Secret. Top Secret. Highly Confidential.

2010-07-24 12:41

A number of us depend on the government to provide good schools,

transport, social grants, hospital services and so on.

Sometimes these things

work; sometimes they don’t.

As ­citizens, it is our right to receive government

services and to ensure that government keeps its promise to make a better life

for all.

Often, this better life is an empty husk, a forgotten election

promise. Often, services don’t work. Recently, we reported that while Limpopo’s

government had granted tenders worth millions of rands to build boreholes, the

driest municipalities were still without ­water.

And, in Mpumalanga, we are

­investigating the companies that get ­preferential tenders while not providing

the services they are meant to.

The ANC Youth League is also in business, and one of president

Julius Malema’s ­companies is in partnership with a waste management firm that

has won massive ­tenders in Limpopo.

The firm is also being sued by government

for allegedly polluting the atmosphere with carcinogens and harming surrounding


If the Protection of Information Bill, which is now before

Parliament, is passed, there is a good chance that you will not know any of


For democracy to work, an active and engaged citizenry must have access to

­information about how its public money is spent and what the government


This is even more necessary in a country with a single dominant

party at the helm – the small opposition exercises few checks


When national security is threatened, ­information must be

protected, but the draft law threatens to throw a dragnet of secrecy over


By proposing that public information at 140 different levels be

classified either as Secret, Top Secret or Confidential, the draft law can

become manna from heaven for bureaucrats who don’t want details of their

maladministration getting out.

All they would have to do is stamp “Secret”, “Top Secret” or

“Confidential” on ­forensic reports, investigations and lawsuit documents, and

we would never know why we get so little bang for the public buck.

As ­people

who work to bring information to ­public light, we in the media know that often

getting information out of reluctant civil ­servants is like drawing water from

a stone.

It will be impossible if this bill becomes law.

The Human Rights Commission told ­Parliament this week that the

Protection of Information Bill will “reinforce a culture of conservatism and

secrecy within the public service to the detriment of our nascent


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