Young Wins Right to See Arms Report
Auditor-general in contempt of court for not supplying all the documents
Cape Town businessman Richard Young has won a three-year fight to have comprehensive documentation on an investigation into SA's arms deal released, in a court finding which suggests that access to information legislation is gaining judicial sanction.
Pretoria High Court Judge Annemarie de Vos declared last week that Auditor-General Shauket Fakie was in contempt of court for not supplying Young with a full set of documents amassed as part of the investigation into the $5bn arms procurement process. Fakie now faces a one-month jail term if he does not supply the documents within four weeks.
Young has already gained access to draft copies of three chapters of the 13-chapter report, which was released after the investigation by the auditor-general, the National Prosecuting Authority, and the public protector, known as the joint investigating team.
Young applied in 2002 for the documents in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act and a court order was granted in his favour. Early last year, the auditor-general withdrew his application to appeal against the finding, and supplied Young with 751 pages in May last year.
Young requested further documentation, and last July, 28 lever-arch files were delivered. The files were limited to those sections of the joint investigation report that dealt specifically with Young's evidence to the team and the draft copies of those reports.
Young applied once again for the full documentation, and sought a contempt of court finding when they were not supplied. It was this judgment that was handed down last week, with De Vos declaring that Fakie had failed to provide an explanation why he did not embark on a process of compliance earlier.
Neither did Fakie state that he believed his initial compliance to be complete, and did not appear to regard himself bound by the time limits set out in the court order. De Vos said a finding of contempt was the only conclusion that could be reached.
Young said he was happy to see justice being done, even though it took three years of fighting to achieve it. "I can understand a party directly involved, like the defence department, wanting to hold on as long as possible, but I cannot understand why a public-interest watchdog like the auditor-general should resist a court order."
He said he now expected Fakie to supply him with complete copies of all the files, which would include the draft versions of all 13* chapters of the joint investigation report.
With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen and the Business Day.
* For all old and potentially new court order defaulters reading this VPO :