Minister Mantashe suspended the civil society representative on the Board of the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) on 18 January based on a legal opinion provided to him on 10 October 2021. After a long process of letter writing and providing representations including a clear rebuttal of the allegations made against Peter Becker, the Minister wrote the letter below discharging Becker from the Board.
The central issue for the Minister as expressed in this TV interview and 16.e of his letter below appears to be the fact that Becker has expressed views opposed to the use of nuclear power in South Africa. This is a view shared by the majority of civil society organisations which Becker was representing on the Board, and those views had been widely expressed and published for at least a decade before his appointment by the Minister. It is not clear if the Minister was somehow unaware of these views, or if he expected Becker to stop expressing those views in exchange for his position on the Board and associated Director’s fees he was to receive. Either way, it appears that the Minister may be conflicted with his roles of both promoting the use of nuclear power, and also appointing or discharging members of the Board of the Regulator. This is a conflict that the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed concern over in 2013 and recommended a change in who the NNR Board reports to. That recommendation has been ignored. The message from the Minister is explicit – civil society cannot nominate anyone for this position unless they are either neutral or pro-nuclear.
There are several puzzling elements in the Minister’s letter, and one is 8.b. “Communications to the Chairperson of the NNR Board…”. This refers to an email written by Becker on 27 July 2021 which begins:
“There is a concern | have, and being new here | thought | would describe it to you below and ask for guidance as to whether, and how, to raise it.”
One of the functions of any Board is oversight, and hence Directors have a fiduciary duty to raise concerns they have. There also seems to be no more constructive way to raise such concerns than to write a respectful email to the Chair asking for guidance. Despite that, this email is now referred to as misconduct, and grounds for discharge. What message does this send to other Board members?
Section 16.c. is also interesting in that was not one of the reasons the Minister gave in his letter of 15 February. The earlier letter purported to provide reasons why the Minister was intending to discharge Becker, but did not mention the meetings with civil society described in 16.c. In effect, this added an allegation to those in the earlier letter which appears questionable in terms of fairness. Apart from that detail, the issue seems to be that the Minister considers Becker meeting with the people he was mandated to represent as being ‘misconduct’, and such meetings should only take place if ‘authorised’ by the Board. This is plainly nonsensical, and it is easy to understand why it was omitted from the 15 February letter. What message does this send to whoever is appointed next to represent civil society?
Asked for comment, Becker responded that he would be consulting with his legal team and the civil organisations he represented, and if resources allowed, he would be challenging this decision through the courts.
Here is the letter from the Minister in full: