The South African Rights Commission welcomes the steps taken by State Security Minister, Siyabonga Cwele, to ensure that the Protection of Information Bill passes constitutional muster. The Protection of Information Bill in its current form is unconstitutional and unjustifiably limits people’s basic right to access information. The receptiveness of the minister to the concerns expressed by the commission, civil society and the public is commended.
The commission has provided comprehensive objections to the Bill. In its most recent submissions to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), the commission stressed that the Bill must be considered in light of the Constitutional provisions of access to information. The commission stated that the right to information is pivotal in the realisation of other rights and combating poverty. Facilitating access to information held by public officials’ also impacts on service delivery. It enables people to participate in the governance processes that affect their lives as well as hold government to account.
While some compromises proposed by the ad hoc committee are noted, the commission calls for a review of Section 1(4) of the Protection of Information Bill. This section erodes the Constitutional provisions of access to information and the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). It contradicts the Constitution and the limitations clause, as well as Section 5 of PAIA.
The preamble of the PAIA states, "The system of government in South Africa before 1994 resulted in a secretive and unresponsive culture in public and private bodies which often led to an abuse of power and human right violations.” Access to information is seen as a key means to prevent a secretive and unresponsive public service.
Hence the Commission is of the view that Section 1(4) be amended and harmonized with PAIA to ensure that the principles of a transparent and open democracy are not compromised.
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South African Human Rights Commission
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