Paia affects access to fracking report, says minister

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu has argued that the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) prevents access to draft reports, minutes and research of her fracking task team.

According to section 44 of the Act, public bodies could refuse a request for access to records that held an opinion, advice, report or recommendation, Shabangu and director general Thibedi Ramontja said in answering papers filed at the North Gauteng High Court on Tuesday.

The Act further allows for bodies to retain records of discussions held for policy or decision making. A full argument would be presented when the matter was heard in court, they said.

In January, Shabangu and Ramontja were ordered to respond to an application by the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG).

The TKAG wanted details on an inter-departmental task team studying the impact and viability of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in the Karoo to extract natural gas.

Shabangu set up a task team last April to investigate the impact of fracking. In August, she extended a moratorium on applications for licences to prospect for shale gas using fracking for a further six months.

She said it was never her intention that “the public and parties promoting the public interest should be denied access to information which has truly significant environmental, economic and public health implications”.

Government first needed to be informed about fracking and understand it before engaging in public participation.

Shabangu said her task team was expected to forward its report to Cabinet by March 31.

The task team had representatives from the Petroleum Company of South Africa as well as the departments of mineral resources, energy, science and technology, environmental affairs, water affairs, economic development and trade and industry.

Access to information
The team was aided by a working group comprised of the petroleum company, the Council for Geosciences, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the water affairs department.

TKAG chairperson Jonathan Deal welcomed the department’s response but said he had expected a more comprehensive reply.

“It is a pity that we had to sue the minister to have her explain her position to us but at least we are now one step closer to enabling South Africans to have access to information that may dramatically affect certain of their basic human rights.”

Deal said his legal team would review the reply and then make a decision about what to do next.—Sapa


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