27 March 2012 – The Information Bill will further instil fear of reporting corruption, thus eroding public trust in state institutions, the executive director of Corruption Watch David Lewis told parliament today during the Information Bill public hearings.
Lewis said while the Bill’s purpose was to defend national security, the greatest threats and dangers confronting South Africa today were poverty, inequality, unemployment and corruption. Ironically, he pointed out, that the police – the very agents entrusted with citizen protection and national security – are reported to be highly corrupt.
“If we have learnt nothing else in our short experience, we have learnt that South Africans not only fear – and with good reason – reporting corruption, but that this fear will be exacerbated if the Bill is passed into law,” Lewis said.
He said that there was a likelihood that information pertaining to corruption in the police and other parts of the security apparatus would not come out if the Bill were to be implemented. He added that Corruption Watch’s imminent publication of a report on Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department may be impossible under the proposed legislation.
Lewis stated that the Bill could criminalize the act of whistle-blowing and add to the pervasive atmosphere of fear which “we already know surrounds the reporting of corrupt individuals and activities”. This would contradict and nullify the spirit of the Protected Disclosure Act and would not foster a “culture which will facilitate the disclosure of information … relating to criminal and other irregular conduct …” The Bill would also be incompatible with the Promotion of Access to Information Act.
He stressed that to address multiple acts of corruption in government requires a “public that is free to inform and is informed”.
“What can we do? We are providing a platform to enable the public to report corruption, to express their opinion, and speak to those in authority. This way those who are corrupt within our security and justice authorities will know that the public are on to them and despise them.”
The inflexible and punitive approach the Bill adopts towards a particular class of state information would make the protection of state information a priority over access to information: “In turn, this will compromise efforts to combat corruption on a broad front,” Lewis added.
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The Information Bill will further instil fear of reporting corruption, thus eroding public trust in state institutions, the executive director of Corruption Watch David Lewis told parliament today during the Information Bill public hearings.