Ruling a victory for democracy

The Herald Opinion from 21/10/2011

THE much-lauded ruling by acting Judge Nceba Dukada that the full Kabuso forensic report on maladministration in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality be handed over to The Herald is a landmark victory for the people on a number of levels.

It comes seven months after this newspaper and its sister publication Weekend Post first set the legal wheels in motion in court to compel Local Government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane to release the report in accordance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act and the outcome has been hailed by various institutions as highly significant to the body of case law in South Africa.

While the judgment highlights in no uncertain terms the immense value of an independent judiciary and free press – and sets a vital precedent – it most crucially represents a huge boost for one of the fundamental cornerstones of a healthy democracy: the right for you to know.

For far too long, many of our leaders across the breadth of the country have treated their constituents in a paternalistic manner, taking it upon themselves to decide what they should or should not know about the workings – and failings – of a government they voted into power.

This smacks of arrogance. The only way in which an electorate can make informed decisions about who is adequately equipped to govern, is if voters have access to the information necessary to fully gauge who are the people and parties best suited to the job.

Indeed, in declaring that it was compellingly in the public interest for evidence of substantial contraventions of the law to be revealed, Judge Dukada said the attitude of Qoboshiyane seemed paternalistic and appeared to reflect a distrust of the public.

This all too familiar knee-jerk reaction of withholding what the people have every right to know – of which the Kabuso audit is a classic example – has little to do with politicians’ lame defence of protecting the public because of the effect such reports may have on investment and jobs.

Rather, it is about protecting themselves – and their own careers and political aspirations – from any damning evidence which threatens them. It is an over-prevalent attitude which flies in the face of transparency.

With the proposed Protection of Information Bill still casting its shadow over our future ability to gain access to such contentious reports, the Kabuso ruling is a stark reminder to the public and media to be ever vigilant in protecting what is really important – our freedoms.