‘Secrecy Bill’: ANC scores an own goal

2011-05-28 10:43

Why is the ANC ramming through the deeply flawed Protection of Information Bill?

The macho attitude of the ruling party’s MPs in Parliament this week – as media houses, civil ­society and opposition parties sought to soften the draconian, apartheid-style clauses in the ­so-called “Secrecy Bill” – is mind boggling.

It is clear that certain clauses in the bill will never pass constitutional muster.

How will government defend the overly wide powers given to state officials (including municipal managers and even heads of zoos) to classify state information, the criminalisation of journalists who have classified information in their possession and the ­suggested punishment of whistleblowers who leak “state secrets” that are in the public interest?

The ANC’s decision to use its majority vote to start pushing through controversial clauses is ­arrogant and reckless. Listening to the arguments put forward by committee chair Cecil Burgess in defence of the bill, we wondered at times how this man could represent the same party that brought us freedom and human rights.

Burgess said the ANC was “digging its heels in” over a public interest defence, which would have allowed journalists and activists who use classified information in the interest of the country’s citizens to avoid jailtime.

The ANC could not find international examples of such a provision.

We have news for Mr Burgess: he will also struggle to find as good a Constitution or Bill of Human Rights internationally as ours.

And does he remember our peaceful transfer of power in 1994?

We are an exceptional country that, under Nelson Mandela’s leadership, decided to set the bar higher than others.

Why is Mandela’s party refusing to see the ­obvious flaws in the bill? Why is it resisting ­efforts to arrive at an amicable resolution?

The ANC scored a pyrrhic victory this week.

The battle is far from over.

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