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Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has until the end of next month 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 rand 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”.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi confirmed on Sunday that a task team, formed in November to investigate spending on Zuma’s Nkandla home, found that R206 million had been spent.
Nxesi said R71m was for security upgrades – including more than 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 that the R71m spent on upgrading security at Nkandla was “justifiable”, based on security assessments.
But Mthethwa has refused to list all 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 next month to provide reasons for the decision.
Quoting PAIA, SA Police Service deputy information officer Amelda Crooks said in an e-mail 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 e-mail, 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 a member of R2K, said the refusal was indicative of national security trumping transparency.
“The… act is an apartheid-era piece of legislation that remains in force,” she said.
“There is no clear and present danger to national key points, yet the government still sees fit to misuse the act.”