The ANC and the government have put the Protection of Information Bill aka the Secrecy Bill back on the agenda of the National Assembly without honouring their commitment to take the bill to the people for comment.
The Right2Know campaign and civil society activists are now calling on supporters, activists, NGOs, community organisations and unions to join a protest at 1pm on Wednesday [November 16, outside Parliament, and to also go into the session in order to “bear witness to this betrayal of democracy”. Action in the form of a picket is also to take place outside Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg.
“After several weeks of closed-door meetings between ANC provincial caucuses and the Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele and senior aides, the ANC appears to have rendered any public engagement meaningless by moving the Bill back to the National Assembly. No public consultations have been conducted, showing the Chief Whip’s promises to be utterly empty,” the Right2Know campaign said in a statement today [read in full below].
“However, this latest move by the ANC appears to be nothing less than legislative sleight of hand, buying time and space to get members in line and make sure there is no public division or opposition to the Bill from within the provinces. Such a move completely betrays any good faith communities had in the process,” it said.
In the meantime, the ANC in parliament told IOL News that the ‘consultation process’ would take place over the next two weeks even though the Bill will be debated on Wednesday.
For a detailed discussion on threats still contained in the Secrecy Bill watch Free Media, Free Minds! on C-TV tonight, 19h00. It’s broadcast across Cape Town and streamed online at http://www.capetowntv.org/CTV-Live.aspx
MEDIA STATEMENT: South Africans should be outraged at the ANC’s disingenuous move to bring the Secrecy Bill back to National Assembly for further deliberations as confirmed by the Office of the ANC Chief Whip last week.
On 19 October, following the shelving of the Bill ostensibly for further consultation, the ANC Chief Whip’s office committed itself to a transparent and clearly road-mapped process to “ensure that as many people as possible, regardless of their political allegiance, get an opportunity to have a say on the draft legislation before it is passed into law”. Communities were promised ample notice of upcoming meetings to express their views on the Secrecy Bill.
After several weeks of closed-door meetings between ANC provincial caucuses and the Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele and senior aides, the ANC appears to have rendered any public engagement meaningless by moving the Bill back to the National Assembly. No public consultations have been conducted, showing the Chief Whip’s promises to be utterly empty.
While a number of civil society voices, including the Right2Know campaign, cautiously welcomed the ANC’s proposal for further public engagement, and chose to accept in good faith the ANC’s commitment to such a process. Our network has been preparing to be part of the process and to inform and involve communities to engage. However, despite numerous request by R2K the ANC has failed to provide any kind of schedule for promised public meetings.
However, this latest move by the ANC appears to be nothing less than legislative sleight of hand, buying time and space to get members in line and make sure there is no public division or opposition to the Bill from within the provinces. Such a move completely betrays any good faith communities had in the process.
Thus the Secrecy Bill returns to Parliament without any amendments, with many of the most basic demands contained in the R2K 7 Point Freedom Test unmet.
* Harsh prison sentences of up to 25 years, with no protection for whistleblowers except for the most minor offences. Even those who harbor whistleblowers may face prison sentences.
* Anyone who comes into possession of a state secret faces up to five years in prison if they do not hand the information to police or security services.
* Last-minute drafting by the Parliamentary ad hoc committee ensured that the Secrecy Bill would trump the Promotion of Access to Information Act which promotes citizens’ right to know.
* The Bill shuts off the state security agencies from any kind of scrutiny or accountability to the public.
* There is no independent appeals mechanism available to citizens who wish to access information that may have been classified as secret without justification.
The R2K Campaign is thus left to wonder exactly what game the ANC is playing here. If the ANC was serious about making changes to the Secrecy Bill – through the mooted public consultations – when they shelved it almost a month ago, then why is the Bill now being re-introduced without any changes?
Were Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s public comments last week suggesting that the party may consider amendments to the BIll that would include a ‘public interest defence’ simply a public relations diversion? Will the ANC now– despite the Deputy President’s assurances – use its parliamentary majorities to railroad the Bill through both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, or will it allow for further meaningful engagement, or shelve it once again?
It would appear as though the ANC is now conducting itself with the kind of secrecy that the Bill itself threatens to institutionalise. As the R2K Campaign, we call on the ANC to come clean with the people of South Africa. Otherwise, not only will the contents of the Secrecy Bill continue to invite sustained public opposition, but the entire legislative process followed to make it law will be brought into serious question.