Public Protector to convey SANEF and civil society concerns regarding information bill to NCOP
Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela will make use of a meeting with the National Council of Provinces’ ad-hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill scheduled for Thursday this week to convey the concerns that have been raised with her by civil society organisations and the media.
Addressing journalists on Tuesday following her meeting with the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) in Pretoria, the Public Protector said she considered this her duty as the head of an institution tasked with supporting and strengthening constitutional democracy.
“The whole idea of an open society in a non-negotiable as it is enshrined as a foundational value in Chapter 1 and as a right in Section 32 of the Constitution. My role as the Public Protector is to support and strengthen constitutional democracy. I, accordingly, welcomed the opportunity to meet with SANEF in that context,” she said.
The meeting came after several media and civil society organisations approached the Public Protector with requests to have the properness of the latest version of the Bill assessed. The main complaint, including from SANEF, has been the Bill’s failure to include a public interest defence.
Concerns have also been raised about the protection of whistle-blowers and impact on the functioning of institutions responsible for enforcing the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, including the Public Protector.
Among the organisations that lodged complaints with the Public Protector were the National Press Club, Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, the Right 2 Know Campaign, Talk Radio 702 and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, which also submitted a legal opinion from a senior counsel.
While the Public Protector could not investigate the matter in deference to Parliament, she wrote to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Max Sisulu to bring the issues raised with her to the attention of Parliament.
At the media briefing the, Public Protector said she would also use the engagement with the NCOP to express her view that while she appreciates government’s intention and responsibility to protect national security, she is of the view that the way forward must seek a closer balance between this noble cause and the constitutional imperatives arising from Sections 1 and 32 of the Constitution.
She highlighted the fact that her office relies on, among others, the media and whistleblowers to report issues of suspected maladministration including various forms of service failure, abuse of power, abuse of state resources, fraud and corruption failures within state affairs.
SANEF used the opportunity to request the public protector to investigate, among other things, potential maladministration on the part of government following the publishing of information that other countries such as the United Kingdom do not have a public defence clause on laws similar to the Bill.
Responding to this, the Public Protector indicated that unlike legislative acts, the request was something she could look into since the alleged act was administrative and was something that fell within her mandate of investigating alleged or suspected improper conduct or maladministration in state affairs.
Issued by the Public Protector South Africa. For more information, contact:
Public Protector South Africa
Tel: 012 366 7006
Cell: 079 507 0399