01 September 2011

ANC proposes that Secrecy Bill override PAIA

The ANC members of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of Information Bill, commonly referred to as the Secrecy Bill, have proposed that the Bill override the provisions of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

PAIA is the legislation that allows members of the public to apply for access to information from public and private bodies.

The proposal by the ANC is therefore to use the Secrecy Bill to broaden the circumstances in which public bodies can refuse to provide members of the public with access to information.

This new proposal at such a late stage of the discussion on the Secrecy Bill is alarming. Previously the ANC has stated that the Secrecy Bill will not affect rights under PAIA.

All opposition members in the Committee strongly objected to the proposed clause.

A number of further key issues of concern remain in the Secrecy Bill:
• There is no public interest defence to protect people that release or publish information in the public interest from criminal prosecution. This issue is yet to be substantively considered by the Committee.
• The proposed classification review panel is not sufficiently independent from government. A previous proposal by the ANC to appoint a retired judge to the panel was subsequently withdrawn.
• The declassification procedures proposed are very slow and could result in members of the public that request access to information waiting for as much as 6 months for a decision on whether access will be granted.

The Committee proposes to finalise its discussion on the Bill this Friday 2 September.