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Mon Dec 22 20:24:23 SAST 2014

Mandela centre proposes secrecy bill amendments

Sapa | 22 November, 2011 13:000 Comments

Four amendments could fix the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory said on Tuesday.

This could be done without compromising the bill's fundamental principles, it said in a statement.

"The proposals are motivated by the concern that some aspects of the bill are unconstitutional."

The bill is set for the vote in the National Assembly at 2pm and then has to move through the National Council of Provinces.

The centre said there was still time to fix defects.

It said the objective would be to make sure the bill met standards of constitutionality and aspirations for freedom of information and expression, while at the same time providing protection for legitimate state secrets.

"Much has been achieved, but the bill is not yet at a point where it can be said to have met the above-mentioned standards and aspirations."

The proposals, put into a position paper, were to:

-- Restore sections of the bill which provided for a request for classified information to be dealt with in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA);

-- Reformulate the wording of the disclosure offences to focus on the harm caused by the mishandling or disclosure of classified information rather than, as is currently the case, the mere fact that information was classified;

-- Reformulate the public interest override. As it stands, only information showing a substantial contravention of the law or an imminent and serious public safety risk can be considered for declassification in the public interest.

The section, deriving from the PAIA, had to be reformulated to provide simply that a record may not be classified if the public interest in the disclosure of the record clearly outweighed any harm to national security that may result from its disclosure.

-- Reinstate the archival and automatic declassification dimensions of the 2008 version of the bill, as the provisions for automatic declassification of old order classified information were unnecessarily narrow.

The Federated Unions of SA (Fedusa) said the bill represented a step backwards in the government's claims to want to improve transparency and accountability.

Workers should not be afraid of pointing out corruption where it exists.

"As we have seen in the past, poorly drafted legislation translates into further long-term costs when it has to be interpreted and revised," said Fedusa general secretary Dennis George.

Business Unity SA (Busa) said the public interest dimension of the bill should be reconsidered, "even at this late stage", to allay fears that transparency and accountability in public affairs would be weakened.

"... Busa appeals to government to subject the new draft legislation to a 'public interest' test. Busa believes that such an amendment will go a long way to meeting the serious concerns that have been raised."

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