Pretoria - The National Lotteries Board (NLB), although a public body, is under no obligation to provide information to the media or anyone else on its operations when possible harm may occur if this information lands in the public domain.

This is according to a recent Pretoria High Court judgment.

Media24 had asked the court to overturn the refusal by the lotteries board to provide its investigation team with, among others, certain minutes of meetings held during 2010 and 2011.

This was specifically aimed at obtaining details of all staff employed by the lotteries board and related bodies who faced disciplinary action.

Also, the board’s funding proposals and accounting of the spending of lottery money on the 2010 soccer World Cup.

It also wanted details of requests by the ANC for funding of the party’s 2012 centenary celebrations.

The media group said in its application that it wanted to follow up on stories relating to alleged security breaches, “questionable” funding decisions and “poor” management of the lotteries board.

Acting Judge Piet Ebersohn remarked that the media group had failed to take the court into its confidence as to what it regarded as a serious breach of security by the lotteries board.

“They ought to have done so over such a serious matter.”

The media group had also failed to provide any reasonable detail about the “generalised” allegation of “poor management” by the lotteries board, he said.

The board, in papers before court, said it was unable to respond to such broad and generalised allegations.

“Instead of providing some detail so the NLB could respond and not be tarnished without the ability to respond, the applicant merely argued the NLB confuses its right to access to information.”

Judge Ebersohn said Media24 could not simply say it did not have to justify its request for access to this information.

Media24 turned to court after the lotteries board either refused or simply did not respond to its request for this information.

This was in conflict with the provisions of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), the media group argued.

Judge Ebersohn said in terms of the constitution, public bodies such as the lotteries board, under PAIA, were compelled to make information available.

Citizens were entitled to information held by the state as a matter of right.

But he noted that in certain circumstances this information might be refused when there might be a possibility of harm to someone if this information were disclosed.

In January 2011, Independent Newspapers reported on national lottery operator Gidani having been found guilty of two serious contraventions of its licence conditions.

Gidani was fined R15 million at the time.

Secrecy prevailed over what Gidani did to warrant the penalty, but it was understood that it related to security issues.

The minutes of the meetings Media24 sought in this application from the lotteries board related to that period.

However, in court papers, the lotteries board said it could not divulge these minutes, as they would reveal confidential financial, commercial and technical information supplied to it by Gidani.

Disclosure could place Gidani at a disadvantage as a contender for the next licence bid.

Gidani’s licence expires on May 31, but the lotteries board said it was reasonable to anticipate it would also apply for the next licence.

Judge Ebersohn said the lotteries board gave Media24 all the other information it had asked for. - Pretoria News