Information bill is 'anti-democratic'

2011-06-02 16:01

Johannesburg - Transparent governance, free expression and a free press are essential components of democracy, according to the Treatment Action Campaign and the Section 27 project.

"They are the means by which all people in SA, especially the vulnerable and poor, can hold our government to account. Our effectiveness at getting the state to implement HIV treatment and prevention programmes has been dependent on the Constitution being upheld, especially the Bill of Rights."

The two organisations said that they were therefore "deeply concerned" by reports that the African National Congress parliamentary caucus was backtracking even on its recent, inadequate concessions in relation to the protection of information bill.

"As it stands, this bill will restrict media freedom. It will also severely limit the ability of organisations like ours to hold government accountable or to support government in working for a better life for all. The bill will drive a wedge between the state and the people it is supposed to serve."

‘Protect corruption’

The organisations added that the bill was unconstitutional and could have disastrous consequences for democracy should it be passed in its current form.

"Corruption, lack of accountability and service delivery failure permeates every level of government - at national level, in all nine provinces and in most districts. This bill will protect corruption and unaccountability by granting a wide range of public officials the right to classify information as secret and by criminalising whistle-blowing and imposing jail sentences on those who publish classified information."

Instances where repelling threats to SA depended on the secrecy of state documents were extremely rare.

"On the contrary, the vast majority of people in our country would benefit from greater access to state documents than currently exists. We need laws that further open government, not laws that entrench secrecy and unaccountability."

The information bill would allow officials in almost all state organs to classify information.

‘Ability to bury reports’

"This means that everyone from the national department of health right down to local municipalities would be able to bury reports exposing health service delivery problems or investigations into failing hospitals."

This would lead to an even greater lack of accountability in the health system than the country has at present.

In addition, the lack of information would make it much harder for civil society to respond to problems in the health system - whether it be to support the department of health or to hold it accountable.

The organisations added that the bill would criminalise the publication or possession of classified information.

"This will not only restrict the media's ability to hold government to account, it would also make it a criminal offence for civil society groups to possess or publish leaked reports as we've done in the past.

"It would for example have prohibited Section 27's and the Rural Health Advocacy Project's publication of the leaked integrated support team reports or the Treatment Action Campaign's leaking of state documents in 2003 showing antiretroviral treatment was affordable."

‘Public interest ignored’

As the bill stood, the publication of such information could result in lengthy jail terms.

"The bill actually prescribes harsher sentences for leaking classified information than for unlawfully classifying information."

Civil society suggestions that a "public interest" defence should be allowed by harmonising the bill with the relatively more progressive (but also inadequate) Promotion of Access to Information Act appeared to have been ignored by the ANC caucus.

"This defence essentially meant that if you could convince a judge that leaking or publishing classified information was in the public interest, you could not be prosecuted for doing so.

"It is obviously in the public interest to have nearly every government report open to public scrutiny. Secret documents should be highly exceptional, requiring an extremely onerous burden upon the state to maintain their secrecy. Transparent governance is after all an essential tenet of democracy."

Furthermore, the Constitution of SA was unequivocal.

‘Limit secrecy’

"According to section 32 of the Constitution, everyone has the right of access to (a) any information held by the state and (b) any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights. Furthermore, section 16 states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media."

Both the Treatment Action Campaign and Section 27 supported the Right2Know campaign.

"We join the Right2Know campaign in calling for the bill to be amended to limit secrecy to core state bodies in the security sector, such as the police, defence and intelligence agencies, and to limit secrecy to strictly defined national security matters and no more.

"Officials must give reasons for making information secret."

It was also proposed that the intelligence agencies should not be exempted from public scrutiny.

"And do not apply penalties for unauthorised disclosure to society at large, only those responsible for keeping secrets."

The bill should be amended so that an independent body appointed by Parliament, and not the minister of state security, acted as arbiter of decisions about what may be made secret.

"This body's decisions should be subject to review by the courts."

It was proposed that the legitimate disclosure of secrets in the public interest should not be criminalised.

  • Happy Harry - 2011-06-02 16:19

    The ANC, contrary to "majority belief", is un-democratic to it's core. So no surprise here. In other words they are fast becoming as democratic as Bob Mugabe

      WiseOwl2 - 2011-06-02 16:35

      Exactly what the corrupt need. Dont let those Skeletons out of the cupboard.

      Rob - 2011-06-02 16:56

      The only reason the ANC want this bill passed is to hide their corruption. And we all hear the masses cheering in agreement. Zim here we come...

      POLLENYS - 2011-06-02 17:10

      So good to see this communist way of thinking is running into some heavy weather coming from across all quarters. The ANC wants to keep the population uninformed at all costs, as it serves their corrupt ways.

      ANCBlackAngel - 2011-06-02 17:43

      just shut up fools... we are your masters now and the bill is coming if you like it or not... how we shape and plan your futures in this country is top secret and above all your paye grades so the sooner this bill comes the better.... ANC my Vision your future

      Krolie - 2011-06-02 22:08

      @ANCBlackAngel. I suppose you expect us to get all hot and bothered? YOU FAILED!

  • apie - 2011-06-02 16:20

    Duh. No jokes.

  • Charlie - 2011-06-02 16:23

    Have the anc given any reasons why they are pushing for the Information Bill to go through?

  • Daniel - 2011-06-02 16:29

    Let the Truth Out !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We all know what you ppl are doing to our country and will stand our ground should you try to stop the public from freedom of speech and media !!!

  • saxor - 2011-06-02 16:37

    its all about stealing and good life there is no respect for taxpayers this worms just wanna steal this act shud be fought toth and nail

  • Dee - 2011-06-02 16:37

    How can we stop the Government from passing this bill? Surely as citizens of this country, there should be a way for us to do so?

      Valis - 2011-06-02 16:53

      Vote the ANC out of power. Oh wait...

      willieman - 2011-06-02 16:54

      Somebody organise a match to pretoria,we cannot standby while some few idiots are taking this country back to the '80

      Sam.H - 2011-06-02 17:03

      If not, there will be very little reason to stay. I posted on a previous article about the information bill today that a breakaway repubic could be the viable option for the people who did not wish to leave the continent but did not want to sink in the boat we used to call South Africa. The ANC is going to push through with this bill. Their lack of response to all the outcry is a clear sign of it.

      William - 2011-06-02 20:57

      The Constitution describes the powers that the government has. The Constitution acts as a protector of the people, because the branches of government cannot step outside of their stated powers. And when Government steps outside the bounds of that Constitution we the people have the right and more so the obligation to see that such an act does not go unnoticed or unpunished. We go to the Constitutional Court and if this does not work and government is allowed to break the law on a whim then God be with our children for they will know what it is like to live in times of war.... "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Thomas Jefferson

  • sobeit - 2011-06-02 16:39

    The corruption is so widespread, the lack of delivery so evident, that if the ANC did not attempt to cover things up the voters would eventually wise up and get rid of them. Of course, the ruling elite will want to safeguard their cosy arrangement, robbing citizens blind to their own benefit, at all costs. The ANC is proving itself to be the opposite of democratic, Egypt,Libya, Yemen may arrive here sooner than what we think.

  • Illuminus - 2011-06-02 16:39

    The moment this Bill is passed, everything becomes a lie. People deserve a high degree of transparency, not a shift where reality becomes uncertainty.

      willieman - 2011-06-02 17:01

      The present administration is full of people who wanted to use Zuma for their own ends.I'm sorry Zuma is just a pawn,hostage who is trying to satisfy everybody.Typical example:they voted for no fly zone in Libya without consulting with their partners i.e BRICS and useless AU.Here at home there many examples that frightening.This admin must go

  • Richie - 2011-06-02 16:44

    I don’t know why they need the bill to passed anyway? Shabir is playing golf, municipalities are losing money by the millions through corruption, ministers like Manyi elist bribes from the Swedes, Malema and other tenderpreneurs milk all contracts, etc, etc. and every-body just gets on their merry-way, with no action! Is this just the final nail in the coffin? The ANC must be thinking we are getting away with it..., but it’s terribly embarrassing when our names get mentioned!!! It’s actually just plain cheeky?

  • What de D... - 2011-06-02 16:44

    who the friek cares...afrika is in it's moer

  • LP - 2011-06-02 16:49

    Only the corrupt trying to protect themselves!!!

  • willieman - 2011-06-02 16:51

    The present administration of Zuma is full of thugs who want to bulldose everybody in the name of majority.Woza 2012 Zuma and his henchmen must go before they turn this country into chaos.They are promoting "ALGEMEEN LOS BANDAGHEID"

  • sheep - 2011-06-02 16:55

    no one understand and appreciate democracy more than the ANC, after all we are the one's who fought for it. who do this people think they are, that they can tell us about democracy that we gave them. pissed some people dont appreiciate. Long Live ANC Long Live. Amandla

      POLLENYS - 2011-06-02 17:13

      You're not a sheep. You are just a shortsighted unmentionable.

      Kudubul - 2011-06-02 17:21

      Please the democracy you fought for and what the goverment calls democracy are 2 different things.Anyway you fought for freedom and with it comes responsibilty, something you know nothing about.Amandla

      Erin - 2011-11-22 17:28

      Democracy that YOU gave US? please, YOU got your conception of democracy from the West, so technically speaking, it's us that gave you democracy. Stop being so damn ignorant. The ANC couldn't be democratic if they tried, they're a corrupt, selfish, useless bunch of amatures who most likely bought their degrees.

  • Montlhabaki - 2011-06-02 17:57

    Where do we get to see The Protection of Information Bill ? read for ourselves and start commenting than fight in the dark ?

      Rob Gunning - 2011-06-02 19:31

  • nem - 2011-06-02 18:47

    The day this bill is passed will cast a very dark shadow over South Africa,,,,it is now the biggest test of the people of all colours in our country to take a stand against this by striking together in the streets hand in hand all colours,,as this is the ultimate test to see if we can all stand together to protect our most common interest which is FREEDOM !!!!!!!!!if not then the coffin is officially nailed shut

  • nem - 2011-06-02 18:59

    For every action there is a reaction,,,,,tic toc tic toc tic toc

  • jweer42 - 2011-06-02 19:30

    How can the bill be passed if it clashes with the constitution? The constitution trumps all other laws created that contradicts it as far as know. If you are charged under this law, you could simply refer to the constitution and you walk out, right? The only way I see this thing stick is to change the constitution.

      POLLENYS - 2011-06-02 19:51

      The constitution is only a piece of paper. ANC can tear it up, like they do with everything else of value still functioning.

  • William - 2011-06-02 20:13

    "The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first." Thomas Jefferson Government is Of the People By the people for the people thus I think the American Declaration of Independence says it best. "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive to it's own ends, it is the right of the People to abolish it." WAKE UP South Africa Communism is in your Kitchen and its cooking up a storm.

  • blindesambok - 2011-06-03 08:41

    Blackangel - We have been your masters for many years and for many yet to come - ask my tea lady!! lol...

  • gps.finest - 2011-06-03 15:00

    hahaha just another reason to join da

  • - 2011-06-08 11:26

    Issues like this one need to be fully debated, preferably by senior leadership of our political parties. Failing that (which is likely) the people need to take up the challenge. In this vein our new site WWW.WECANDOBETTER.CO.ZA was born. We publish quality, pier reviewed, user driven opinion pieces that are aimed at sparking debate. In conjunction we have a user friendly and easy to use comment/ forum system. You can use or FACEBOOK and TWITTER log in details, allowing you to by pass any annoy registration system. We believe this user driven system will allow for some great debates. Regards Stanley Black

  • - 2011-06-08 11:28

    Issues like this one need to be fully debated, preferably by senior leadership of our political parties. Failing that (which is likely) the people need to take up the challenge. In this vein our new site WWW.WECANDOBETTER.CO.ZA was born. We publish quality, pier reviewed, user driven opinion pieces that are aimed at sparking debate. In conjunction we have a user friendly and easy to use comment/ forum system. You can use or FACEBOOK and TWITTER log in details, allowing you to by pass any annoy registration system. We believe this user driven system will allow for some great debates. Regards Stanley Black

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