WALVS BAY – PriceWaterhouseCoopers say they are obliged to keep the forensic report of the Walvis Bay municipality confidential, and also asked council not to release the report to the public.
However, this announcement and the council’s refusal to release the report has provoked the ire of former Walvis Bay municipal councillor Gibson Goseb.
“PWC and the Walvis Bay council are making a mockery of rates and taxpayers who are the actual ones who paid for the report,” he stated.
The firm said council can only release
to a roleplayer in the process, going forward. Both that party and council must then sign a binding document to keep the report confidential so that PWC, which was contracted by council, can protect the report and keep it confidential.
PWC partner Hans Hashagen, who signed off the report, explained in a telephonic interview this week to New Era that they initially signed a contract with the Walvis Bay council to keep the report confidential.
“We told them not to release it to the public as confidentiality will be totally lost,” he said.
PWC and the council faced some backlash for not releasing the report as previously promised by council. The report was carried out due to allegations of malpractice with the Massive Urban Land Servicing Project at the town.
Council, despite promising residents that they would release the report for transparency, cannot do so due to the binding clause, and only made recommendations suggested by PWC available.
“This is to ensure that we don’t get into trouble should this report be distributed in public,” he explained.
He added that forensic reports are often released to a third party like the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission, but in a controlled manner.
“In this case, the procedures were followed, and other parties signed to get access to the document. Who is going to sign for this document on behalf of the public? At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to protect and keep the report confidential. This is what we said we would do at the beginning, when contracted. We can’t change that, even if the council says that they don’t mind. It is a contractual obligation from the start. That is the crux of the matter,” Hashagen emphasised.
He then compared the process to that of patient-doctor confidentiality.
“That is what we are doing. If the municipality wants the world to know, they can probably do it, but we can’t do it. However, if they want to release it, they should follow the process that the other institutions followed. For example, the ACC gets a copy of the report, and they sign a document that says they will treat the report with the same respect as what the client expects of us,” he observed.
Goseb, however, said PWC doesn’t have the right to decide what the municipality must do with the report.
“They were contracted for a certain purpose, and that purpose ended with the submission of the report. The municipality, being a public office ,paid for the services rendered, hence the report should be in the public domain. They paid for it,” Goseb, who is a former UDF councillor, added.
“This tussle gives birth to residents making their own conclusions as concerns are already circulating that PWC might have stumbled upon something during their investigations.”
He added that the investigation itself is as a result of public complaints and concerns. Thus, he cannot comprehend why the council backtracked on their initial promise that they would release the report publicly for the sake of transparency. Hashagen, however, added that there would be no control over how the report would spread further, and it becomes difficult in the case of a newspaper releasing the report.
“Newspapers may only publish parts of the report, thus not giving a true reflection of the report. One needs to understand the context and everything behind the report,” he noted.
According to Hashagen, they just want to protect the integrity of the whole process, adding that the municipality is free to share the findings of the report with the public.
“What is in the report is what is in the report,” he said.
“It is their prerogative. That is our position. We don’t want to keep the report from anyone, but our responsibility in our profession is to maintain confidentiality. That is what everyone expects from us. To make the report public just because the public wants to see the report will break every ethical code we have,” he continued.
Asked whether this reporter can also request for a copy of the report, Hashagen said the municipality could be approached.
“I guess you potentially could. I would say if they want to do something like that, they should give you the opportunity to view the report. I would not say they should give the report to you, as someone might get hold of it and release it, meaning you will be responsible for any abuse of it,” he said.