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TO SAY that the government’s response to the Promotion of Access to Information Act applications by the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute for more information on SA’s country-to-country nuclear co-operation agreements is nonsensical, is a severe understatement.

The deputy director-general responsible for nuclear in the Department of Energy, Zizamele Mbambo, was on Wednesday quoted in news reports as having said that releasing documentation pertaining to the agreements would “jeopardise or compromise the delicate process that is still ongoing regarding the new nuclear-build programme”.

If the agreements are in line with South African law, then Mr Mbambo either does not understand that law or is obfuscating to hide something seriously amiss with the entire arrangement.

Because they do not entail procurement of any kind, country-to-country co-operation agreements in nuclear and other industries or sectors do not entail the passing on of commercially or technologically sensitive information. This much Business Day has confirmed with legal counsel in SA and senior foreign diplomats, whose countries all have supposedly similar nuclear arrangements with SA.

Disturbingly it is only Russia and SA who insist that their specific arrangements contain sensitive information. This is cause for alarm, and brings into question the motives behind such active misrepresentation of a legal position.

Last year the Department of Energy, through Mr Mbambo at a terse media briefing, hinted that the entire process of nuclear procurement could be conducted and concluded in secret. Such a position also blatantly ignores SA’s constitutional imperative for procurement to be concluded in open and transparent processes that can withstand scrutiny in order to ensure public money is being spent properly and there is no corruption.

The government’s apparent anxiety to procure 9.6GW of nuclear generation directly contradicts the Department of Energy’s updated integrated resource plan (IRP 2010), which was submitted to the Cabinet in late 2013 but for unknown reasons has uncharacteristically not been given final approval for public release.

This decision also goes against the recommendations of a study carried out by the Presidency’s own National Planning Commission, which was published in 2013.

Both documents caution against a large procurement of nuclear at this stage, stating that the government’s decisions need to take into account emerging options such as natural gas.

These are clearly being ignored in favour of a nuclear-build programme the details of which the government is unwilling to release to the public that put it in power.

The details are what would help the public understand whether the decision is well or ill founded.

Therefore it is more important now than ever that, in addition to the media, a growing number of South Africans must demand the transparency they deserve of a government that claims to have open, democratic credentials.

The government is not a private entity that can decide on a whim whether or not to release information and the extent to which it wants the details released.

Unless the information can be justified on legal grounds to be sensitive, there is no validity for the level of secrecy that is being imposed on the nuclear-build process.

We are left with one conclusion — that there are likely undertakings made by the government in these arrangements about which, if they found out, South Africans would be alarmed and aggrieved.

A total of 9.6GW of nuclear build will cost in excess of R900bn, money the country does not have. If allowed to proceed without scrutiny, this decision may turn out to be the worst ever taken in SA’s history.

Source: Business day live: http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/editorials/2015/01/22/editorial-alarming-use-of-secrecy-on-nuclear

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