MPs must get serious about fixing Secrecy Bill - Right2Know

Mark Weinberg says MPs are not taking their task seriously enough

MPs must get serious about fixing the Secrecy Bill

The Right2Know Campaign has repeatedly reminded the parliamentary committee dealing with the Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) of the weight of the task ahead of them. And yet based on last week's initial meetings, the committee appears to have kicked off 2011 in a complete dwaal.

The committee's deadline is set to expire this Friday, 28 January 2011, yet there is not even clarity on whether or not the committee will apply for an extension. (See minutes from the Committee's 18 Jan deliberations at Committee chairperson Cecil Burgess (ANC) has kept the public and apparently his own colleagues in the dark on this matter, rather than providing a clear road map towards dealing with the Bill's mounting problems.

Even while members of the committee assure us that the Bill will not be rushed, it is clear that many of our MPs are not taking the task seriously. The first week of meetings was so poorly attended by our elected representatives, across all political parties, there were sometimes more Right2Know members in the room than there were MPs.

At Wednesday's sitting only four of the 14 MPs on the committee showed up, while Right2Know members had travelled from communities as far as Delft and Blikkiesdorp to monitor the deliberations. Was it too far a walk from their offices for the MPs to attend deliberations on a bill that seeks to drastically curtail the rights of the people?

The Secrecy Bill poses a clear threat to South Africa's hard-won freedoms, and the Right2Know campaign would like to remind our elected leaders that their sloppy conduct is not going unnoticed. We call on our MPs to show their commitment to our democracy by helping to defeat the odious Secrecy Bill. Anything less will make them complicit in attempts by securocrats to strip South Africans of their Right2Know.

The Right2Know Campaign demands that:

  • MPs show a commitment to attend all meetings on the Secrecy Bill
  • MPs send a clear message of how long the committee will continue its deliberations
  • MPs ensure that the final version of the Bill meets the R2K 7 Point Freedom Test (see below)

The 7 Point Freedom Test:

[Note to media: The following criteria must be met in order to bring the Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) in line with constitutional values and rid it of its odious secrecy clauses. So far, only criterion 3 has been met in full.]

1. Limit secrecy to core state bodies in the security sector such as 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 Intelligence 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.

Statement issued by Mark Weinberg, National Coordinator of the R2Know Campaign, January 24 2011

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