Argus bid to examine Oilgate report

Published Jul 25, 2011

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The Cape Argus has lodged a Western Cape High Court application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act to compel the Presidency to release the long-awaited report of the Donen Commission of Inquiry into the involvement of South Africans in the UN “oil-for-food” saga, known as “Oilgate”.

The application was lodged earlier this month and formally served on the Presidency last week.

The High Court application was lodged after a request from the Cape Argus for access to the report and a later appeal were refused by the Presidency.

The UN oil-for-food programme was intended to be a humanitarian mechanism that allowed Iraq to sell oil and to use the proceeds strictly for humanitarian relief in the form of food and medicine, after the first Gulf War in 1990.

In February 2006, the government appointed Cape Town advocate Michael Donen, SC, to head a one-person commission of inquiry to investigate and advise then-president Thabo Mbeki on appropriate action to be taken against any South African company or individual found to have acted illegally in the oil-for-food transactions, and on the adoption of measures to prevent anything similar happening in the future.

The Donen Report, which allegedly implicates several top-ranking ANC leaders, as well as controversial businessman and ANC benefactor Sandile Majali, who died in a Joburg hotel, has been under wraps since November 2006.

The 48-year-old Majali was found dead in his room at the Sandton Quatermain Hotel on December 26 last year.

The report is in the possession of President Jacob Zuma after it was handed to him by his predecessor, Kgaleme Motlanthe.

Motlanthe received it from Mbeki.

Under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia), the Cape Argus made a formal request for access to the the Donen Report, which was turned down by the Paia deputy information officer in the Presidency, Ken Terry.

The newspaper then appealed against this decision, again in terms of Paia.

This, too, was refused late last year.

However, the Presidency indicated that a decision would be made on the release of the report “soon”.

Cape Argus lawyers wrote to the Presidency in March, demanding that a decision be made within 30 days.

No response was received and the High Court application was lodged.

In an affidavit attached to the application, senior Cape Argus writer John Yeld said the public was entitled to know the contents of the report.

“Any promise that a decision will soon be made regarding whether or not to release the report appears to be made merely for the purpose of delay,” he said.

“I respectfully submit that, should the president eventually make a decision as to whether to release the report, such decision will inevitably be that the report will not be released.”

Yeld added that the Presidency did not have any grounds to prevent access to the report and that the court should draw a negative inference from the president’s reluctance to release it.

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