Secrecy bill: ‘Educate us first’

2012-02-14 15:27

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) should go back to the drawing board and properly educate the public about the Protection of State Information Bill before calling public hearings on the contentious proposed legislation.

This was the view of a number of residents of Mamelodi, near Pretoria, where the NCOP held its public hearings on the bill today.

Over 400 people packed the International Assemblies of God church to voice their views on the bill, which has been described as “draconian” by its opponents.

A man who stood up to make his submission accused the eight-member panel of MPs of treating the public with disdain, questioning whether the NCOP would take their concerns about the bill seriously.

“Some of our people here cannot read this. There are terms which we don’t understand. They have not been explained to us. Are you serious about hearing what the public has to say or is it just something you want to do to show that you took the bill to Mamelodi?” said a man who was cheered by locals.

He suggested that Parliament should have distributed excerpts of the bill to the community before holding a hearing to hear people’s views.

The man also lashed politicians for spending huge sums of money to campaign for votes in election time while not spending enough energy when dealing with laws that affected communities.

“You (MPs) are being unfair to yourselves, the voters and the community at large,” he said.

Free State ANC MP Tjheta Mofokeng interjected, telling the man to wrap up his oral submission, but other residents came to his defence.

Another man, who wore an ANC T-shirt, said the community would support the bill in its entirety only if they understood what the proposed legislation was all about.

“We can support this bill only if you conduct workshops for us to know exactly why we are here. Can you allow us to gather together to discuss this bill first?” asked the man in his early 20s.

Other locals asked the committee to explain whether the SA Human Rights Commission was in support of the bill and whether the council had been consulted.

Sibusiso Jiyane said the bill was “confusing”.

“You must clearly explain to us what kind of information you want to classify and whether people are penalised for being in possession of the information or distributing it,” said the man who told the committee not to pass the bill if there were perceptions that it could lead to politicians and public servants hiding corruption.

Chairperson of the National Press Club, Yusuf Abramjee, urged the chairperson of the ac hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill, Raseriti Tau, to deal with sections of the bill that were causing dissatisfaction, not only among the media, but also in other sectors of society.

Abramjee said editors were prepared to go to jail to fight for what they believed were unfair and technical clauses in the bill.

“Every government needs secrets. But the proposed clauses that clearly infringe on the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens and those of the media have serious implications for us all.

“Let’s be honest, had it not been for the media, a lot of the corruption would not have been exposed and the looting would have continued,” said Abramjee.

He asked for a public interest clause to be included in the bill to protect journalists from prosecution who publish leaked information which is in the public interest.

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