15 December 2011

South Africa gets slammed by civil society members of Open Government Partnership steering committee

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multi-stakeholder collaboration of governments and civil society organisations that promotes greater openness and transparency between governments and their citizens. South Africa is a founding member of the OGP and sits on the steering committee.

At a recent meeting of the OGP in Brazil, civil society members of the steering committee heavily criticised South Africa for its "insistence at pushing through the [Protection of State Information Bill] in the face of concerted and specific criticism from respected South African stakeholders." They suggested that the bill, known commonly in South Africa as the secrecy bill, "compromises the progress that South African [sic] has made in guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms, including its pioneering right to information law." These concerns were reportedly shared by other governments who sit as members of the steering committee.

The South African government was encouraged to consider the input from civil society in good faith. Members of the OGP steering committee pointed out that "Failure to amend the current bill to a point where there is broad agreement could hinder South Africa's progress towards fulfilling the country's Open Government Partnership commitments and could cast a shadow over South Africa's leadership role in the OGP."

Global Integrity, an organisation dedicated to promoting accountability in government, has suggested that if South Africa continues to support the bill in its current form, the notion of removing South Africa from the steering committee should be considered. They indicated that this bill represents a regression on the issues of openness and transparency, which makes South Africa's governance role within the OGP inappropriate.

The secrecy bill is scheduled for consideration by an ad hoc committee of the National Council of Provinces in the new year.