Body threat­ens ac­tion


The Citizen (KZN) - - News - GroundUp staff

On­go­ing probe into fraud has cer­tainly ruf­fled some feath­ers.

The Na­tional Lotteries Com­mis­sion (NLC) says it in­tends to lay crim­i­nal charges against free­lance jour­nal­ist Ray­mond Joseph and GroundUp over an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged fraud and cor­rup­tion in­volv­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-rand lot­tery grants.

The threats were made in two sep­a­rate let­ters from the NLC’s lawyers, Malatji and Co, which were re­ceived by e-mail on Thurs­day and Satur­day.

The NLC also de­manded that GroundUp re­move 16 sto­ries from its web­site, many of which ex­posed in­com­pe­tence and prob­a­ble cor­rup­tion in­volv­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-rand lot­tery-funded projects.

In the ini­tial let­ter, Malatji said that the NLC was “con­sid­er­ing” lay­ing crim­i­nal charges. But in a fol­low-up let­ter, the lawyers said: “The NLC in­tends to lay crim­i­nal charges against Joseph and GroundUp for the con­tra­ven­tion of Reg­u­la­tion 8.”

The reg­u­la­tion of the Lotteries Act quoted by the lawyers deals specif­i­cally with mem­bers of the NLC’s dis­tribut­ing agen­cies. Among other things, the reg­u­la­tion makes it an of­fence for a dis­tribut­ing agency to re­veal de­tails of both grant ap­pli­ca­tions and awarded grants. Mem­bers of the dis­tribut­ing agen­cies are ap­pointed by the min­is­ter of trade and in­dus­try.

That the sec­tion of the Act be­ing in­voked by the NLC refers specif­i­cally to dis­tribut­ing agen­cies is clear from the let­ter sent by their lawyers.

“The afore­men­tioned con­duct of Joseph and GroundUp re­spec­tively, of dis­clos­ing and pub­lish­ing the de­tails re­ferred to, con­tra­venes the reg­u­la­tions re­lat­ing to dis­tribut­ing agen­cies pub­lished un­der the Lotteries Act, 57 of 1997,” Malatji says in its first let­ter of de­mand.

Nei­ther GroundUp nor Joseph are “dis­tribut­ing agen­cies”.

The NLC has also, in part, used this same sec­tion of the Act to deny sev­eral Pro­mo­tion of Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act (PAIA) ap­pli­ca­tions re­quest­ing de­tails of lot­tery-funded projects.

In re­sponse to pre­vi­ous ques­tions, as well as PAIA re­quests, NLC of­fi­cials have also claimed that the right to pri­vacy of or­gan­i­sa­tions and peo­ple in­volved in lot­tery-funded projects prevents them from sup­ply­ing the re­quested in­for­ma­tion.

While leaked NLC doc­u­ments were used in some of the sto­ries the NLC wants taken down, most of the re­port­ing is based on in­ter­views with sources, on-the­ground re­port­ing, leaked bank state­ments and pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing the com­mis­sion’s an­nual re­ports pub­lished on its web­site.

Other info about funded or­gan­i­sa­tions was sup­plied by the de­part­ment of so­cial de­vel­op­ment and records on the com­pa­nies and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty com­mis­sion data­base.

The NLC’s lawyers have listed 17 sto­ries they say con­tra­vene the law. Fif­teen were orig­i­nally pub­lished on GroundUp and repub­lished by other me­dia un­der a cre­ative com­mons pol­icy. One was co-pub­lished by the Zout­pans­berger in Lim­popo and GroundUp. One was pub­lished by the Sun­day Times.

“The … ar­ti­cles not only have the ef­fect of tar­nish­ing the good name and rep­u­ta­tion of the NLC, they also un­law­fully dis­close de­tails of per­sons who have been awarded grants by the NLC, as well as the grants them­selves,” the let­ter reads.

In the sec­ond let­ter, the NLC lawyers make a fur­ther de­mand re­lat­ing to the sto­ries they listed.

“The NLC has in­structed us to de­mand … that Joseph and GroundUp, promptly re­tract all pub­li­ca­tion of in­for­ma­tion that con­tra­venes Reg­u­la­tion 8 from all elec­tronic and other plat­forms that it was pub­lished in­clud­ing those cir­cu­lated by e-mail within 6 (six) days of date of this let­ter.” Most of the sto­ries they want taken down ex­posed ev­i­dence of prob­a­ble cor­rup­tion in the use of lot­tery fund­ing. But oth­ers don’t and only rely on in­ter­views and pub­lic doc­u­ments.

Cor­rup­tion Watch ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor David Lewis said: “Cor­rup­tion Watch notes with alarm the in­tim­i­da­tion tech­niques that are be­ing used by the Na­tional Lotteries Com­mis­sion (NLC) against jour­nal­ist Ray­mond Joseph and the news out­let GroundUp.

“The NLC is re­ly­ing on a reg­u­la­tion to the Lotteries Act that pro­hibits the dis­clo­sure of grant in­for­ma­tion and, given the im­por­tant place the rights to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion play in our con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem, Cor­rup­tion Watch is con­cerned that this reg­u­la­tion – or its im­ple­men­ta­tion by the

NLC – may be un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

Lewis also crit­i­cised the NLC for re­fus­ing to re­veal de­tails of its most re­cent grant re­cip­i­ents, as it had for the pre­vi­ous 18 years.

“It is deeply sus­pi­cious that they have gone from vol­un­tar­ily dis­clos­ing in­for­ma­tion on their grants to flat-out re­fus­ing to do so. Trans­parency is a vi­tal com­po­nent in the fight against cor­rup­tion and the ut­ter lack of trans­parency in the NLC at present raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the in­tegrity of their work.”

Charl du Plessis, a lawyer with me­dia law firm Willem de Klerk At­tor­neys, said: “The NLC’s con­duct … raises ques­tion marks about its com­mit­ment to the con­sti­tu­tional val­ues of open­ness, trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity.”

Dean Macpher­son, the Demo­cratic Al­liance spokesper­son for trade and in­dus­try, last week wrote to Min­is­ter of Trade and In­dus­try Ebrahim Pa­tel, ask­ing him to place the NLC un­der ad­min­is­tra­tion, dis­miss its board and sus­pend its chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

Macpher­son de­scribed the NLC’s le­gal threats against Joseph and GroundUp “as a last-ditch at­tempt to cover up for al­leged fraud and cor­rup­tion by se­nior staff mem­bers”. – Repub­lished from GroundUp

A last-ditch at­tempt to cover up

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