and that last-minute contracts were being signed with incompetent service providers.

After South Africa won the right in 2004 to host the World Cup in 2010, security was always Fifa’s biggest concern. Not having sorted out basic security services at stadiums and hotels was naturally a massive problem and an indictment of the local organising committee (LOC). But we needed official LOC confirmation that there was a problem.

The committee refused to provide this, claiming that it would be in breach of contract if it told us who it paid to protect players and spectators.

Something wasn’t right. The media normally has access to government’s tender bulletin which, despite being tedious reading, has led to the unearthing of massive corruption scandals.

With our lawyers, the M&G decided to apply under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for access to the LOC’s tender documents.

The long waiting period under the PAIA for public bodies to refuse requests has had a chilling effect on journalists.

But after the LOC again refused us documents, we approached the court and won a favourable ruling on Tuesday.

All signs are that the awarding and execution of security contracts for the World Cup, bar Port Elizabeth, went far more smoothly than in the Confederations Cup. We believe our reports contributed to this.

Judge Les Morison’s ruling means that organisers of big sporting events to which the government contributes cannot hide behind the privileges afforded to a corner café.

If it weren’t for the billions of taxpayers’ rands that government spends upgrading our roads, stadiums and infrastructure, South Africa would not have been awarded the World Cup — finish and klaar.

Fifa has a system whereby host nations establish an organising committee (actually an organising company, as Morison pointed out) to organise the tournament, appointing people to provide stadium security, print tickets, manufacture chairs, install sound equipment and provide countless other services and products.

In awarding tenders the LOC performs a public function, Morison held. He turned to the dictionary in defining this as one “that concerns all members of the community — that relates to or involves government and governmental agencies; and — [that belongs to] the community as a whole and [is] administered through its representatives in government”.

Does this sound like the LOC? Yes, he found.

What about Fifa? Google “Andrew Jennings” and you will find the extraordinary work of a journalist who was determined to find out how this “Swiss club”, to use the words of LOC advocate Alfred Cockrell, runs its business.

We’ve had Jennings’s experience: if you touch soccer, you touch a rock. South Africans love football and so do we. But that should not be a reason not to interrogate the suits who — literally — own the game, here and at Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich.

Money earmarked for the development of the sport should not end up in the pockets of a few.

This week’s court victory will enable us to see if South Africa’s football administrators play by the rules, as they expect Bafana Bafana to do.