Outa Accuses SANRAL and CETA of Secret Contracts, Alleges Government Secrecy Culture

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Nonprofit watchdog Outa has lodged complaints against the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) and the Construction Education and Training Authority (Ceta), accusing them of concealing contracts with dubious companies. Outa claims this aligns with a broader government practice of obstructing public access to information.

Outa asserts that Sanral and Ceta refused to furnish requested information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) regarding contracts with two businesses linked to questionable activities. While Sanral partially disclosed information but withheld the rest citing commercial sensitivity, Ceta completely ignored the request.

According to Outa’s legal project manager Asavela Kakaza, PAIA mandates disclosure as the rule, not the exception. Section 11 of PAIA emphasizes the duty of public bodies to provide access to information upon request. Outa contends that transparency and accountability are fundamental values protected by the South African Constitution.

Sanral’s refusal pertained to a R4.7-billion tender awarded for capacity improvements on the N3 highway in KwaZulu-Natal. Despite partial disclosure, Sanral withheld crucial documents, citing commercial sensitivity. Outa argues that Section 46 of PAIA allows disclosure if it reveals substantial legal breaches or public safety risks, thereby overriding commercial sensitivity concerns.

Outa’s interest in scrutinizing the Sanral contract stems from criminal charges against directors of one JV partner involved, raising concerns about the tender’s legitimacy. While Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga defended the tender, Outa questions the rationale behind awarding it to a company facing legal issues.

Regarding Ceta, Outa sought information on a R24-million tender awarded for a biometric attendance system. The company in question had previously won a contract from another entity, leading to allegations of maladministration and corruption. Ceta informed Outa that the contract was canceled, closing the matter.

Outa’s scrutiny extends beyond individual cases, highlighting a broader issue of government secrecy. The Information Regulator’s report reveals widespread refusal by public entities to disclose requested information, with only 58% of requests granted in full. In contrast, private bodies exhibited higher transparency levels, with 81% of requests granted.

Outa’s efforts underscore the importance of transparency in governance and the need for robust oversight mechanisms to ensure accountability. As the watchdog continues its pursuit of information, it signals a commitment to upholding democratic values and combating corruption.

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