Info bill defies Constitution, MPs told

2012-03-30 19:31

Cape Town - The protection of state information bill falls woefully short on safeguards to avoid South Africa becoming "a society of secrets", MPs heard on Friday.

The Right2Know (R2K) campaign said the bill defied the constitutional imperatives of openness and transparency by placing national security, as a cause for classification, above these.

"What we are asking for is a balancing act between national security and access to information. We don't think that's unreasonable," co-ordinator of the pressure group Murray Hunter told a final day of public hearings on the draft law.

Hunter said by attempting to trump the progressive Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), the bill would rob South Africans of a fundamental post-apartheid guarantee to access state information.

This meant it would "tilt the scales well away from openness and accountability towards a security state".

Opposition to bill

Condemnation of this provision, contained in clause 1 (4), has been a refrain in four days of hearings that showed opposition to the bill remained undimmed, and raised new concerns about its potential consequences.

Chief among these was Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's warning that her work would be severely hampered by the bill because it afforded chapter nine institutions no special rights to information.

On Thursday, the Nelson Mandela Foundation told MPs PAIA was the Act that defined what information the state could withhold, and the bill's attempt to usurp the prior Act would be struck down by the Constitutional Court.

On Friday, the Catholic Bishops Conference echoed this concern, saying PAIA was constitutionally mandated and overturning it would be in opposition to the Constitution.

"Delete clause 1 (4). It will be a de facto amendment," researcher Mike Pothier said.

The R2K, born in opposition to the contentious bill, warned that it also fell foul of the Constitution by placing a reverse onus on whistleblowers who disclosed state secrets to expose corruption to prove that they were not committing a crime.

In terms of the bill, anybody who discloses classified information is guilty of a crime punishable by five years in jail, with the penalty rising to 25 years in the case of top secret information.

Hunter said the way in which it gave whistleblowers a "little figleaf of protection" through the Protected Disclosures Act would oblige them to prove that they had not committed a crime, rather than obliging the state to prove that they had.

"It will require the accused to prove that they qualify for that defence, rather than obligating the prosecution to prove the defence. This is not constitutional."

Public interest defence

The R2K reiterated its call, echoed by veteran rights lawyer George Bizos and Cosatu this week, for the bill to include a public interest defence to protect all those who risked jail to reveal secret information where it served the public good.

"For as long as the bill will expose ordinary members of the public to prosecution for the possession and disclosure of classified information, the only true remedy remains a public interest defence," it argued.

Echoing Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi's view, it warned that the powers given to intelligence officials to classify any aspect of their investigations or functions, would make the security apparatus unaccountable to the public and have a devastating impact on democracy.

"The veil of secrecy is stretched to the max."

In his earlier presentation, Vavi said this clause raised the spectre of a return to a police state, and vowed that Cosatu would be the first to challenge the legislation in the Constitutional Court if it were adopted in its current form.

Opposition parties, activists, and media houses have issued the same threat, leading the Catholic Bishops' Conference to remark that "all and sundry are willing to take this to court".

Pothier urged MPs or President Jacob Zuma to spare the government the embarrassment of a successful legal challenge and use sections 79 or 80 of the Constitution to refer the bill to court to have its provisions tested.

The same call came from Bizos - appearing for the Legal Resources Centre - who asked MPs to place the legislation in the hands of judges after several redrafts failed to remedy its flaws.

The bill was passed by the National Assembly late last year. The National Council of Provinces, which held this week's hearings, must report back to the legislature on the bill by May 17.


Read more on:    cosatu  |  right2know  |  zwelinzima vavi  |  murray hunter  |  info bill  |  media  |  politics

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


SA political parties go to church

Leaders of different political parties have attended a church service at the Tyrannus Apostolic Church in De Deur.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia C3

The Nokia C3 Features a 2+ Megapixel Camera, A2DP, Bluetooth,...

From R1175.00

I'm shopping for:


You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.