Writing in her capacity as Deputy Chair of the South African Human Rights Council, Pregs Govender argues forcefully against the government’s mooted Protection of Information (“Secrecy”) Bill, saying we need greater access to information, not less:
In its 2009 Annual Report, the SAHRC reported to Parliament that under PAIA, ‘More than 80% of local government structures remain non-compliant’. What happens when the poor lose faith in democratic institutions – when their requests are not heeded and their opinions are not taken into account? People know that budgets (from National to Local Government) reflect policy priorities and choices. They reflect, more than any rhetorical speech, who and what is valued…or not. People want to know the basis for Government’s choices. A key factor in many protests is the lack of access to information.
Those protesting over the lack of service delivery see many green, well-watered golf courses in their local municipalities but no houses, toilets, schools, clinics or well-equipped and maintained playgrounds or sports-fields for their children. They ask who is benefiting from million-rand tenders when bridges collapse and children drown. They want to know why the cost of basic food is increasing and why their sick children have to make choices between food and medicine. Striking workers say society’s claim to value their contribution to social reproduction through education and healthcare is not reflected in budget choices. Ordinary citizens ask who profited from the arms-deals and the building of stadiums. They want to know what economic, trade and finance policies have resulted in them losing their jobs. They ask where are the rights and choices for poor girls trafficked into prostitution. They ask why, in the 21st century, they have no toilets or toilets without walls. They want answers not just on the symptoms of their poverty and lack of socio-economic rights but on the causes of their poverty. Parliament has the power to ensure that local to national government is held to account and that there is not an even greater sense of impunity and disrespect for compliance because of the Protection of Information Bill.
The SAHRC 2010 Parliamentary submission on the Protection of Information Bill critiques the Bill from the perspective of the SAHRC’s mandate to promote the right to access to information, the direct opposite of the ‘Secrecy Bill’. Its submission builds on its earlier submissions on bills affecting information, including the 2008 version of this Bill, and critiques the lack of harmonization between information bills. The SAHRC submission concurs with many of the concerns of civil society, especially on the impact on the rights of whistleblowers and journalists. The SAHRC systematic clause by clause submission raises serious questions about matters such as the “Minister’s unfettered powers; the broad definition of national interest (the bill states that ‘secrecy exists to protect the national interest’); decision-making around categorization, classification, standards and procedures; the concentration of power in the state over information management and protection of information; the absence of a moderating independent body and the fact that non-disclosure on the basis of commercial or financial interests cannot be over-ridden by the public interest provided for in PAIA.”
- Complete article, via the Cape Times, on Facebook (login required)
- Love and Courage: A story of insubordination by Pregs Govender
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