President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing court action to compel him to allow media to be present during the interviews of candidates who have applied for the position of national director of public prosecutions (NDPP).
The Right2Know Campaign — a non-profit access to information advocacy group — filed an urgent application at the Pretoria high court on Sunday, arguing that the interviews must be made public in order to test public confidence in the next NDPP and the selection process.
Right2Know has asked the court to order that at least 20 accredited media workers be allowed to “attend, record, and report upon the interviews”, which are set to be conducted by a panel of interviewers. The group has also included suggested limitations on media reporting — including a restriction of two video cameras and two photographers — while interviews are in progress to mitigate potential disruptions.
Mluleki Marongo, an access to information organiser with Right2Know, submitted a founding affidavit on behalf of the organisation where he cites constitutional law as the basis for why journalists must be allowed access to the interviews. He refers to the right to freedom of expression — which includes media freedom — as well as sections of the Constitution which say that organs of state and public administration must be transparent and accountable.
“These values, rights and principles are especially important in respect of the NDPP and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which the NDPP leads, because public confidence in the NDPP and the NPA is integral to public confidence in the justice system as a whole,” Marongo said in his affidavit.
Marongo further indicated that NPA Act requires the president to appoint a person who is fit for the job, whose experience has been taken into account and who has integrity and can be trusted with the responsibilities of the job.
In his affidavit, Marongo asks: “The public are entitled to see and hear, and discuss and debate among themselves, how the shortlisted candidates stack up to these standards. How else can the public have confidence in the process, and in the calibre of the candidate who is selected?”
“Judges are interviewed in public. So is the Public Protector. There is no evidence that this renders the interview process less effective. On the contrary, it serves as a vital check against dishonesty on the part of the candidates, as well as arbitrary and abusive questioning by interviewers,” he said.
Right2Know has also said that if necessary, the panel can have discretion to close certain parts of an interview to journalists if strong reasons are provided that would not prejudice the proceedings.
An advisory panel has been appointed by Ramaphosa to shortlist, interview and recommend candidates who could fill the NDPP seat. The panel is chaired by energy minister Jeff Radebe and includes seven panellists from legal and human rights backgrounds. Interviews were scheduled to begin this week, between November 14 and 16.
Acting NDPP Silas Ramaite and Democratic Alliance MP and former prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach are among those who have reportedly been shortlisted for the job. A total of 12 candidates have been shortlisted.
The NDPP position became vacant in August 2018, when the Constitutional Court declared the appointment of former NDPP Shaun Abrahams invalid. The court instructed the president to appoint a new NDPP with a deadline for December 19.
Right2Know’s application will be heard at the Pretoria high court on Tuesday.