SAHRC preparing submission on info bill

2011-10-11 17:58

Cape Town - The SA Human Rights Commission will make a submission to Parliament on the protection of information bill in the hope of averting more state secrecy.

"We are eager to extensively influence the process and to ensure that the bill does not feed into the culture of secrecy we are seeing," SAHRC deputy chairperson Pregs Govender said on Tuesday, after a briefing to Parliament's portfolio committee on justice.

Govender welcomed the postponement of the debate on the contested bill last month, which would likely have seen it approved by the National Assembly thanks to the ANC's majority.

"We welcome the fact that it was not rubber-stamped and taken back to the drawing board."

She insisted that the SAHRC's submission would be made to the legislature and not to any particular political party, though the ANC had called for submissions to its parliamentary study group on the legislation.

"We will make our submission to Parliament and not to a single party," she said.

Opposition parties have accused the ANC of trying to hijack the process and have demanded the bill be referred to a multi-party committee to handle further submissions and deliberations.

Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Ian Davidson said there had been no response from the speaker's office yet to a formal complaint in this regard.

Govender has been an outspoken critic of earlier drafts of the so-called "secrecy" bill.

She said the commission had a held a meeting to discuss the current version and would give its views in the formal submission.

In June, she said the draft law was an attack on the right of the poor to know how those in power spent state resources.

"They want to know what happened, who is benefiting where million rand tenders are awarded and where bridges collapse and children drown," she told a public meeting in Cape Town.

"Ordinary South Africans want to know what happened with the arms deal. They want to know what state policies resulted in them losing their jobs."

In that month, the ANC made several concessions on the bill after its alliance partner the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) threatened to take it to the Constitutional Court.

However, Cosatu remains unhappy with the amended bill and senior ANC members are reportedly concerned about the wide powers it gives the state security services.

Media houses said the version adopted by the drafting committee in September failed to balance the need to protect legitimate state secrets with the constitutional right to freedom of expression, and have vowed to take it on constitutional review if passed as is.