“Today marked the final input from the Department of State Security to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill,” says Alf Lees, DA Member of the National Council of Provinces for KwaZulu-Natal. “The department should have reported on outstanding legal advice and consultations with the Minister of State Security on amendments to the Bill. Instead, the department used most of their presentation to respond to a letter from Dr Ivan Meyer, Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport in the Western Cape Government, which challenged the process followed by Parliament in handling the Bill.
“The proposed amendments to the Bill were not dealt with and the meeting was largely an exercise in futility,” Lees says.
“The department has continuously refused to accept amendments to the Secrecy Bill proposed by the committee and stonewalled attempts … to bring the bill in line with the Constitution and the Promotion of Access to Information Act. For the most part, it has also largely refused amendments proposed by the [ruling] ANC [party’s] members in the committee.”
Deliberations on proposed amendments must happen before the committee submits the Bill with any proposed amendments to the NCOP, after which it will be sent to the President. Lees says the DA will continue to push for the following amendments to be made:
a comprehensive public interest defence that builds on the exemption proposed by the ANC;
a strengthened public interest override; the supremacy of the Promotion of Access to Information Act over the Bill; and a review of sections pertaining to almost all offences (such as the possession and disclosure of classified information).
“The Bill in its current form should not be passed. The DA will continue our work in the Committee to push for the changes required to ensure that the Bill is in line with the fundamental freedoms and human rights enshrined in our constitutional democracy.”
Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sunday became the latest high-profile figure to question the Bill. Speaking at the 10th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on Sunday at the Cape Town city hall Robinson said for citizens to remain stewards of democracy, issues of accountability and transparency in governance was important.
“It is with great concern that I have followed the progress of the ‘Protection of State Information’ legislation. From my experience as a human rights lawyer, I can give you a certainty: if you enact a law that cloaks the working of state actors, that interferes with press freedom to investigate corruption, that stifles efforts by whistle-blowers to expose corruption, you are sure to increase those levels of corruption tomorrow,” said Robinson.
She added that public interest demanded accountability and transparency in government. “Secrecy is the enemy of truth in this regard.”
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