Public protector not ‘interfering’ with secrecy Bill

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on Thursday labelled the ANC’s claims she is trying to interfere in the passage of the controversial Protection of State Information Bill into law as a “complete misunderstanding”.

“It could never be interference to merely alert the driver of a car that if they drive in a certain direction there are people you may end up driving over,” Madonsela said.

In November Madonsela handed over submissions made to her office to Parliament speaker Max Sisulu, which questioned the proposed legislation’s integrity — maintaining she “never commanded anyone to do anything”.

“Would it have been proper if I had just sat on those views? I am simply doing my job,” Madonsela said.

The ANC released a statement earlier in the day slamming Madonsela’s “questioning and threatening to investigate” Parliament’s passing of the Bill in November.

“If the media reports are anything to go by, the public protector’s action is at odds with the Constitution and strongly suggests that she has overextended her authority. She can’t question Parliament’s legislative decisions or meddle in Parliament’s law making processes,” it said.

The contentious secrecy Bill proposes harsh penalties for journalists and citizens found to be in possession of classified documents as well as harbouring state secrets.

Proposed consequences include prison sentences of up to 25 years, with no protection mechanism, such as a public interest clause, to challenge the proposed offences.

In its current form, the legislation will see ordinary citizens and journalists treated as foreign spies if found to be in possession of information deemed to be a state secret.

It is within the ambit of the Public Protector to investigate alleged improper in state affairs and resolve said disputed activities through mediation or negotiation.

According to Madonsela, Sisulu sent a “courteous” response upon receiving the submissions and suggested she take the concerns to the National Council of Provinces — where the Bill is currently being considered.

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