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Publishing of Ministerial Handbook ‘illegal and irresponsible’

In the editorial “Protection of information farce” the Mail & Guardian makes a petty attempt at being the custodian of the Constitution in what it believes is an exemplary execution of the promotion of access to information.

In the editorial the paper rightly asserts that citizens have a right to access state information, especially where it relates to the expenditure of their tax money. It further communicates the need to observe democratic principles and ensure accountability, which we, as the government, acknowledge and uphold.

The editorial is, however, largely a host of contradictions. First, it should be put on record that the statement by Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi indicating that the document is classified cannot be dismissed as a “claim”, let alone regarded as bizarre. As with all documents submitted to the Cabinet, the handbook was classified when it was submitted to the Cabinet for approval in February 2007.

What is omitted by the M&G but was indicated in the journalist’s interview with the minister as in follow-up discussion with the editor of the M&G is that the public service ministry is in the process of declassifying the document. This process has been prioritised in the full realisation of the need to promote transparency.

It is startling that the M&G, which professes to promote and respect the Constitution and the rule of law, does not see the need for it to adhere to the law. Does it see itself as above the law?

The ministry condemns the M&G‘s decision to publish the Ministerial Handbook, given the legal status of the document. Not being cognisant of your social responsibility you not only undermine the rule of law but encourage citizens to undermine the very Constitution you claim to uphold. That is irresponsible! In spite of being well aware of the processes in place to ensure easier accessibility of the Ministerial Handbook, the M&G not only chose to be irresponsible but to be populist and intentionally mislead the public.

Section 32 of the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to access information held by the state and other persons or institutions. As the ministry, our priority has been to do nothing but uphold this.

Dumisani Nkwamba is the spokesperson for the minister of public service and administration

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