Secrecy bill: call for probe

2011-11-21 00:00

PUBLIC Protector Thuli Madonsela has been asked to investigate why a public interest defence is not part of the controversial secrecy bill.

The protection of state information bill is set to be voted on in the National Assembly this week, but there are still concerted efforts afoot to ensure that the bill is improved before it becomes law.

Following comments by the public protector’s office in Durban last week, Advocate Paul Hoffman of the Institute for Accountability in SA, has written to Madonsela asking that she investigate the absence of such a defence in the proposed law.

On Thursday, the chief executive in her office, Themba Mthethwa, said he was baffled why no one had approached the public protector to probe this issue.

Mthethwa said that ideally the protector’s office could initiate such an investigation, but it could not do so because of budget constraints.

However, if it is approached by a member of the public, a journalist or any of the civil rights groups protesting the bill, then the public protector would be compelled to act.

He said the bill was heading to the Constitutional Court, but there may be ways to pre-empt this lengthy route by such an investigation.

In his letter sent yesterday, Hoffman said it appeared from the parliamentary order paper that the National Assembly would vote on the bill on Wednesday.

“The bill in its present form seems, on the face of it, to be unable to pass constitutional muster, having regard to the rights to freedom of expression and access to information which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The absence of a public interest defence in the bill is also problematic as well as being blatantly unconstitutional. The bill also appears to impact negatively on the gains made in Promotion of Access to Information Act.

“If no one else has complained to the OPP about the unconstitutionality of the bill, please regard this communication as a complaint from Ifaisa and kindly investigate it under the powers which you have under the Constitution and your enabling legislation,” said Hoffman.

The SA National Editors’ Forum met in Durban at the weekend and is also expected to take the issue up with the public protector.

Meanwhile, the Right to Know campaign plans to hold several protests countrywide, to protest the vote on the bill, including outside Parliament on the day of the vote.

The bill will still have to go through the National Council of Provinces for approval.

A Right to Know protest has been scheduled for tomorrow night at Durban’s City Hall between 6 pm and 8 pm.

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