Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

ENERGY Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s repeated refusal to provide documentation on government’s nuclear procurement plans is to be challenged by Parliament’s energy affairs portfolio committee, which decided on Tuesday to submit a request for them to her.

Whether in court or in reply to parliamentary questions, the minister has consistently argued that the documents are privileged, confidential and sensitive. But now that the implementation of the plan to build 9,600MW of nuclear capacity gets closer, the need for greater disclosure becomes ever more urgent. She announced recently that the request for proposals for the build programme would be published at the end of September.

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Committee chairman Fikile Majola acceded to a request by DA energy spokesman Gordon Mackay that he write to the minister requesting all the relevant documentation. This is the second time Majola has taken a stand in favour of transparency about the state’s nuclear plans. He has made the commitment that the committee will hold public hearings on the project.

Mackay’s request was based on legal advice from Parliament’s legal advisers that the minister had no right to refuse to supply documents if so requested by the chairperson of a portfolio committee. It was up to the chairperson to decide what was classified and to restrict access to documents on this basis if he deemed this necessary. The legal opinion stated that a parliamentary committee had the right to summon any document from anyone which it required to perform its functions.

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Majola agreed with the legal advice saying it complied with the Constitution and he agreed to write to the minister formally requesting that the documents be submitted by October 11.

“I have no doubt that Parliament has an absolute obligation to engage with it [the nuclear procurement] thoroughly,” Majola said. “Parliament will have to see all the documents.”

Mackay said Joemat-Pettersson’s “wriggle room” had diminished and that if she refused to provide the documents she would be in violation of the Constitution.

The committee unanimously resolved in 2015 that the Department of Energy provide it with key nuclear procurement documentation including the integrated infrastructure review, the financing option models, the economic effect, localisation and other pertinent documents. These as yet have not been forthcoming.

Earthlife Africa and Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute have also requested a raft of the department’s nuclear documents in their legal action against the government for what they say have been irregularities in the decision-making on the nuclear plan.

Mackay argued that the documents provided by the department should also include those which it mentioned in a media statement on Monday.

The statement said that over the past five years government had commissioned independent studies in preparation for the nuclear procurement including on the cost; a procurement framework; owner-operator and financing structures; finance option model solutions; deferred return on government investor approach; economic impact of localisation; a feasibility study on effective independence of the National Nuclear Regulator; accession by SA to global nuclear liability conventions; training for nuclear and radiological emergencies; a detailed financing model for the radioactive waste management fund; a feasibility study on the withdrawal of the safeguards function from the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA; preprocurement readiness assessment; and a programme management system.