10 July 2013

Nkandla files handed over to amaBhungane by Dept of Public Works

In the latest development in the ongoing saga of amaBhungane's attempts to make use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to secure records relating to expenditure on Jacob Zuma's private property, Nkandla, the Department of Public Works recently released 12 000 pages of documents to M&G's amaBhungane.

These released records, dubbed the 'Nkandla files', are still in the process of being thoroughly reviewed by amaBhungane, but in the meantime an article outlining the contents of these records and the possible implications thereof has been published on their website.

In the initial assessment of the documents, it seems clear that there was little legal foundation for the Department of Public Works' initial refusal to release many of these records in response to amaBhungane request, made in terms of PAIA. This type of kneejerk refusal echoes SAHA's experience in litigating to gain access to records in the past - in almost every instance of SAHA taking the state to court, records have been released in out of court settlements that should have been released in the first instance.

This trend is worrying in terms of the questions it raises about levels of understanding of and compliance with PAIA within public bodies as well as the pervasive cultures of secrecy within certain public bodies in South Africa, both issues about which SAHA has written repeatedly over the last decade (most comprehensively in SAHA's 2008 publication 'Paper Wars: access to information in South Africa'). 

It seems clear that these records were released in an attempt by the Department of Public Works to avoid court action. However, there remain significant gaps in the records released. amaBhungane therefore remains likely to proceed to court, with SAHA serving as amicus curaie, in November 2013 in order to secure access to more sensitive records needed to answer questions to the country about this controversial expenditure of taxpayers money on Zuma's private estate definitively.

For more information or comments on this PAIA matter, please contact SAHA's Freedom of Information Programme.