Nkandla: amaBhungane goes to court

On November 5 and 6, the high court in Pretoria is to hear argument between the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) and the department of public works over what amaBhungane maintains is the department’s insufficient disclosure about more than R210-million in public money spent at President Jacob Zuma's private estate in Nkandla.

Meanwhile, amaBhungane in late August launched a second court application, also to the high court in Pretoria, seeking the release of the "top secret" task team report commissioned by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi into the Nkandla procurement.

In the first matter, amaBhungane submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request to the department in July last year, asking for all records pertaining to “the procurement by the state of goods or services to improve, upgrade, alter, add to or secure the Nkandla estate of the president”.

The department refused the request claiming the records were all subject to the National Key Points Act and other secrecy prescripts. When Nxesi failed to rule on an appeal, amaBhungane instituted court proceedings last November.

In response, the department initially maintained that the records were “so replete with security-sensitive information” that none could be disclosed without compromising national security. But in a subsequent about-turn, it released over 12 000 pages of information.

Following a comprehensive analysis – which led also to the publication of our “The Nkandla files” – we pointed out to the department that many documents were missing, including records of communications involving the department’s top management, the minister and deputy minister, and Zuma.

The department maintains that save for a small number of documents withheld for their security sensitivity, it has disclosed all records it could find. AmaBhungane disputes this, hence the hearing on November 5 and 6.

In the second matter, amaBhungane lodged a PAIA request for the task team report at the end of January this year. Nxesi commissioned the report last November, following a public outcry. The task team, whose report Nxesi classified “top secret”, found, according to the minister, that “there were a number of irregularities with regards to [the] appointment of service providers and procurement of goods and services”.

Both the department, and Nxesi on appeal, failed to respond at all to the PAIA request, forcing amaBhungane to bring the second court application, which was filed on August 26. The department and minister have given notice of their intention to oppose.

AmaBhungane’s founding papers argue: “The contents of the report are clearly of profound public interest and importance, particularly as they concern the propriety of significant public spending on the president’s private residence in a country with limited funds to meet the vast demands of a developing economy.”

Attorneys Webber Wentzel are acting for amaBhungane.

  • Vinayak Bhardwaj is advocacy coordinator for amaBhungane

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