Government stays quiet on fracking issues

Cape Argus

September 30, 2011

John Yeld, Environment & Science Writer

THE GOVERNMENT’S veil of silence about the task team it appointed to investigate the controversial shale gas drilling technique of fracking remains tightly drawn.

Now the Cape Argus has asked Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s office to investigate why national Mineral Resources minister Susan Shabangu’s department is not complying with the provisions of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia), after it ignored a formal application for details about the task team and its work.

A formal Paia application by the Cape Argus for full details about the task team, including members’ names and its terms of reference, was submitted in June, but was ignored. The newspaper’s subsequent internal appeal against this deemed refusal to supply the information was similarly ignored.

The newspaper’s questions about fracking and shale gas exploration in the Karoo to department spokesman Bheki Khumalo and other officials have been ignored, as have questions sent to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa).

Last month, Shabangu told the Cape Town Press Club she was not aware that her department was “untransparent” and that they wanted to engage with everyone about fracking for shale gas.

This week, the Cape Argus sent a formal complaint to the regional office of the Public Protector against the department’s alleged maladministration in not responding to its Paia application and appeal.

In terms of the Public Protector Act, a discretionary attempt can be made to resolve a Paia dispute by mediation, conciliation, negotiation, advising appropriate remedies, “or by other means that may be expedient in the circumstances”.

The regional office replied within two days, saying that because a national government department was involved, the matter had been referred to the Public Protector’s national office in Pretoria.

The Centre for Environmental Rights – a non-profit, independent institution providing legal support for non-government and community-based organisations – also put in a similar Paia application for details about the task team and received no response from Shabangu’s department.

The department turned down a second Paia application by the centre for a copy of the task team’s report, saying that providing the document would “unreasonably divert” the department’s resources.

The Treasure the Karoo Action Group, the umbrella body for groups opposed to fracking, put in Paia applications for information about the fracking task team to six state bodies involved: the Council for Geosciences, Pasa, CSIR, and the departments of Science and Technology Mineral Resources, and Trade and Industry

Luke Havemann, the group’s attorney said the CSIR and the Trade and Industry department had been the only two that had replied. The CSIR had said it did not have the information, while Trade and Industry said the application had been referred to a Mineral Resources department official, Siyabonga Vezi.

 

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