Judge Orders Access to Arms Documents
Maximum access was necessary to dispel any suspicion of a cover-up in the probe into South Africa's multi-billion rand arms deal, a Pretoria High Court Judge said on Friday.
Judge Willie Hartzenberg ordered Auditor General Shauket Fakie to hand over documents related to the investigation into the arms deal to Dr Richard Young, whose Cape Town-based computer systems company CCII Systems lost out on a contract to supply combat technology for the South African Navy's four new corvettes.
The contract went instead to French company Detexis, a sister company of African Defence Systems in which the brother of the Department of Defence's former head of acquisitions Chippie Shaik, Shabir, was a shareholder.
Young claimed irregularities and political interference in the selection process and applied under the Promotion of Access to Information Act for among others copies of the draft arms probe report, which preceded the final report tabled in parliament last year.
Fakie refused on the grounds of confidentiality, the amount of work required and the defence and security needs of South Africa. He said some of the information was provided to him in strict confidence by third parties.
Hartzenberg said if regard was had to the media coverage that the matter enjoyed and the prominence of members of the joint commission of investigation, it was certainly a case where maximum access to information was necessary. "It is not good enough to hide behind generalities. If it means that the first respondent (Fakie) has to employ extra staff it must be done.
"The applicant (Young) alludes to conflicts of interest and political pressure. If at all feasible such suspicions must be put to rest," the judge said. He said the joint report had been finalised and accepted by Parliament. At this stage the draft reports were only of historic importance and could obstruct the joint commission in its work.
To objections that Young wanted the information to aid him in his civil claim against the Defence Minister, the Judge said Young had requested the information before he instituted action. To interpret the Act that everybody who contemplated legal action was prohibited from requesting access would be to render the Act nugatory for the very purpose for which it was promulgated, he said.
Hartzenberg said although he was satisfied that Fakie was obliged to provide the relevant documents to Young, it could cause prejudice to the Defence Force and the Government to order it to produce the whole reduced record.
He therefore ordered Fakie to make available those records to which no objection was raised within 40 days and in respect of the balance of the records to identify them and state the reasons why access could or should be refused and in respect of which portion of the record it was refused.
With acknowledgement to Sapa.