Concerns over Sanral secrecy bill

Two non-governmental organisations raised concerns on Thursday about Sanral’s application for certain court documents and court hearings to be kept secret.

“Our concern is that the degree of secrecy that is being imposed is greater than is necessary to protect any confidentiality interests at stake, if any,” the Right2Know Campaign and Section 16 said in a statement.

The application, brought by the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) and Protea Parkways Consortium (PPC), would be heard in camera in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

The application is part of litigation around the proposed N1/N2 Winelands Toll Highway Project.

In May last year, the high court granted the City of Cape Town an interim interdict preventing Sanral from implementing or advancing the toll project, including the conclusion of any contract or start of construction.

The interdict remains in force until the city’s application is finalised. The city wants Sanral’s declaration of the project and the selection of the preferred bidder, PPC, to be reviewed and set aside.

The NGOs said: “The Western Cape High Court has ordered that the court papers in the secrecy application be temporarily sealed until it has heard and decided on Sanral and PPC’s claim to secrecy”.

PPC and Sanral apparently do not want the matter to be heard in open court, and court documents to be in the public domain, due to concerns over “commercial confidentiality”.

The NGOs were seeking admission to the case as friends of the court.

“We understand that there are no objections to our being admitted as friends of the court, but Sanral are still objecting to release of even redacted papers.”

The public were denied access to all court papers — not only documents where confidentiality was claimed — unless consenting to a confidentiality agreement.

“Our efforts to make submissions as a friend of the court in respect of the merits of the secrecy claims have also been severely hindered by the unconstitutional sealing of the entire court record.”

The NGOs were concerned that open justice and debate on a matter of significant public interest were being stifled.

“We welcome proposals from the parties that the judge be asked for directions, but should that not succeed in getting disclosure before the hearing we will have no choice but to launch a court application for disclosure of the record.”

On Tuesday, the City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for transport, Brett Herron, said the papers Sanral and PPC wanted kept secret contained data on the cost of the project, the expected socio-economic impact of the tolls, and what the toll fees would be spent on.

Herron said: “If the ruling is in favour of Sanral, information of great public importance about the proposed tolling of these roads and the construction thereof (to be funded by public money), will be withheld from the public.

“However, if the ruling is in favour of the city, the public disclosure of this information will go ahead as the matter will then be argued in an open court.”

Asked for comment on Tuesday, Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona said: “This matter is currently in court and Sanral respects the sub judice principle”.

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Concerns over Sanral secrecy bill