05 December 2016
What's past is prologue: A(nother) look back at our requests in 2016
After President Zuma had attended the inauguration of the Rheinmetal Denel Munition (RDM) missile factory in Saudi Arabia, SAHA submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) request to the Presidency for the bi-lateral trade and investment agreements. This was in order to gain clarity on who would ultimately stand to benefit from this agreement. A very real concern in light of South Africa’s participation in the opening of a missile factory in Saudi Arabia, which factory is allegedly linked to war crimes in Yemen. Initially, the Presidency transferred the matter to the Department of Defence as the assumed holders of such information. Unfortunately, the Department of Defence denied the request on the grounds that they do not hold the information, and that it was actually RDM who holds the information. Despite RDM being a private body we insisted the Department of Defence transfers the request to RDM as Denel owns more than 40 percent of RDM, which to the Department of Defence’s credit, prompted them to transfer the request to RDM. The CEO of RDM provided a letter indicating that there were no bi-lateral agreements in their transactions with the Saud family government but that everything occurred in terms of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee. In terms of that Act they were functioning in a private capacity, but in the spirit of transparency they stated the correct position by way of an affidavit, to refute the incorrect information the media had circulated.
In 2014, rhinoceros poaching became a national priority crime; however, this issue continues to wreak havoc on the South African rhino population. To better understand the resources expended by the government in combating poachers, we submitted requests for general tasks, functions and responsibilities regarding the Integrated Strategic Management Approach to Rhino Poaching. The records we received from the South African Police Services revealed the budget allotment, units assigned and information about missions conducted successfully.
We received a request from the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) regarding a tender for the servicing of fire hydrants in Germiston. The CWAO claimed that this was a scam whereby commercial contracts are disguised as community volunteer projects, enabling the gross underpayment of the workers. In order to get to clarity on the matter we submitted a request to the Ekurhuleni municipality for the contract concluded between Sphandile Trading Enterprise and the Ekuruhleni Municipality. The municipality initially refused our request relying on section 36(1) of PAIA, on the grounds that municipality believed that release of the requested information could put Sphandile at a disadvantage in contractual negotiations or in commercial competition. SAHA however appealed against this decision, pointing in our appeal to section 17(3)(i) of the Municipal Financial Management Act, 2003 (MFMA) which requires of the municipality to disclose the particulars of any proposed service delivery agreements along with the annual budget when the budget is tabled before council. As such, there can be no argument that a “commercial” or “contractual” disadvantage would be incurred by Sphandile Trading Enterprise as the record should have been publicly accessible in any event, had the municipality complied with its obligations in the MFMA. On reflection, the municipality provided us with the full record which we duly forwarded to the CWAO. It is our hope that, armed with this information, they will be able to use it to the betterment of working conditions for those who need it the most.
“What’s past is prologue” or so Shakespeare wrote, a most apt description on the state of access to information in South Africa’s 2016 and how we can expect more of the same in 2017. Certainly, there have been successes as, from time to time, we would receive comprehensive responses to requests submitted to various departments of government. However, these were few and far between. If 2017 is anything like 2016, there is still a long way to go in wide-ranging access to information.