Parliament must not rush secrecy bill - Right2Know

Organisation concerned by mixed messages emanating from committee

Right2Know Statement: Parliament should not rush Protection of Information Bill (Secrecy Bill)

The right2Know Campaign notes with concern the mixed messages emanating from the Parliamentary Committee engaging the Protection of Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) and an apparent rush to pass the Bill into law. 

Committee Chairperson Cecil Burgess told SAPA on Wednesday 3 November that the Bill will not be finalised this year, yet the Committee has been meeting urgently and have set themselves the task of producing a "Final Consideration of the Amendments to the Protection of Information Bill" at their sitting on Friday 12 November at 9h00.

The right2Know Campaign notes that the Committee has found little consensus and has - to date - failed to address major concerns expressed by civil society.

We urge the Committee not to rush their deliberations and to apply their minds to the Bill and the objections of the thousands of South Africans that have endorsed the Right2Know campaign and marched against the Bill in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. 

If the Bill is passed with the current agreed amendments, it still poses a threat to our democracy and will make South Africa a society of secrets.

The Bill - with its current agreed amendments  - does not limit secrecy to core state bodies in the security sector such as the police, defense and intelligence agencies. Rather it gives all heads of government institutions (including local government and parastatals) the power to classify information at will as secret and exempts the intelligence agencies from any public scrutiny. 

The current amended Bill still applies penalties for unauthorised disclosure to society at large, not only to those officials responsible for keeping secrets, as is the case in other democracies. It still criminalises the legitimate disclosure of secrets in the public interest, potentially undermining the oversight role of Parliament and other stakeholders like civil society, the media and whistle blowers. Instead of the onus being on the state to justify why classification is necessary, the current Bill places the onus on the citizen to show why declassification should occur - a situation which, given the relative power imbalance between state and citizenry, is patently unfair.

The Right2Know Campaign will continue to mobilise and organise to defend our hard won democratic rights. 

Statement issued by Right2Know Campaign, November 10 2010

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