UKZN corruption report to remain under wraps

2018-09-18 16:15
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The forensic report into the alleged "places for sale" scandal at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's (UKZN) medical school will remain under wraps for now.

This is the upshot of a judgment handed down this week in which Judge Piet Koen of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban confirmed an interdict granted last year against Independent Newspapers, prohibiting publication of the report or its summary, which was compiled by KPMG.

UKZN declined to comment on the matter on Tuesday, saying the entire affair was still under investigation.

So far, three people - Little Gujarat restaurant owners Varsha and Hiteshkumar Bhatt and former school teacher Preshni Hiramun - have been arrested on corruption charges. They allegedly "sold" places in the medical and health sciences faculties to students for as much as R500 000.

They are to appear in Pinetown Magistrate's Court again in November. At their last appearance, the magistrate warned that it would be a final postponement for the purpose of investigation and that the matter must be set down for trial or the charges could be withdrawn.

UKZN sought court protection in August last year after the Sunday Tribune newspaper "punted" on social media that it would "unpack" the KPMG report and the roleplayers in its edition that weekend.

Judge Gregory Kruger granted an interim interdict that Saturday. As a result of this, sections of the article were redacted in print, but in an online version, certain names were used, which were said to have come from the report. UKZN, in arguing for a final interdict before Judge Koen, said the report was "private and confidential".

Independent Newspapers said previous articles had been published and the report was already in the public domain.

The judge disagreed with this.

"I am not persuaded that a summary of the report, or even the report itself, being leaked by unlawful means - thus coming into the public domain - results in them losing their status as confidential documents."

"Our constitutional dispensation recognises human rights including the right to privacy, dignity and would frown on this.

"There is public interest of a high order in preserving confidentiality within an organisation."

The judge said it seemed that only portions of a summary - and not the entire report - had been reported on previously and there were dangers in "naming and shaming" individuals when investigations were ongoing.

"In our present political discourse where allegations of fraud and corruption and state capture abound, the importance of a vigilant and vigorous press and the benefit of penetrative investigative journalism should, of course, never be underestimated and indeed encouraged.

"A curtailment of publication constitutes a curtailment of the respondents' rights and the tangible interest of the public to remain informed.

"But these are not absolute rights. And often the balance of competing interests is a difficult exercise. In this matter, UKZN is not preventing publication of detail of what the investigation will ultimately reveal. It just wants to complete the investigation."

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