Draft Bill Is 'A Charter for Rogues'

  •  cape town
  • Inter Press Service

South Africa's parliament is presently considering legislation to replace secrecy laws drawn up during the apartheid era. Critics, under the banner of the Right 2 Know Campaign, say the bill could restrict the right to access information which is essential to holding government accountable.

'This bill is a charter for rogues. Because everyone from the president down to the local authority can designate bills, ideas, as confidential,' Asmal said. 'Nowhere in the world have you got town councillors being able to [do this]... You can't have hundreds of people with the right to do that, you want a small number of people.'

The bill would criminalise those who pass on or possess classified information without authorisation, be they whistleblowers, journalists or ordinary citizens - even if the release of the information is judged to be in the public interest.

This could have a serious impact on freedom of the media, as journalists would risk prison terms of up to 25 years for possessing or publishing classified information: stiffer sentences than those prescribed for government officials who wrongfully conceals information. Information about government contracts could potentially be deemed secret, blocking transparency in deals involving huge parastatal companies.

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