19 February 2015
FAITH COMMUNITIES APPEAL TO MINISTER OVER DoE’s REFUSAL TO REVEAL NUCLEAR SECRETS
SAFCEI appeals DoE’s refusal to provide details of nuclear deal – including feasibility studies and a record of the minister’s authority to sign the deal
SAFCEI has appealed against the Department of Energy’s refusal to release details of the framework agreement on a nuclear partnership with Russia, submitted as a PAIA request last year.
SAFCEI has briefed the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) to assist with the PAIA request.
In its legal papers, SAFCEI has argued that the Department of Energy (DoE), in automatically refusing access to all the documents requested, failed to properly consider the organisation’s request. In particular, SAFCEI argues that the DoE has not adequately considered the public override obligation (that enables documents to be released if it is in the public interest) and that this is particularly relevant given the potential environmental and safety risks of nuclear installations. This relates to the feasibility studies requested.
SAFCEI request that the Honourable Minister grant access to the documents we originally asked for, as the refusal grounds used by the DoE officials cannot be applied to the records requested. “The minister has 30 days to respond, failing which SAFCEI will then consider court action”, says SAFCEI spokesperson, Liz McDaid, who coordinates SAFCEI’s governance programme.
As it was revealed in the media last week, the Russian Agreement has been publicly available and has been signed by the Minister. SAFCEI states that the DoE cannot then claim that the release of the framework agreement would compromise “sensitive negotiations” – clearly the negotiations must be over as the agreement is signed. SAFCEI specifically draws the Department’s attention to case law that notes very strongly that grounds of refusal that “relate to ‘ongoing processes’ should not be abused to refuse access in perpetuity.”
Did the minister have authority to sign?
SAFCEI had also asked for a copy of the authorisation given to the Minister to allow her to enter into such an agreement. The DoE refused on the grounds that it was part of the negotiations. In the appeal, SAFCEI disagrees: “The records concern an authority to act. The authority to act either exists, or it doesn’t – it is not an issue that is subject to the negotiations itself”.
Should we not have access to information about nuclear risks – is it not in the public interest?
SAFCEI also asked for a copy of any affordability or feasibility study conducted by the Department of Energy with regard to the procurement of nuclear power. DoE refused.
In the appeal SAFCEI submits that if there was sensitive information contained in such a document, the onus is on the government to redact sections of the record in order to release other sections that are not confidential. Given that the mater concerns the feasibility of nuclear installations and preparations, SAFCEI contends that it would be almost impossible to suggest that these records would not reveal public and environmental safety risks.
“The attitude of automatic secrecy adopted by the DoE is unacceptable. The arrogant assumption that South Africans have no right to such critical information that impacts on our future and in such a serious matter as nuclear energy raises grave concerns about the government’s commitment to constitutional rights and public participation” stated Sean Brown, SAFCEI’s Operations Director.
“Such secretive deals can cover up a number of risks and it is the people of South Africa who will carry the liabilities of any nuclear build for many generations to come” stated SAFCEI’s vice chairperson, Moulana Riaz Simjee.
ISSUED BY SAFCEI 19TH FEBRUARY 2015
For further information, please contact Liz McDaid
SAFCEI energy and climate change programme coordinator
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 0827315643
Or Sarah email@example.com
Note for journalists:
At a board meeting in October 2014, SAFCEI elected to seek legal counsel to investigate the nuclear contracts which South Africa had signed. Faith communities are gravely concerned at the government’s continued support for nuclear energy despite evidence that South Africa cannot afford it.
In November 2014, SAFCEI submitted a number of PAIA applications to government departments regarding the nuclear framework agreements, including Treasury and the Department of Energy.
The Department of Energy (DoE) has responded negatively to the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute for information regarding the nuclear framework agreements. According to the DoE, “the record of decision by Government of the Republic of South Africa to procure 9.6GW of nuclear energy power as part of the energy supply” was denied because “the release of records would jeopardise or compromise the delicate process that is still ongoing regarding the new nuclear build programme”.
The DoE has refused SAFCEI access to any document that authorised the Minister to sign a nuclear framework agreement with the Russian Federation, on the same grounds, namely that “this record is part of the framework Agreement on nuclear cooperation with the Russian Federation, of which its release of records would jeopardise or compromise the delicate process that is still on-going regarding the new nuclear build programme”. “The DoE has also refused to release any affordability or feasibility study because the process of deciding on the nuclear build involves “technical, scientific and commercially sensitive information and if released prematurely could prejudice the interests of the other parties, as well as the State and negatively impact on the process”.
SAFCEI asked Treasury for all “Records reflecting decisions taken related to the financial obligations and the economic impact of the decisions reflected in intergovernmental agreements on current strategic partnerships and cooperation in nuclear energy” in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
In its response to SAFCEI, the treasury admitted that they had not given any input into the financial implications of any nuclear deals, and SAFCEI voiced its concern that the “South Africa nation has entered into an international agreement without doing their financial homework”.
SAFCEI is a multi-faith organization which supports faith communities in caring for the earth. It has a broad spectrum of multi-faith membership, including Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, and a wide range of Christian denominations. Through collaboration, networking, research and action, SAFCEI seeks to:
- raise environmental awareness
- engage in formulating policy and ethical guidelines within faith communities
- facilitate environmental responsibility and action
- confront environmental and socio-economic injustices
- support environmental training and learning.
SAFCEI has briefed ODAC to assist with the PAIA request.
ODAC’s mission is to promote open and transparent democracy; foster a culture of corporate and government accountability; and assist people in South Africa to be able to realise their human rights. By promoting transparency, enhancing access to information, supporting whistleblowers and liberating data, we are forwarding a culture of accountability and openness to meet the needs of citizens.
Submitted 17th February 2015