Reveal Travelgate MPs – court

2011-07-29 11:10

The Eastern Cape High Court in Grahamstown 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 Members of Parliament (MPs) of travel vouchers which came to light in the early 2000s.

Yesterday, the court ordered the secretary to parliament and national assembly speaker to release to the centre 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 at taxpayers’ expense, to buy claims which were being pursued by the liquidators of Bathong against MPs implicated in Travelgate, centre spokesperson Jay Kruuse said today.

“This occurred despite Parliament being a majority creditor in the liquidation of Bathong. 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 centre in March 2009.

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

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 judge noted that public interest was at stake when the structure of institutional democracy was threatened by a culture of “secretive and unresponsive” government.

He found that any conduct by MPs 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. 

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