Parliament to order Lotteries Commission to submit details of all its grants

The National Lotteries Commission has funded three projects in Kuruman. After two years two of them are incomplete and the third project consists of a library with empty shelves and a museum with one exhibit. Photo: Raymond Joseph / GroundUp

Refusal to do so would not ‘withstand constitutional scrutiny’, says parliamentary legal adviser

Parliament’s Trade, Industry and Competition Portfolio Committee will instruct the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) to immediately submit details of all recipients of Lottery grants.

The committee also resolved, during an online meeting on 15 July, to summons the NLC to appear before it to answer questions, including about the NLC’s decision not to make beneficiary details public.

The committee’s decision is based on a legal opinion by Chief Parliamentary Legal Adviser Advocate Z Adhikarie, who found that the NLC’s reasons for not making the information public did not hold water.

The legal opinion was presented to the committee by parliamentary legal officer Thiloshini Gangen.

The legislation cited by the NLC to defend its stance, said Adhikarie, “does not provide a basis” to refuse to supply the information. And, he said, if the claim by the NLC that it had erred in publishing grant information in the past was correct, it “would not in our view withstand constitutional scrutiny.

ALSO READ: Government investigates lottery funded projects

“The NLC must clearly and precisely specify the grounds and the reasons for refusal of the information… The stance of the NLC seems to be that, there is a blanket prohibition on the provision of this information, which is untenable,” said Adhikarie.

This brought to a head an ongoing row over the NLC’s failure to publish details of beneficiaries of its grants in its 2019 annual report, after doing so for the previous 18 years.

The NLC also refused a request by the committee for the lists of Lottery grants, as well as a list of the recipients of a R150 million NLC Covid-19 relief grant to assist its beneficiaries.

Documents leaked to GroundUp had revealed how the NLC, in the 2019-2020 financial year, gave millions of rands to dodgy projects like old age homes that were still unfinished, years after receiving grants.

The NLC argued that it had been wrong in previously publishing these details, citing sections of the Lotteries Act, Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), and Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).

In a letter last week to the committee chair Duma Nkosi, NLC Chairman Alfred Nevhutanda argued that if the information was supplied to Parliament it would first have to be declared “confidential“ by the NLC.

“We submit that the financial statements of the NLC must disclose the information and that this information must be available to the Auditor General as the NLC is subject to the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act),” Adhikarie said in his opinion.

With regard to the NLC’s argument that supplying grant details impinges on the right to privacy of the recipients, he said: “The constitutional right to privacy is not an absolute right but may be limited in terms of laws of general application and must be balanced with other rights entrenched in the Constitution.”

READ MORE: Lotteries Commission won’t say where Covid-19 relief fund money went

Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has made it clear that he believes that the names of Lottery grants should be public. Patel last month ordered an investigation into the NLC after previous investigations commissioned by the NLC board cleared the Commission and senior members of its staff of any wrongdoing.

An interim report on the investigation ordered by Patel, which was limited in scope and only looked at a handful of Lottery-funded projects, was handed to the portfolio committee last week.

Patel is under pressure to widen the scope of the investigation because of the scale of the looting of Lottery funds that has been exposed.

This article first appeared on GroundUp and was republished with permission.

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