- NEPAD Business Foundation
15 June 2011 - There is a long way to go before the intricacies of the controversial Protection of Information Bill are understood and accepted by the general public, it was heard at the NEPAD Business Foundation’s Information Session on 15 June. There is a greater need for public participation in the Bill and there should be a proper consultation process with members of civil society and businesses said Dr Dale McKinley of the Right to Know Campaign.
“No one is debating the need for State secrets – however these “secrets” need to be more clearly defined in order for there not to be misinterpretation of the Bill and abuse of power” stated McKinley.
Yusuf Abramjee, Head of News and Current Affairs at PRIMEDIA Broadcasting concurs “I invite Government and the general public to participate in an open forum in order for these issues to be brought to light and discussed openly”.
The Protection of Information Bill is currently being discussed in an ad hoc committee by the South African Parliament. It contains a number of problematic provisions, establishing serious hurdles for the media, civil society and business to obtain information about government tenders, official corruption mismanagement and government service delivery issues. The Bill gives government officials wide powers to prevent disclosure in the interests of “national security” which is broadly defined to cover a vast array of information.
The Bill applies to all organs of the state, which includes national and provincial government departments, independent commissions as well as municipal and local councils and forums. It empowers the Minister of State Security to “prescribe broad categories and sub-categories” to classify information to prevent it from entering the public sphere. The heads of government departments are further empowered to put in place departmental policies, directives and categories for the purpose of classifying and declassifying information.
However, Dennis Dlomo, Special Advisor to the Minister of State Security says that the basic tenets of the Bill are largely misunderstood and are being blown out of proportion. The ad hoc committee is working through all the demands brought before it by the Right to Know Campaign and other institutions on a step by step basis and are currently on the seventh draft of the Bill. He welcomed the invitation by Abramjee to partake in an open discussion with the general public on the Protection on Information Bill.
The NEPAD Business Foundation welcomes this ongoing debate and supports the efforts made by the media, as well as both the Public and Private Sector to create honest and transparent legislation in order for our world class constitution to be upheld.
Dr Dale McKinley - Right to Know Campaign group
There is a greater need for public participation in the Bill, there should be a proper consultation process with members of civil society and businesses. This bill will affect every person & institution in South Africa. This bill also poses a fundamental problem for Private Sector: companies can end up not having access to information around government tenders, which has the potential to hide and incubate corruption in business dealings. If there is anything that has become clear in the last few years, it is that a pre-requisite for doing business properly is transparency. This Bill attacks the entire principle of transparency. It creates a climate of self-censorship, fear and intimidation which is undemocratic and encourages the exact opposite of what it is supposed to. This should be seen as a non-political and non-ideological debate. No one is debating the need for State Secrets to be kept confidential, but those State Secrets need to be clearly defined – the wording of the Bill is too vague and could potentially allow for misinterpretation and abuse of power. You can join by signing up at http://www.r2k.org.za .
Yusuf Abramjee - Head of News and Current Affairs, Primedia Broadcasting and chair: National Press Club
The people of this country have fought for freedom of expression and access to information for many years and will not stand for it to be taken away. These are fundamental Human Rights. Government cannot talk with a forked tongue – on one hand promise to fight corruption and on the other hand try to hide corruption. This Bill will severely limit the flow of information. Challenges the SA Government to engage the public in an open forum to discuss and educate civil society on the Bill.
Dennis Dlomo (State Security)
The basic tenets of the Bill are largely misunderstood. The public is also misinformed to a large degree about the principles and content of the Bill. There have been 7 main demands from the Right to Know Campaign, all of which have been tabled and are being addressed. The ad hoc committee is working through all the demands step by step and are currently on the seventh draft of the Bill. The government does not have the monopoly on wisdom – SA has won many awards and is generally seen as a leading country in terms of its constitution. Every effort is being made so that this remains the case. Accepts the invitation to form part of the public forum dedicated to, educating the public on the intricacies of and reasons behind this Bill. The discussions around the proposed Media Tribunal changed the tenor of discussions about the Bill. The Protection of Information Bill is not linked to this at all.
Gilles Eric Foadey - Public Communication Manager, NEPAD Agency
Africa is transforming its governance landscape through a collective approach of peer learning and sharing for effective development and, that democracy and good governance are taking foothold in Africa more than ever before this; partly thanks to African Media.
In 2002, African countries adopted the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance and, the Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in 2003, demonstrating commitment of the continent’s leaders to strengthen democracy.
Therefore the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is a prime and credible model for good governance; a voluntary and new monitoring policy instrument and direct offshoot of the AU Declaration.
Although most of African countries have strongly incorporated freedom of expression in their Constitution, a lot of challenges remain such as; to name a few:
- The absence of freedom of expression and access to information laws at the national level;
- The lack of recognition and non-binding nature of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression which should serve as a benchmark in the realization of freedom of expression and access to information on the continent.
In that vein, some articles of the Principle XII of the Declaration stipulating that:
- public figures shall be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism; and that;
- sanctions shall never be so severe as to inhibit the right to freedom of expression, while
- Privacy laws shall not inhibit the dissemination of information of public interest are still been not implementing in many countries.
It is a prerequisite for a robust democracy to publish and disseminate all information of public interest provided that they are not a threat to national security.