Don't include 'public interest' defence: Cwele

2010-10-22 15:36

Cape Town - State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele on Friday urged Parliament's special committee dealing with the draft protection of information bill not to include a "public interest" defence in the bill.

Serious consideration had been given to the submission to create a section on defences in the bill, he told the committee in his presentation.

However, "we remain convinced that conceding to such a demand would be tantamount to shredding this bill even before it becomes law", he said.

To allow anyone to put national security information in the public domain, with a hope that such action might, in the unlikely event, be deemed to be in the public interest, would be simply reckless.

"It would be just to increase the vulnerability of the Republic, reduce the risk of doing business for our adversaries, and put many lives, limbs, and property in undue danger. In short, I will fail in my duty if I concede.

"Never should the committee, therefore, concede to public interest defence and include such in this bill," Cwele said.

"We have critically studied the reasons why the United Kingdom, the first country to have a public interest defence clause in its Official Secrets Act of 1889, decided against keeping it in their statute books.

"We are convinced that the reasons that led them to repeal that provision remain valid for us," he said.

In the main, public interest defence made the law unworkable and provided a loophole exploited by many for self-serving purposes.

Their efforts unduly undermined national security by unintentionally encouraging the leakage of sensitive information.

With the provisions of the Protected Public Disclosure Act, the Promotion of Access to Information Act, and public interest access to information aligned in the bill, adding public interest defence would "really be over-kill".

Classification levels had already been lowered from four to three, and request for declassification and review of classified information on the basis of public interest had been provided for, Cwele said.