ANC answers SwissCham's concerns on POIB

Office of Chief Whip says no other country has public interest defence campaigners are asking for


Representatives from the ANC in Parliament and the SwissCham Southern Africa - South Africa Chapter (SCSA-SAC) met today, 7 November 2011, to discuss views on the Protection of State Information Bill, which is currently before Parliament. The ANC delegation was led by Chief Whip Dr Mathole Motshekga and MP Cecil Burgess while the SCSA-SAC delegation was led by its President Dr. Jürg A. Schalch and Vice President, Thomas C. Hippele.

The meeting follows concern raised by the SCSA-SAC in the media and its letter to the ANC Chief Whip on the draft legislation and the consultation process the ANC announced several weeks ago. The meeting, which is part of our public engagement drive on the Bill, gave the parties an opportunity to have a face-to-face frank discussion on the Bill's provisions and the usual concerns raised by critics in the media.

As the majority party in Parliament, the ANC has been the object of criticism in the media regarding the draft legislation, hence it took it upon itself to embark on an engagement drive with the public and structures to seek their views and explain the Bill's objectives.

Any credible party in Parliament has an obligation to consult with the people and involve them in the legislative processes in line with the concept of participatory democracy. We would have failed in our duty as the majority party if we did not embark on this inclusive public consultation process. This is what was explained to the SCSA-SAC in response to their concern regarding the nature of the party-led process.

One of the main objections to the Bill, which intends to repeal the apartheid era Protection of Information Act of 1982, is the clause that deals with the public interest defence. It is worth noting that no country in the world has a public interest defence provision of the nature that some campaigners are calling for. For example, Canada has the public interest defence provision, however it only applies to that country's intelligence and security services, not the media.

In Britain they have flirted with the inclusion of the public interest defence in their national security laws, but after a short while, this provision was repealed because of the very serious problems it caused for the British establishment.

With regard to the concern that "far too little has been done to allay fears of journalist and whistle blowers", we explained that a number of major amendments have been effected to ensure, amongst other things, that this bill cannot be used to conceal corruption, malfeasance and related criminal acts.

Those who blow the whistle on corruption are protected as the bill is aligned to the Protected Disclosures Act. With respect to access to classified information, the bill provides for even faster turnaround times for applications related to information that exposes imminent and serious public safety risk or substantial contravention of or failure to comply with the law. This provision is more effective than the provisions in the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

Clearly, these and many other amendments that have been effected have produced pieces of legislation that adequately balance national security and access to information, both of which are expressly provided for in our constitution.

We are satisfied with the manner in which the meeting proceeded as it assisted both parties to appreciate each other's views and provided a platform to clarify complex matters and address genuine concerns pertaining to the Bill.

SCSA-SAC expressed appreciation for today briefing, and further advised us to intensify communication on the draft legislation to ensure that many people are informed regarding its intentions and objectives. The two parties have agreed to continue engaging on general legislative matters. 

The ANC in Parliament will continue to engage with the public and various formations in our society on the Bill.

Statement issued by the Office of the ANC Chief Whip, Parliament, November 7 2011

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