FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ON SAPA-PR-WIRE
LATEST PROPOSALS TO THE PROTECTION OF INFORMATION BILL
24 June 2011
The African National Congress has given very serious and careful consideration to many concerns expressed about certain provisions of the Protection of Information Bill [B6B-2010]. These concerns were expressed by members of the ANC, ordinary members of the public, civil society organizations and Members of Parliament, amongst others.
Given our history and the often horrific experiences we have had with our security services; and given the provisions of our Constitution which enjoins us to “recognise the injustices of our past”, the African National Congress wants to change the culture of secrecy.
The ANC believes that decisions taken by state departments and civil servants must be both justifiable and be able stand the test of accountability.
To this end the ANC, therefore, proposes that:
1. The scope of application of the Protection of Information Bill, insofar as it applies to the authority to classify information, such scope must be drastically reduced to apply only to the country’s security services.
2. An opt-in clause be provided for in the Bill which will allow organs of state or entities of state to apply to be allowed to classify information on good cause shown; 3. A retired judge be provided for in the appeals process; 4. The minimum sentences provisions in the Offences clause be removed, with the possible exception of the crime of espionage. Moreover, we must ensure that the penalties and sanctions in the Offences clause meet the test of proportionality; and 5. The Bill’s provisions must ensure that this legislation is not abused such that it is used to hide corruption and other serious offences.
The ANC believes that these proposed changes to this Bill will help meet the difficult and competing demands of national security within a rights-based, constitutional democracy such as ours.
The Office of the ANC Chief Whip
ANC Parliamentary Caucus
Parliament of the RSA
Cape Town, 8000
KADER Asmal did not die a bitter man, but who would have blamed him if he had? His political career in South Africa after his return from exile followed two distinct trajectories. The first encompassed his participation in the drafting of the constitution and his service in the cabinet of Nelson Mandela.
During that time, Asmal helped construct one of the world’s foremost progressive societies, one in which the rule of law held sway, but within a framework of compassionate, humanitarian values aimed at advancing the position of the poorest in society.
During that phase, he enjoyed the unqualified support — and frequent public admiration — of Mandela, who saw in him a fearless proponent of reconciliation.
It helped that Asmal had a wicked sense of humour, for the society that was being constructed was one in which the humanity of the people stood in the foreground, with the machinery of state at their service.
Among his contributions beyond the constitution were the formulation of guidelines prohibiting the sale of arms to countries where they would be used to suppress democracy or wage unjust wars.
And he drove the drafting of rules on the declaration of private assets and the acceptance of gifts by public figures.
The second trajectory began when he found himself sidelined under former president Thabo Mbeki.
He resigned as an MP to avoid having to vote in favour of the disbanding of the Scorpions.
He was to witness growing challenges to his life’s work from within ANC ranks.
The constitution he had helped craft became an object of derision by a rising cohort of populist leaders.
Transparency and openness gave way to opacity as some public officials amassed vast fortunes while still in office.
The sale of arms to whomever became strategically significant swept away the high standard he had set in this terrain, and now South African arms and vehicles can be seen suppressing democratic protests all over the world.
Asmal found himself increasingly on the outside, one of only a handful of voices speaking out against the erosion of the country’s founding democratic values.
Finally he found himself outside the parliament he had helped to bring to life, addressing those protesting against the Protection of Information Bill about the need to fight against this pernicious legislation.
He occupied high office within the government, but that was a means, not an end. When the time came for him to stand with the protestors outside parliament, he did not hesitate to do so.
His was a life of service to the idea of a great South African society. Long may his legacy live.
*This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times