Right2Know calls for new period of action on Secrecy Bill
The decision by ANC MPs on Parliament's ad-hoc committee to vote on clauses of the Secrecy Bill on Tuesday confirms that the ruling party is willing to use its majority on the committee to steamroll a range of unresolved problems with the Bill (see outstanding demands below).
Despite months of public outcry from a wide spectrum of civil society organisations, political parties and ordinary citizens and stalled debate in the committee room, MPs have failed to reduce in any meaningful way the Secrecy Bill's draconian provisions. Indeed, ANC MPs seem determined to finalise the Bill by June 24 using any means necessary, including ramming it through via clause-by-clause voting.
What yesterday's events confirm is that the ANC position on the Secrecy Bill has hardened. As a result, its MPs have reneged on a number of concessions made in recent months to reduce the Bill's powers.
On Tuesday the chair of the committee, Cecil Burgess, allowed state law advisors to table a version of the Bill which does not include the concessions made in a previous draft tabled by the ANC. This version of the Bill will introduce wide powers for the state to classify information at every level, and will have no independent oversight, or proper whistleblower protection.
In doing so, Burgess and other ANC MPs on the committee have negated a number of gains made in narrowing the Bill's discretions, reversing what progress had been made in aligning the Bill with constitutional provisions around the rights of freedom of expression and access to information.
This is a struggle that is bigger than political affiliation. The Secrecy Bill will affect us all!
The Right2Know Campaign is calling for a new period of action to stop the Secrecy Bill. We call on all those who are seriously concerned by this turn of events to make their collective and individual voices heard now.
In the coming days, as MPs meet in Parliament to finalise the Secrecy Bill, R2K working groups will join together to develop plans to ratchet up the pressure to halt this regressive piece of legislation that threatens to take our country back to the dark days of secrecy.
The ANC must abandon its efforts to pass the Bill in its current form and withdraw the Bill to be redrafted from scratch, with proper public consultation. We will spread the message across the country and the globe: Stop the Secrecy Bill! Let the truth be told!
When the Right2Know launched on 31 August 2011, we tabled the ‘7 Point Freedom Test', a list of demands that must be met by any law governing state secrecy. So far only one has been addressed:
1. Limit secrecy to core state bodies in the security sector such as the police, defence and intelligence agencies.
2. Limit secrecy to strictly-defined national security matters and no more. Officials must give reasons for making information secret.
3. Exclude commercial information from this Bill.
4. Do not exempt the intelligence agencies from public scrutiny.
5. Do not apply penalties for unauthorised disclosure to society at large, only those responsible for keeping secrets.
6. An independent body appointed by Parliament, and not the Minister of State Security, should be the arbiter of decisions about what may be made secret.
7. Do not criminalise the legitimate disclosure of secrets in the public interest.
Any law that doesn't meet these demands is unconstitutional and must be scrapped!
Statement issued by Right2Know, May 26 2011
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