Sections of PAIA and TAA ruled unconstitutional by Concourt

The case, involving the Promotion of Access to
Information Act (PAIA) and the Tax Administration Act (TAA), was initiated by Warren Thompson, a financial journalist, who sought access to Zuma’s tax records following allegations of tax evasion and non-disclosure of income sources made in a book by Jacques Pauw.

The Constitutional Court has made a ruling that certain sections of the PAIA and the TAA in South Africa are unconstitutional. As a result, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) must provide access to former President Jacob Zuma’s tax records.

Initially, SARS denied Thompson’s application, citing Zuma’s right to confidentiality under PAIA and
the TAA. Thompson appealed internally, but the appeal was dismissed on the same grounds.
Thompson and others then filed a legal application in the High Court to challenge the restrictions on
accessing tax information under PAIA.

The applicants argued that the prohibition on disclosing tax information should not be absolute and
that it should be possible to access such information when it would reveal significant legal violations
and serve the public interest. The relief sought from the High Court included a declaration of
unconstitutionality for the sections of PAIA and the TAA that restricted access to tax information, a
broader public interest exception in PAIA, and access to Zuma’s tax records relevant to the
allegations.

The High Court granted the relief, and the Constitutional Court upheld the order on appeal. The
Constitutional Court declared sections 35 and 46 of PAIA and sections 67 and 69 of the TAA
constitutionally invalid, emphasizing the need to balance privacy rights with the right to access
information and freedom of expression. The court referred Thompson’s request for access to Zuma’s
tax returns back to SARS for reconsideration. The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services was
given until the end of June 2023 to supplement the request for access to the records.

To allow time for Parliament to address the constitutional issues, the court suspended the specific
sections for 24 months from the date of the order. This ruling is expected to promote transparency
in public bodies and among public officials, reinforcing the constitutional right to access information.

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