The ANC on Friday commended Public Protector Thuli Madonsela for ceasing investigations into statements surrounding the controversial Protection of State Information Bill made by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
“The decision by the public protector not to investigate should be commended. By turning down the request and instead urging the complainants to raise their concerns on the Bill with the NCOP [National Council of Provinces], the public protector has reaffirmed the centrality of the Constitution and the importance of Parliament in our country’s democracy,” the party’s parliamentary office said via a statement.
Madonsela’s announced on Monday she would not be investigating remarks made by Cwele in November.
Cwele maintained the Bill in its current form was in line with international best practices.
This was, however, sharply criticised by analysts maintaining that while a public interest defence clause with regards to the governance of state information is not “explicit” in many nations’ statutes, it is “understood”.
Madonsela declined the investigation on the basis of keeping her office out of an “unnecessary political storm”.
After being passed in National Assembly in November, the Bill must now pass though the NCOP and then be ratified by President Jacob Zuma.
The legislation 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 mechanism such as a public interest clause to challenge the proposed offences.
In its current form the Bill would see ordinary citizens and journalists treated as foreign spies if found to be in possession of information deemed to be a state secret.
There is no independent appeals mechanism available to citizens who wish to access information that might have been classified as secret without justification.
Referring to section 58 of the South African Constitution, the ANC reiterated parliamentary laws stipulating ministers, their deputies and members of the National Assembly are exempt from prosecution based on anything said by them in Parliament.
“The office of the chief whip commends the public protector for refusing to be used to advance narrow sectorial interests. She indeed continues to inspire our confidence in this important chapter 9 institution,” the ANC added.
When approached for comment, the Public Protector said she would relay any concerns she has with the Bill through the appropriate channels.
“My submission to the NCOP will indicate any objections my office wishes to put across,” Madonsela told the Mail & Guardian.