27 June 2011

Concessions on the Secrecy Bill

With increased public and civil society support for the scrapping of the Secrecy Bill, the ANC has made several verbal concessions which mark a significant advance in discussions on the Bill.

On Friday 24 June, Members of Parliament from the ANC proposed new concessions on the Secrecy Bill, which constitute some of the first signs by government to engage with the failings of the Bill. The three key concessions announced were:

  1. The power to classify will be limited to the state security services;
  2. Provision will be made for an independent appeal mechanism; and
  3. Minimum sentencing provisions will be removed with penalties being made proportional to the harm caused by the offence.

While these concessions by no means address all the issues with the Bill, they will serve as a good starting point as discussions with civil society move forward. To read more on the concessions you can visit the Right2Know campaign's website here.

Also of importance is the decision to grant a further extension of time, until September this year, to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee charged with reviewing the Bill, allowing members more time to engage in consultation and discussions.

It is likely that the concessions announced and the extension granted to the Committee have, at least in part, been motivated by a surge in civil society activities which have raised the profile of the Bill and have served to maintain pressure on the government to begin real engagement.

On 24 June 2011 the Right2Know campaign held a picket outside the Ministry of State Security in Pretoria to highlight the potentially broad powers the Bill seeks to grant to that Ministry. Further, the Nelson Mandela Foundation recently hosted two dialogue forums between government and civil society, providing a platform for discussions on the Bill's inadequacies. The Right2Know campaign has also hosted numerous public meetings nationwide to try and broaden awareness of all the key issues around the debate - including a talk held at the IDASA centre on 7 June. Public opposition has also been growing, with statements against the Bill being issued by the late imminent political figure Kader Asmal, previous Member of Parliament Ronnie Kasrils, COSATU, and even from big business in the form of Pick ‘n Pay's Gareth Ackerman.

SAHA will continue to support the efforts of the Right2Know campaign and participate in active engagement with government to ensure the scope of the Bill is kept as narrow as possible, in line with an overarching principle of creating an open and transparent access to information environment in South Africa.