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THE stormy passage of the Protection of State Information Bill through Parliament has coincided with a wave of news reports about the crisis within the country’s police and intelligence operations.
Accusations of mismanagement of funds, corruption, nepotism and even murder have been levelled at members of the top brass, leading to a credibility crisis that threatens the stability of our democracy.
Were this bill to have been law, there is a good chance we would not have known about any of this; there would have been no pressure on President Jacob Zuma to act, and no investigation would have been launched.
It is reasonable to accept that the state is entitled to a few classified secrets in the interests of national security. But these must surely be kept to a minimum and wherever possible the bias must be towards disclosure, not towards secrecy.
Thanks to unrelenting public pressure over the past few years, the ANC has been forced to cut down on what it considers classified information.
In its latest concession last week, the ANC bowed to pressure and introduced certain exemptions which would protect journalists and whistle-blowers. It also removed prescribed minimum sentences.
As a result the bill is being shaped into a more acceptable piece of legislation, but it remains seriously flawed.
The concessions fall far short of a full public interest defence, and the mere possession of classified information would still be a crime.
These failures – among others – led the Right2Know campaign to conclude that the ANC had “missed an opportunity to begin the long road of redrafting the Secrecy Bill in such a way that it cannot be used to threaten or imprison people who seek or expose the truth”.
The National Council of Provinces’ committee has been granted an extension until the end of next month to finalise drafting the bill.
It is essential, in the next six weeks, to keep up the public pressure. This bill must never be used to protect public representatives from exposure when they abuse their power.