Activists seek rewrite of info bill

2011-09-20 18:01

Cape Town - The Right2Know Campaign said on Tuesday it would press the ANC to rewrite the protection of information bill.

It vowed to step up protest against the legislation if it emerged that the ruling party had held the bill back purely for political expedience.

"We will see how serious they are, we have to give that a chance," the campaign's spokesperson Dale McKinley said.

"If it is not a serious undertaking, if it is just about politics, we will step up our campaign."

The ANC took an eleventh-hour decision on Monday to postpone the scheduled National Assembly vote on the bill.

McKinley said the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) was clearly divided on the bill, and he hoped the party did not use the delay merely to bring dissidents in line.

Murray Hunter, national co-ordinator of the campaign, said rights groups demanded a "serious redraft" to include a public interest defence and limit the powers of the state security cluster.

He said recent news reports of abuse of the intelligence services for political spying showed security ministries wielded extraordinary powers.

"They are using state resources to fight factional wars and this is of serious concern to any democrat," Hunter said.

"The question is: do you want to give them a bigger stick?"

The Sunday press has reported that State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, whose office has driven the bill, was trying to sideline the country's three top intelligence officials after they objected to surveillance of Cabinet ministers.

Opposing factions

Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts, a member of the ad hoc committee that drafted the bill, said the decision to delay might well be linked to unhappiness in the ruling party about political abuse of the intelligence services.

She said it appeared likely the ANC was divided over clause 49 of the draft act, which imposes penalties of up to 20 years in prison for exposing classified information relating to the intelligence services.

Rights groups and the opposition believe the clause goes too far in shielding the intelligence community from scrutiny, contradicts other provisions, and could prove unconstitutional.

"Our biggest problem would be the NEC's biggest problem," Smuts said.

"It would have divided the NEC because the opposing factions sit in the NEC."

The ANC has denied reports that its top ranks are divided over the bill. Instead the party said it was responding to requests from unnamed interest groups to make further submissions on the bill.

Cosatu said it would continue to press the ANC, a formal ally, to redraft the bill to protect whistleblowers who published classified information to reveal wrongdoing by the state.

It mooted a public interest defence as a sound mechanism to do this. This is also a key demand of the opposition, media and rights groups.

Without it, University of Cape Town constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said on Monday, "whistleblowers would be either suicidal or exceedingly stupid to try and leak wrongly classified documents, as that whistleblower would face a prison sentence of up to 25 years".

Smuts said the opposition would fight for a public interest defence, changes to the offences section of the bill that prohibits disclosure of state secrets, as well as to clause 49, if the bill were referred back to a parliamentary committee.

But the ANC chief whip's office said it was not a foregone conclusion that the bill would be sent back to MPs for amendment.

This added to confusion about how the party intended to use the delay, which was expected to last about three months before the bill was put to the vote in Parliament.

ANC caucus spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the chief whip's office would soon indicate which formal channels those who wanted to make further submissions on the bill should use.

  • tootingdel - 2011-09-20 18:08

    Let's hope the government listens and acts sensibly this time - we could be pleasantly surprised

      Warslat - 2011-09-20 21:17

      I doubt it...the whole idea should be scrapped. There are already laws to protect national secrets. If the info bill gets passed in any form SA is screwed. The ANC can always tinker, ammend or "improve" the bill to the form they want it later.

  • Sinudeity - 2011-09-20 18:09

    South Africa 3 : 0 ANC

  • crackerr - 2011-09-20 18:38

    The country should question the assumption that the state has the right to any secrecy at all. Why? Only if the country's security is immediately threatened should secrecy be allowed. To hell with the elite all over pretending that they are the custodians of our common sense and our ideas. Our existences should not depend on backroom deals and little dirty secrets and underhanded exchanges of our resources and values. For what? We must question the need for secrecy. What makes the elites so special? A vote? They are voted in to look after our interests, not withhold information from the rest of us. We do not need James Bonds to rule us with BS.

      J T - 2011-09-20 22:26

      Reminds me of- 'Another Brick in the Wall' ~ Pink Floyd Shalom

  • freedom - 2011-09-20 19:13

    We as tax payers and citizens of this country have the right to know what the leaders of the country are upto!!!!! it makes one wonder what they are trying to hide should they impose this bill. There is way to much corruption to impose this bill! the ones opposing this bill are the ones that have the most to hide! We as citizens white, black coloured or whatever have the right to know!

      crackerr - 2011-09-20 19:19

      the ones SUPPORTING this bill are the ones that have the most to hide

      chaka - 2011-09-20 21:44

      freedom, correct seen as it is our tax money paying there salaries.

      Andre111 - 2011-09-24 05:03

      SO,,,Sir behave now,,u are a publick figure(person)

  • DW - 2011-09-20 21:45

    Siyabonga Cwele has no credibility. His wife has been found guilty of drug trafficking and, despite his claim that he knew nothing about it and was estranged from her, he ensured that she had bodyguards to protect her during the trial - illegally and at taxpayers expense. Fire his ass now! Before he does even more damage to our country.

  • J T - 2011-09-20 22:20

    Just read: “Courts 'not arbiters of ANC history” Who must then respect the SA Courts??? Respectfully said. Google 'legal Class Action and/or Public Interest Proceedings'. I ponder how the Public Protector will view Cosatu's argument pertaining Courts on history. The SA Courts are part of SA Government Justice Department system. Cosatu is also part and parcel of governance. Go figure...! The so-called 'boers' constitute an established legal Class, who are so aggrieved. The international world is beginning to notice as well. Political expediency/correctness should not be allowed cloud or influence any Court's respected high level wisdom of Learned Men who are supreme experts at Law, even higher abstract Law. What recourse for fair redress and legal protection do minorities have in SA in such circumstances? It begs the question thus. The landmark currently leading novel Class Action ‘Permanent Secretary’ comes to mind. [As per Gericke_Can(2009)]: “According to Kok (2003 THRHR 160) the Permanent Secretary judgment may indicate “that the Supreme Court of Appeal intended to create a general class action in South African law, and not only in terms of the Bill of Rights-related cases”. Cameron JA strongly voiced his dismay regarding the exploitation of the litigants by the Eastern Cape Province Department of Welfare. He stated as follows: (Continued on next post...)

  • J T - 2011-09-20 22:21

    “[T]his is no ordinary litigation. It is a class action. It is an innovation expressly mandated by the Constitution. Paragraph 12 furthermore states that the Constitution does not indicate how [a class action] is to be developed and implemented, however he continues [that it is being left] to the Courts, which s 39(2) enjoins to promote the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights when developing the common law, and upon which s 173 confers inherent power to develop the common law, taking into account the interests of justice” (para 22).” Also read from Gericke:- “Internationally, class actions and public actions contribute to the global move- ment of improving people’s access to justice and “are used outside the scope of constitutional law where a number of people have similar claims or defences” (You can download Gericke_Can(2009) at the following link):

  • Blikskottel - 2011-09-21 07:30

    This bill an bills like it should not even come into discussion. It is evil and clearly intended to stop info on corruption and other government crimes to leak out.

  • ruben.maistry - 2011-09-24 09:28

    If there is going to be any mass action against the proposed bill, I and colleagues would be interested in participating. We believe that the proposed bill must be aborted totally.We also appeal to all South Africans to stand united in this cause,do not regret later.Prevention is beter than cure.

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