‘Trust at heart of info bill debate’

2012-01-24 00:00

FORMER city activist and now Deputy Minister for Co-operative Governance, Yunus Carrim told a city gathering that the Protection of State Information Bill, which caused widespread protests across the country, did not prick his conscience.

“This bill was not a matter of conscience for me,” he told the gathering at Chamber House at the Royal Showgrounds.

Carrim added that former President Thabo Mbeki’s stance on HIV/Aids was an issue of conscience and yesterday’s meeting was not the place to discuss how he dealt with this at the time.

He was responding to a statement made by city activist Yvonne Spain in her open invitation to him to speak on the bill in the city.

Spain asked him to explain why he had supported this legislation that, “brings shame to our democracy”.

Carrim was accompanied by fellow former city resident and Member of Parliament John Jeffrey. Both said they did not see the bill in its current form as an assault on the country’s democracy.

Carrim described the bill as not as good as it could be, but nowhere as bad as it is made out to be. He conceded that there was room for amendments.

He believed that at the heart of the matter was trust and asked whether it was that people had a problem with the bill or concern for the ANC at the moment.

“If we want you to trust us with this bill , we need to win back your trust,” Carrim said.

“It is sad that we have to come here where you are so deeply suspicious of us. We have to do more, you also have to show more faith, what you are seeing inside the ANC is a reflection of broader challenges in South African society,” Carrim said.

Concerns raised by the audience, mainly from the business and NGO sector, included whether there were enough checks and balances to ensure that the classification of information is not abused; whether an independent review panel will have the capacity to ensure there is no improper classification of documents; the possibility of abuse in the implementation of the bill an excessive dependence on the courts to clarify issues and the affordability of taking such action.

There was also concern over recent judicial appointments and the impartiality of the judiciary, the absence of a public interest clause, insufficient protection for whistleblowers and the severity of penalties for wrongdoers

Mervyn Abrahams of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness suggested a sub-committee be formed to co-ordinate an informed submission from issues raised at the meeting. “We should participate in the parliamentary process,” he said.

Anyone wanting to be part of this process can e-mail Spain at yspain@sai.co.za.

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