Travelgate records to be released

2011-07-29 14:07
Grahamstown - The Eastern Cape High Court has ruled in favour of the Centre for Social Accountability (CSA) to access records regarding the so-called "Travelgate" saga.

The scandal involved the alleged abuse by MPs of travel vouchers, and came to light in the early 2000s.

On Thursday, the court ordered the Secretary to Parliament and National Assembly Speaker to release to the CSA within 10 days two schedules of a Sale of Claims Agreement - concluded in February 2009 - between Parliament and the liquidators of Bathong Travel (Pty) Ltd.

The documents include the names of MPs and claims against them.

This agreement allowed Parliament to buy, at taxpayers' expense, claims which were being pursued by the liquidators of Bathong against MPs implicated in travelgate, CSA spokesperson Jay Kruuse said on Friday.

"This occurred despite Parliament being a majority creditor in the liquidation of Bathong.

Transparency and accountability

"By buying the claims Parliament was able to secure control over the collection of outstanding money and could decide whether to pursue MPs or not," he said.

The court judgment followed a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) request for access to the agreement, which was submitted to Parliament by the CSA during March 2009.

After Parliament refused to release the entire agreement, arguing among other things, that it would amount to an unreasonable disclosure of personal information relating to MPs, the CSA brought an application to court using PAIA.

Kruuse said the judgment reinforced the obligations placed upon Parliament and other duty bearers by the Constitution and PAIA and noted that such laws sought to foster transparency and accountability in government and by implication within Parliament's own corridors.

"The ruling also contributes to jurisprudence on PAIA and considers what information should be protected from disclosure versus information which should be released in the public interest, as required by section 46 of PAIA," he said.

The judge noted that the personal life a MP chose to live was of no concern to the state.

"But how they execute their duties as MPs, under what circumstances they claim payment in respect of travel vouchers, and whether or not they obey the rules of Parliament and act in accordance with the code of conduct which society expects from its MPs, all of this is the business of the state.

"The state has the right to know, and through the state, the members of society who have elected the MPs in an open and democratic society."

The judge noted that public interest was at stake when the structure of institutional democracy was threatened by a culture of "secretive and unresponsive" government, and found that any conduct by members of Parliament which on balance of probability would disclose unlawful or irregular conduct in the exercise of their parliamentary duties, constituted a threat to South Africa's institutional democratic order and warranted disclosure in the public interest.

The CSA called on Parliament to explain what steps it had taken to recover claims against MPs and the extent of claims still outstanding, Kruuse said.

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