28 March 2012 – Corruption Watch delivered a strong message to parliament yesterday during the final round of public hearings on the Info Bill, arguing that the best weapon to defeat corruption is an informed public.
Executive director David Lewis said “sunlight is the best disinfectant” when targeting multiple acts of corruption and that the country needed “public witnesses, publicly told stories, stories that isolate the venal public servant and the corrupt business person …”
A public that is free to inform and be informed is central to the fight. “This, we insist, must be a strong consideration that informs judgement about what is acceptable and not acceptable about the Protection of State Information Bill,” Lewis added.
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, 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.
More than 1 000 complaints have been submitted to Corruption Watch since launching in January 2012, but many of the whistle-blowers have chosen to remain anonymous.
“On our social media platforms and on many encounters with the public both on radio call-in programmes and through our stakeholder outreach programme, many members of the public have openly articulated their fear of reporting corruption.”
Such a response is marked in “small towns where the risk of exposure to powerful and vengeful local political bosses and corrupt business leaders is particularly high”, Lewis said.
In its recommendations to parliament, Corruption Watch suggested narrowing the scope of the proposed legislation by renaming it the “Protection of State Information that Pertains to National Security” Bill.
It also suggested boosting the governance of information pertaining strictly to national security – not introducing legislation that “compromises our constitutionally mandated approach to access to information”.
“If the security apparatus is worried about stories leaking out, they would be better off plugging those leaks … not imposing a stricter regime on access to information,” Lewis said.
Corruption Watch also put forward that strengthening existing information laws, such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act and the Protected Disclosures Act, could be an alternative to the introduction of new legislation in the form of the Info Bill.
ANC MP Lewis Nzimande blasted the submission as being “totally pessimistic” – to which Lewis replied: “If we were pessimistic about state organs we wouldn’t be fighting this cause …”
To read David Lewis’s full oral submission click here.
Info Bill will instil fear of reporting corruption