Mthethwa asked to explain refusal to list national key points
POLICE Minister Nathi Mthethwa has until the end of February to explain why the apartheid-era National Key Points Act has again been used to block access to information, after an application for a full list of all declared key points was denied.
The issue of the national key points arose last year when City Press revealed that hundreds of millions of rands had been spent on upgrading President Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla residence – raising concerns that public money had been used to foot the bill.
Senior government officials prevented further details from emerging, saying Zuma’s residence had been declared a national key point.
The act applies to “any place or area” so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may “prejudice the Republic”, or whenever a minister of police or defence considers it “necessary or expedient for the safety of the Republic or in the public interest”.
This weekend, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi confirmed that a task team, formed in November to investigate spending on Zuma’s Nkandla home, found that R206 million had been spent on security upgrades.
Nxesi said of the total spent, R71m was for security upgrades – including over R20m on consultancy fees – and an additional R135m went towards the “operational needs” of other departments, including staff housing and medical facilities.
At the same media briefing Mthethwa said the R71m spent by the state on upgrading security at Nkandla was “justifiable”, based on security assessments.
But Mthethwa has refused to list all the national key points, after civil society coalition the Right2Know campaign made a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application for records of these and other areas defined under the act.
R2K also requested bank statements of the special account disbursed by the minister of police for the safeguarding of key points for the period 2010 to 2012, but this information was also refused for security reasons.
R2K has appealed against the refusal and Mthethwa has until the end of February to provide reasons for the decision.
Quoting PAIA, SAPS deputy information officer Amelda Crooks said in an email to R2K that providing it with access to the requested records would “impact negatively on and jeopardise the operational strategy and tactics used to ensure security at the relevant property or safety of an individual”.
Crooks’s reply “mistakenly” added the words “Property Nkandla” to the subject line of the forwarded email, leading R2K to believe that its PAIA application, which hadn’t mentioned Nkandla, was denied on the basis of the furore around the president’s home.
Jane Duncan, Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society in the Rhodes University journalism department and also a member of R2K, said the refusal was indicative of national security trumping transparency, even when there was no compelling reason for it to do so.
“The… act is an apartheid-era piece of legislation that remains in force. It was used by the apartheid regime to throw a shroud of secrecy over installations that it considered under threat of attack by the armed wings of the liberation movement,” she said.
“South Africa is now a democracy, and there is no clear and present danger to national key points, yet the government still sees fit to misuse the act and misread the Promotion of Access to Information Act to keep information that should rightfully be in the public domain about national key points secret.”
She said the criteria for designating an institution a national key point was unclear, and it is also unclear which institutions were on the list.
“This makes it very easy for government officials to prevent public scrutiny of an increasing number of institutions simply by designating them national key points, and no one can challenge their designation because the process of listing is itself secret,” she said.
“The danger of this is readily apparent.”
Anton Harber, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Programme at Wits University, said the controversy surrounding Nkandla was a “perfect example” of how laws like the key points act were used “not to ensure safety and security” but to “withhold information”.
In the past, the “ridiculous” effect of the act was that journalists could be prosecuted for, for example, photographing a key point without knowing it was one.
“They’re using it to withhold information which should, really, be in the public domain.”
Source: Cape Times