29 APR 2013 19:12 - SARAH EVANS SOUTH AFRICA
The Protection of State Information Bill, or the secrecy Bill has been drafted to replace the Protection of Information Act of 1982.
Despite positive changes to the Protection of State Information Bill, a "culture of secrecy" in the South African public service still poses a threat.
In a piece written in 2003 for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation independent researcher Dr Dale McKinley described the PIA: "As could be expected, the approach to the protection and dissemination of information contained in the PIA is informed by the demands of an authoritarian and secretive apartheid state. As such, the provisions of the PIA for classification and de-classification of government information run completely against the grain of the openness and transparency of such information that informs Paia," McKinley said.
A lesser known example of the use of PIA involved a case of alleged corruption in the Northern Cape in 2011. At the height of the debate about the secrecy Bill, the Northern Cape provincial legislature purchased a Mercedes Benz worth R590 000.
- "have taken note of the provisions of the Protection of Information Act (Act 84 of 1982) and in particular the provisions of section 4 of the Act.
- "I understand that I shall be guilty of an offence if I reveal any information which I have at my disposal, by virtue of my office, and concerning which I know or should reasonable know that the security or other interests of the republic required that it be kept secret …"
An investigation into an allegation of fraud and the misuse of public funds, allegedly to benefit an ordinary citizen, also a high-ranking member of the ANC, was summarily closed off to the public forever.
- The PIA of 1982, particularly section 4, threatens minimum jail sentences of 10 years or fines of R10 000 for those who disclose classified information.
- Section 4, often quoted by state agencies when justifying why information cannot be disclosed, is wide-reaching and vague:
- anyone who is possession of "any secret official code or password or;
- any document, model, article or information – which he knows or reasonably should know is kept, used, made or obtained in a prohibited place or relates to a prohibited place,
- any thing in a prohibited place, armaments, the defense of the Republic, a military matter, a security matter or the prevention or combating of terrorism…"
In April this year, the South African History Archive applied to the North Gauteng High Court to join amaBhungane's application as friends of the court. In this application, it noted: "The present matter has the potential to impact substantially on the effective implementation of the Paia where disclosure is resisted on grounds relating to alleged national security concerns."
But the fight for transparency, especially with regards to the presidency, is far from lost.