Institutions raise voices against Secrecy BillWednesday, 28/03/2012 - 10:46
Several respected institutions yesterday mounted a renewed attack on the African National Congress' so-called secrecy bill, as submission after submission to the National Council of Provinces called for significant changes to be made to the bill.
The newly formed civil society led Corruption Watch warned that the bill as it stands would impede the fight against corruption, while submissions from the Open Democracy Advice Centre, the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), Print Media SA and the Human Rights Commission all called for the inclusion of a public interest defence, as well as asking for specific revisions.
Literally thousands of South Africans have sent petitions and made submissions rejecting the Protection of State Information Bill outright or calling for it to be amended to include a public interest defence for whistle-blowers and investigative journalists.
The secrecy bill, which is before a special ad hoc committee, creates a new regime for the classification and declassification of state information.
David Lewis, head of Corruption Watch, said there was an erosion of trust between the public and elected public representatives and public servants. Until the public spoke out, these crimes would not be taken seriously, he said.
Corruption Watch is due to release a report on the situation in the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police, and Mr Lewis said he doubted such an investigation would see the light of day if the bill had already become law.
Head of the Open Democracy Advice Centre, Alison Tilley, said the case of a national intelligence employee who went to the press with her story after attempting to get official action against fraud in the department, would now find herself facing time in prison.
Dario Milo, on behalf of Sanef and Print Media SA, continued to emphasise the need for a public interest and public domain defence to be included in the bill. He also said classified information that was already in the public domain should no longer be considered secret.
This article originally appeared in Business Day on 28 March 2012.