/ 20 December 2011

Public protector declines call to probe secrecy Bill

Public Protector Declines Call To Probe Secrecy Bill

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on Monday rejected a request from the media to investigate the state’s arguments on the Protection of State Information Bill.

Madonsela’s office said she was deliberately distancing herself from the civil rights campaign against the contentious Bill, to prevent her office from coming under political suspicion and attack.

“In an effort to insulate her office from what appears to be an unnecessary political storm, the public protector has decided to delink her engagement with Parliament from the efforts of civil society, including representatives of the media.”

She said in a statement: “I have decided to advise the civil society entities that approached me for assistance to directly engage with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) independent of me. I will accordingly write to them and articulate my position.”

Public interest defence
The South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) had asked Madonsela to investigate claims that no country had a public interest defence in its official secrecy legislation and that those proposing one were foreign agents.

It wanted her to test the veracity of the first position and, if it was not the case, to establish whether it “was a bona fide mistake or it was an intention to mislead”.

Sanef had also asked her to investigate whether a statement made by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele that those who opposed the Bill were proxies funded by foreign spies, was protected by parliamentary privilege and had in fact been said in Parliament.

The request came at a time when Madonsela was already under fire from ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga for writing to Speaker Max Sisulu on the Bill. In her letter to Sisulu, she noted that numerous organisations had approached her to express concern about the implications of the draft law.

She also warned that if passed, the Bill was likely to hinder her work, as she relied in part on information from whistle-blowers and the media.

Motshekga accused her of meddling in the parliamentary process.

The Bill was approved by the National Assembly on November 22 and has since been referred to an ad hoc committee of the NCOP for further consideration.

Media houses, civil society organisations and ANC ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions have warned that if it were signed into law in its current form, it would be challenged in the Constitutional Court. — Sapa