Secrecy bill: Madonsela writes to Speaker

2011-11-21 14:09

A day before the so-called secrecy bill is due to be passed in Parliament, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has expressed concerns with the legislation.

Madonsela has written to Speaker Max Sisulu about concerns to include a public interest defence in the controversial Protection of Information Bill.

The bill is set to be passed in Parliament tomorrow.

Madonsela today wrote to Sisulu to raise her concerns regarding public complaints she has received on the bill.

According to Madonsela’s spokesperson, Kgalalelo Masibi, the public protector also decided that if the bill was passed into law without the recommended changes she would ask President Jacob Zuma to intervene.

“She will do all she can to have the letter sent to the Speaker before the vote takes place tomorrow. But if the bill is passed unaltered then she will write to the president raising the clauses on public interest defence,” said Masibi.

The public protector’s comments came amid lobby groups and media organisations’ plan to stage protests and pickets tomorrow and they have urged the public to wear black to signify “Black Tuesday”, synonymous with the historical occasion of Black Wednesday when various newspapers were shut down due to a media clampdown by the apartheid government.

The ANC held the last of its public hearings into the bill today. But the hearings appeared to be a mere formality as the bill was set to be adopted unchanged in Parliament tomorrow according to the ANC’s study group on the bill.

Despite only 10 people showing up for one of the hearing’s held at the Tshwane City Hall in Pretoria, ANC deployees Ali Maziya and Dr Gerhard Koornhof, both part of the ANC study group, were adamant that today’s hearing was not intended to consult the public but merely to clarify certain aspects of the bill.

Among the people who showed up were State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele’s special advisor Dennis Dlomo, ANC councillors and two researchers who posed questions about the bill.

Dlomo said there wasn’t “tangible” evidence to suggest that the bill would allow for corruption, malfeasance and crime to thrive in the echelons of government and accused the media of being dishonest when arguing for a public interest clause to be included in the bill.

Dlomo was of the view that there would not be a single instance, when the bill became law, for anybody?– including the media – to defend their actions of publishing classified information by using the public interest defence.

“If state officials classify information wrongly they will be charged. There are conditions for classifying information and one of those is that the media can apply for certain classified information to be declassified if they believe that there is wrongdoing in the classification of that information.

“There will never arise a time to be in need to defend yourself using a public interest defence,” said Dlomo.

According to Dlomo, Cwele was of the view that the penalties contained in the bill for wrongly classifying information were enough to deter anyone, including senior government officials, from applying to have the information classified.

“The mere fact that we are 99% in agreement means that everybody is satisfied with the checks and balances and this protests against the bill is mere politicking,” said Dlomo.

Maziya said there had been many submissions from civil rights groups and media organisations but argued that the final version of the bill was agreed “99%” by all parties represented in Parliament.

Maziya slated the South African National Editors Forum and the Right 2 Know Campaign for their insistence to have a public interest clause in the bill.

The biggest threat to democracy was not the secrecy bill but a media that was not free, agreed Maziya and Dlomo.

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