Madonsela attacks secrecy bill

29 March 2012 - 02:27 By THABO MOKONE

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela yesterday told parliament that the Protection of State Information B ill would derail the work of her office and undermine other laws.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. File picture.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. File picture.
Image: Patrick Hlungwani © Sowetan
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. File picture.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. File picture.
Image: Patrick Hlungwani © Sowetan

In a hard-hitting presentation to the National Council of Provinces' ad hoc committee considering the bill, Madonsela said the proposed legislation would, if enacted in its current form, have the "unintended consequence" of delaying the delivery of justice because her office would be forced to prolong its investigations to comply with the "onerous requirements" of the bill.

She said the bill could also stifle the free flow of information and undermine the Promotion of Access to Information and the Public Protector acts.

She said another area of concern was a clause that required people in possession of classified state information, including documents leaked to Chapter Nine institutions, to report the fact to the police or face criminal charges.

Madonsela said this would strip her of her power to possess state secrets while carrying out her mandate.

"Will we be affected? Yes, severely . We will not be able to function optimally.

"Why does this democracy trust a police station above Chapter Nine institutions?" Madonsela asked.

"The issue is [that] I have been given space by the constitution that I should operate without needing to be affirmed by a policeman. Why should this law now require me to collect information that I find and take it to a police station? That would derail our operations.

"We will not be able to get immediate justice . We are not going to be able to conclude investigations on time because we would have to get through all of these hurdles to get some aspects of information," Madonsela said.

She said she hoped parliament would craft a law to deal with state officials who refused to disclose information to her office under the guise that it had been classified.

The bill was approved by the National Assembly in November amid a huge controversy. Almost all the opposition parties were against its passage.

All eyes are now on the National Council of Provinces to see if it will be sympathetic to calls for the inclusion in the act of a public interest defence.

Madonsela said she was fully behind the inclusion of a public interest defence.

She dismissed concerns that such a clause would allow the media and others to advance their narrow political agendas under the guise of public interest.

Madonsela said there was no evidence to substantiate that claim because until now there had not been an abuse of the Protected Disclosures' Act, which had been in force for more than 10 years.

When asked by COPE MP Dennis Bloem if the act would pass constitutional muster, Madonsela said: "As parliament, you have the power to prevent this matter being settled by a court of law. So let's listen to each other."