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MBABANE – Taxpayers stand to be deprived of critical information on how their money is being spent by the Eswatini National Industrial Development Corporation (ENIDC) – a Category A public enterprise.

Yesterday, the government company obtained a court interdict against the Times SUNDAY, which was going to publish an investigative article today regarding ENIDC’s deal with an Israel company known as AquaMaof Aquaculture Technologies LTD.

The Israel company is conducting a feasibility study to determine the viability of constructing an indoor plant for the production of salmon in Eswatini – a project that is set to cost about E1 billion.  
As per journalistic practice, the Times SUNDAY sent a questionnaire to ENIDC Managing Director Muzikayise Dube seeking his side of the story regarding the deal.

This was done on Thursday at 11:53am.
By late Friday afternoon, the Times of Eswatini managing editor was served with an urgent letter from Robinson Bertram law firm acting on behalf of ENIDC. “We wish to make reference to a questionnaire that was sent by your reporter, Mr Welcome Dlamini to the Managing Director of Eswatini National Industrial Development Corporation pertaining to a project that is under study and hence very confidential,” states the letter.

right to privacy

It further reads: “Our client is a public enterprise that engages in various business transactions, including engagement with external entities. Our client has both a common law and constitutional right to privacy in the conduct of its business affairs. It also has a statutory right to the protection of information, including emails and other forms of electronic communication.”

Continuing, the letter says the questionnaire imputes that the Times of Eswatini is in possession of confidential information pertaining to ENIDC and intends to cause to be published such information in one of its newspapers.
“First, while it is correct that our client is involved in sensitive negotiations with the entity named in your email under consideration, the nature and stage of these negotiations is extremely confidential and ought not to be disclosed without permission and the concurrence of the entity concerned. Publication of confidential information, particularly that which has been obtained through unlawful means, is by law prohibited,” the letter reads.

Secondly, the lawyers say they believe that the Times of Eswatini has unlawfully obtained copies of emails and/or confidential communication between ENIDC and the Israel company, which emails pertain to sensitive negotiations and/or communication.

“In the alternative, our client believes that there may have been unlawful intrusion into its electronic data system (hacking),” reads the lawyers’ letter. It says heedless publication of such information in total disregard of the potential adverse consequences for ENIDC will cause untold damage to the public enterprise, both in terms of reputation as well as the business transaction under discussion.

Thirdly, the letter states that the publication of information that is protected in terms of the data laws of the country constitutes a criminal offence.
“Our client is entitled to the protection of its private business affairs, and in this respect, we are instructed to demand as we hereby do, that you refrain from publishing any information relating to the project, particularly information to the negotiations and engagements with the entity in question,” the letter adds.

The lawyers said in the event they did not receive written undertaking not to publish anything pertaining to the project involving AquaMaof and ENIDC by 8pm on Friday, they had instructions to bring an urgent interdict application at the High Court without further notice or recourse to the Times of Eswatini.
In response, the Times said it would not respond to the allegations made in the lawyers’ letter and reserved its right to  do so in the appropriate forum should it become necessary.

“We are of the view that you are aware that ENIDC is a public company which is in receipt of public funds. The proper and ethical use of public funds is a matter of public interest and, in these circumstances, should there be any indication of flouting of its own regulations, applicable legislation in the conduct of business and of possible irregular business practices, the public has a right to be informed,” reads part of the response.

It was drawn to the lawyers’ attention that ENIDC had been given an opportunity to respond to the issues raised and should any attempt be made to stop the publication of such information, it would be opposed.
Yesterday, the ENIDC’s lawyers approached the High Court with an urgent application and Judge Mzwandile Fakudze granted them the order interdicting the Times from publishing the story.

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