Govt defends nuclear 'secrecy'

Cape Town - Government came under fire for tabling treaties in Parliament without debate as an application over its nuclear agreement with Russia continued in the Western Cape High Court on Friday.

Judges Lee Bozalek and Elizabeth Baartman expressed concern over how Members of Parliament are supposed to know about the existence of a treaty which they might not agree with, if it is ''in some drawer''.

The government's lawyer Marius Oosthuizen SC countered with a defence that the treaties are covered in the press before they are tabled.

He was arguing the case in which NGOs Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute are challenging the government’s deal to buy 9.6 GW of new nuclear power without debating it in Parliament.

The applicants believe South Africa cannot afford the R1trn price tag, and that the agreement should be reviewed.

''When this programme kicked off there were newspaper reports to say that there were these treaties and that we have them in place,'' said Oosthuizen.

To which Baartman replied: ''Well if you can tell the press, why can't you tell Parliament?''

Oosthuizen argued "it's one thing to tell the press. To process these things, in order to get it ready for tabling, is something else.''

But Baartman persisted: ''One day you say it's okay to tell the press and not Parliament, the next day you accuse the press of just making mischief. What must Parliament believe if you don't tell them?''

She said the point of telling Parliament is to avoid exaggeration.

However, Oosthuizen submitted that the government had done everything required of it by tabling the agreement in terms of a ''technical, administrative, executive'' agreement which did not have to be debated.

In any case, he added, the agreement had been accepted by a parliamentary committee.

READ: We don't need public approval for Russian nuclear deal - govt

On Thursday, the court heard that the agreement with Russia over nuclear procurement was just an agreement to potentially work together, and was not at the stage of being a commercial agreement.

As an international agreement between two sovereign states there was also no constitutional requirement that it go through Parliament for debate before being tabled. 

Bozalek said that when the constitution was being drawn up, the authors probably did not envisage something like the present situation.

The treaty was tabled as a ''technical, administrative, executive'' international agreement to bypass the need to get Parliament involved. On Thursday Oosthuizen said this meant only the executive could have a say it in. 

READ: Why is everyone picking on the Russian nuclear deal - govt

Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter:
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
Do you think it was a good idea for the government to approach the IMF for a $4.3 billion loan to fight Covid-19?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes. We need the money.
11% - 847 votes
It depends on how the funds are used.
74% - 5642 votes
No. We should have gotten the loan elsewhere.
15% - 1125 votes