Security minister defends info bill

2010-10-03 09:57

What led government to soften its stance on some areas of the Protection of ­Information Bill but refuse to budge on ­others?

Was it public participation or did the ­international community play a role?

It has got nothing to do with ­international players because when we legislate, we legislate on behalf of South Africans.

The state law adviser certified the original bill as constitutional and we agreed with it.

We know exactly what we want to protect, and it was on the basis of evaluating all the information that came through public ­submissions that we devised a way ­forward that will ­accommodate all stakeholders without compromising the ­principles of the bill.

Why did the current bill return with the very sections that people found objectionable in the 2008 bill?

All we did was remove those concerns that were raised in the 2008 process.

There were no ­major concerns about ­national ­and commercial interests at that particular time.

The only thing that was added was the issue of trying to make sentences proportional to the ­impact of the crime.

But others – ­national interest and commercial ­information – have always been in the 2008 bill.

The biggest problem people have with the current bill, which you are aware of, is the issue of a public interest override. You made the point that by the time these things are published, and a court might find that they were wrongly ­published, they are out in the open already.

But when we look at these things in the context of an open and transparent society and the dangers of ­information being ­classified, is that not a small price to pay?

We have got no problem in terms of accessing information in the public interest through the agreed mechanism.

What we have a problem with is in the manner in which certain ­information is accessed.

The public interest should not be used as a ­defence. To this we say no.

There is no country in the world that does that.

There are ­procedures in place so that one can use this public ­interest defence in terms of ­accessing information.

What we are against, and we will repeat this over and over again, is that one can’t take a document that is classified secret, while ­being aware that it is classified, and go and splash it out there in the ­public sphere.

If you take it to court and the court says you are wrong, the harm would already be done and it would be irreparable, without any recourse.

But classified information – like the 1972 Pentagon Papers, the current problems the US is having in Iraq, the Guantanamo Bay situation – enters the public domain if it is in the public interest.

Those examples really are a ­foreign policy stance.

The issue is not the protection itself.

As you say, the US will not agree with that type of foreign policy stance.

Quite a number of ­Americans never agreed to go to war. It is a policy issue.

Would it be wrong for a journalist to publish an allegation against a minister if the document containing the claim is ­classified?

It is illegal for information to be wrongly classified.

If you come across information that there is such a minister who is doing that, the best way of ­exposing it is to go to the ­police because this means that you will have information in a ­documented form.

If you discover that people are classifying information wrongly, it means it is illegal.

We are not legalising wrong classification of information to hide inefficiency, corruption and maladministration.

What if the police lose the document?

We have got a lot of checks and balances if the police are corrupt.

You can also go to court.

There are all sorts of ­mechanisms.

Journalists don’t have a legal mandate to ­investigate any ­person themselves.

That’s why we say go to the ­police if you happen to find such a document.

That is the easiest way for you to expose corruption and there is no way the police are not going to investigate.

This is because they know that members of the public already have the information.

Is what you are saying possible given the fact that politicians control the public ­service?

Our legal system doesn’t ­differentiate between people like that.

We are all equal before the law.

It is stated in law, but in practice it’s a ­different story.

We have got remedies to deal with such situations.

If you talk about incompetent police officers, there is no law in South Africa that says they must not investigate ministers.

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