Energy committee chairman Fikile Majola, who once championed transparency in SA’s new nuclear build, has reversed his stance in favour of secrecy.

When the Department of Energy briefs Parliament on the new nuclear build, this will be conducted behind closed doors, Majola said on Tuesday.

This marks a step backwards in Majola’s otherwise forthright push for greater transparency from the department, which has been intent on withholding documents on the programme.

The new nuclear build programme is highly contested terrain, not least because it has been shrouded in secrecy.

Business Day has lodged a Promotion of Access to Information Act application to access studies done by consultants on the new nuclear build.

The sitting was yet to be scheduled.

The Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg have instituted a legal challenge in the Western Cape High Court, and the case is set down for December.

Institute spokeswoman Liz McDaid questioned Majola’s sudden change of tack.

Majola also said the meeting to discuss the forensic reports into the R14.5bn impairment suffered by PetroSA on its investment in the Ikhwezi offshore drilling project was also to be closed. This meeting was also scheduled for Tuesday, attracting a strong media presence.

Journalists and other members of the public were required to leave the room.

Majola said he had obtained the necessary authorisation from parliamentary authorities to close the meeting, which would be addressed by the PetroSA board.

At a previous sitting, Majola obtained copies of the forensic reports into the Ikhwezi project on the proviso that the committee decided in what manner it dealt with it, giving consideration to the need for confidentiality.

The Ikhwezi project was intended to bolster the supply of gas to PetroSA’s gas-to-fuel refinery at Mossel Bay but generated only about 10% of the envisaged volumes.

Democratic Alliance MP Pieter van Dalen said in a statement that after the media and members of the public had left the meeting ANC MP’s used their majority to decide that the PetroSA forensic audit Report be withheld from the public.” PetroSA declared the audit reports to contain commercially sensitive information as well as containing implications/allegations against named individuals.

“There is a stench of political concealment underlying the information within the audit reports and it is becoming clear that ANC cadres are implicated in the of wrong-doing. We will not rest until we get to the bottom of PetroSA’s financial problems, the first step being the unqualified release of all financial malfeasance embedded within the forensic audit report,” Van Dalen said.

After a lengthy debate Majola agreed to release a brief summary of the findings but Van Dalen said this undermined transparency. The DA would write to Majola demanding full-sight of the underlying documents, failing which we will be escalating our request to Parliament’s Chair of Chairs.”

Meanwhile Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has written to the Minister of Energy, the Presidency, Treasury, National Energy Regulator of SA and other authorities demanding that government place on hold its plans for the new build nuclear project until the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) has been updated and subjected to public input as legally required.

“We are concerned that the South African government appears to be hell-bent on forcing a new nuclear energy build program down the nation’s throat in the absence of an updated and credible IRP,” Outa’s Wayne Duvenage said.

 “Until a credible base case and transparent IRP is in place, OUTA believes the governing authorities are acting unconstitutionally and not in the best interests of the nation, if they continue to pursue the development of new nuclear and coal projects.”

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