South African Human Rights Commission stament on the Protection of State Information Bill
28 AUGUST 2012
ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters
The South African Human Rights Commission welcomes the steps taken by Parliament to ensure that the Protection of State Information Bill passes constitutional muster. The decision by the ad hoc committee to ensure that the Bill does not trump the Promotion of Access to Information Act as the law governing access to information is commended. The Commission hopes this decision will be reflected in the final draft of the Bill
The Commission has provided many comprehensive objections to the Bill. The Commission has stressed that the constitutional right of access to information must be the fundamental basis for the consideration of any law aiming to protect legitimate secrets of government. The Commission has also stressed the supremacy of the Promotion of Access to Information Act as the enabling law that gives effect to the right of access to information and to which the Bill must be subject. The Commission stated that the right of access to information is necessary for the fight against corruption and pivotal in the realisation of other rights and combating poverty.
According to the Deputy-Chairperson of the Commission, Pregs Govender, ‘we live in a society where the Constitution upholds our right to information. Many communities feel they are left-out of government’s service delivery planning. Against the backdrop of poverty, lack of efficient service delivery and corruption, we need to equip communities to assert their rights and confront a non-responsive government.’
As the NCOP meets to deliberate on the Bill and it enters into the final stages for passage into law, the Commission calls for the review of the Bill to incorporate earlier submissions that have already been made to Parliament. These include a review of the Bill which erodes the supremacy of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) and contradicts the Constitution. Also central to the concerns expressed by the Commission in its submissions are the impact of the bill on freedom of expression, access to information, the classification regime in the Bill which unduly makes accessing classified information more difficult, the limited public interest defence to criminal activities only, the lack of a reasonable publication defence, the inadequate protection for whistleblowers, the heavy penal sanctions imposed by the Bill, as well as the impact upon research and institutions of learning.
The Commission believes that without the incorporation of these highlighted concerns, the Bill poses a serious threat to the pursuit of a transparent society, curtails government responsiveness to the needs of the people that voted it into power and clashes with the values of the constitution that support openness which many South Africans have fought for. According to Commissioner Govender, ‘it is important that the modest successes recorded in the 12 years of access to information practice in South Africa are not eroded by the passage of a defective Protection of State Information Bill.’
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South African Human Rights Commission