Minister Ebrahim Patel disagrees with National Lotteries Commission’s refusal to disclose recipients of grants.

ZAKHENI Ma Afrika (ZMA), one of the grant beneficiaries of the National Lotteries Commission, has filed an urgent court application in the Pretoria High Court to prevent the Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel from publishing the list of organizations receiving money from the Lotto.

The organization’s Vice-President, Shaun Mpho Lanto, says in court papers filed in the high court on Thursday that Patel’s decision to publish the names of grant beneficiaries would be in contravention the National Lotteries Act, as well as Regulation 8 (1).

Lanto adds that the ‘unlawful’ dissemination of information poses a real danger for grant beneficiaries and that the Act forbids the NLC from releasing this information to the public’.  

In court papers seen by Inside Politics, the non-profit organization based in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, is requesting the court to prevent Patel from disclosing personal details of the applicant, including the personal names of the beneficiary, the names of the projects undertaken by the applicant, the amount of grants, funds and allocations distributed to the applicant, subject to the provisions of the Lotteries Act.

Zakheni Ma Afrika’s court action comes a few days after the parliamentary portfolio committee on trade and industry resolved that within seven days, the NLC must submit the 2019 figures that were never published, as well as publish the current financials.

The NLC was also ordered by the parliamentary committee to publish a list of all NPOs struggling due to funding drying up because of COVID-19, to which they allocated R150 million.

“This should include the names, the amounts that were disbursed, as well as the categories it was paid out from. It should also include all beneficiary lists that have not be made public up to now,” said the portfolio committee chairperson Duma Nkosi.

“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.”

The NLC has for the past 18 years published the list of the organisations that received money from the Lotto.

However, the NLC has since stopped publishing the list from 2019, arguing that ‘while in the past such lists were published, on consideration of the laws governing private information and complaints from some beneficiaries, it reached the conclusion that the publication of such information was erroneous and not in the public interest.’

In court papers, Zakheni Ma Afrika says that opening up beneficiaries’ information for public scrutiny could lead to breaches in confidentiality between grant recipients and the beneficiaries they serve.

“It becomes a politicized agenda when our funding records are made public knowledge which leads to chaos and entitlement issues from some community members,” according to Lanto in court papers.  

“It could also make some of our private donors nervous if we disclose other donor funds to the general public. Private donors may get the impression that their information will also be disclosed and that will jeopardize our fundraising abilities in the foreseeable future.”

He adds: “Disclosing donor funds could open up our organization to even biggest public scrutiny that could lead to beneficiary information being jeopardized. Our organization works with some of the most vulnerable members of society and it is always imperative to protect their identity and their information.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance said this week that there is no legal justification for not publishing the grant beneficiaries’ list.

The DA’s Shadow Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry and Economic Development Mat Cuthbert has also laid a charge against the NLC for its refusal to disclose names of beneficiaries to Parliament.

“This action was decided upon after the DA sought a legal opinion, which found that the NLC had acted unlawfully by not releasing their list of beneficiaries for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 financial years, as well as their Covid-19 Relief Fund beneficiaries,” said Cuthbert in a statement.

“ANC Members of Parliament and the NLC have fought tooth and nail to keep this information hidden from parliamentary oversight and the Committee Chairperson of Trade, Industry and Competition has failed to present a legal opinion solicited from Parliament’s legal advisor more than a month ago.”

This week, Patel wrote a letter addressed to the chairperson of the NLC, Professor Alfred Nevhutanda, saying it was highly undesirable that there should be such a fundamental disagreement between the minister and the NLC on such a key issue.

“I am advised that the portfolio committee on trade and industry has sought legal opinion from parliament’s legal advisors. Should that opinion confirm the advice I have received, it will make the case for release of the information even more compelling and I would expect the NLC to make the information available as previously indicated,” said Patel.

“As I have indicated previously, it is of great concern to me that the NLC should interpret Regulation 8 as prohibiting the disclosure of the names and other details of recipients of NLC funds. This interpretation is fundamentally at odds with the interpretation held by myself and the DTI as well as that previously adopted by the NLC.”

(Compiled by Inside Politics staff)

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