South Africans should be outraged at the African National Congress' (ANC) 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 2011, 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 (R2K) 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 requests by the 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.
The Right2Know Campaign supporters will be protesting at Wednesday’s vote in Parliament.
For more information contact:
Mobile: 072 672 5468
Right2Know Campaign Gauteng
Mobile: 072 429 4086
Right2Know Western Cape
Mobile: 078 227 6008
Mobile: 083 982 6939
Right2Know Eastern Cape
Mobile: 078 625 6468
For more about the Right2Know Campaign, refer to www.r2k.org.za.
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