Open letter to MPs

2011-11-22 00:00

PROTECTION OF STATE INFORMATION BILL

Honourable Member,

As you are aware, the National Assembly will today vote on the Protection of State Information Bill.

The ad hoc committee on the bill has done important work over the past 18 months, and they have substantially improved the legislation, as all who have participated in the process — from government, political parties, Chapter Nine institutions and civil society — agree.

This has been an important demonstration of the effectiveness of our Parliament and public representatives in forging legislation that is responsive to the concerns of South Africans, and to constitutional imperatives.

Unfortunately, however, while the changes are necessary and valuable, they are not sufficient to render the bill safe for democracy.

On the contrary, in its current form, the bill represents an attack on principles of open democracy that are deeply embedded in our Constitution and our national life. It will limit the work of government departments, Chapter Nine institutions, Parliament, trade unions, the media, and civil society by choking off the flow of vital information, and restricting crucial accountability mechanisms.

There are several serious remaining flaws in the bill. Chief among these is the absence of a public interest defence, which is crucial to ensuring that the bill does not become an instrument to suppress information that may reveal serious wrong‐doing.

Also of serious concern is the blanket secrecy afforded our powerful and important intelligence structures, secrecy that shields excessively from scrutiny, and leaves little recourse when they abuse their considerable authority.

We recognise the need for a reformed legislative regime to govern the management of sensitive state information.

You now have an opportunity to ensure that such legislation advances our democracy, rather than injuring it.

The first step is to reject the bill by voting against it in the National Assembly today.

The South African National Editors’ Forum

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