A Speech by Hon Mr. Raseriti Johannes Tau (MP) on the occasion of the Consideration of the Protection of State Information Bill [B 6B-2010] (Section 75)

29 November 2012

Honourable Chairperson of the NCOP
Honourable Minister Cwele
Honourable Members
Special Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

The Protection of State Information Bill has traversed a long path to reach this point. We will note that the Bill that we are reporting here today is one of the pieces of legislation that made us awake to the principle we adopted that of being a developmental Parliament, meaning we are a Parliament that is people centered and people driven.

Subsequent to the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill by the National Assembly and the tabling of the amended version of the bill in the National Council of Provinces, an Ad-hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill was established.

The committee comprised of a multi party delegation which its mandate was to consider the amended version of the Bill as the process towards final reporting to the house.

The committee since its establishment, it has devoted sufficient time in improving the contents of the Bill. In the period of the processing of the Bill, the committee made a total of 800 changes to the Bill and convened over 40 committee meetings and public hearings.

What the committee also did was to silence the critiques that thought and asserted that the NCOP was not going to play its correct constitutional role that we were not going to act as a separate and independent component of Parliament. That ours was just to rubber stamp positions endorsed by the National Assembly.

Chairperson, as a committee we have ensured that we embark on extensive public participation process so as to afford the South African citizenry an opportunity to make submissions on this important piece of legislation and also to afford those who were opposed to the Bill who often described the Bill as “the biggest affront to democracy since apartheid ended in 1994” the opportunity to state their case.

What we sought to do with piece of legislation was to strengthen the foundation of our democracy, because we strongly held the view that democracy, is not just about who govern and how they are chosen, but more important, it is about how they govern, the institutions through which they govern, and the institutional identities by and through which they organise different categories of citizens.

Honourable members, by virtue of having gone to the back of the beyond of this country, soliciting the views of everyone, what we sought to do as a committee was to say democracy is still about dialogue, changing one’s mind in light of better arguments about rights and responsibilities and about reaffirming our commitment to a new and better society.

Chairperson, with the proposal we have managed to make to the Bill, we hope that we have managed to prevent a new tendency which has developed of using South African courts as an instrument of a new kind of censorship of legislative processes.

We also sought to prevent the fallacy that seeks to propagate the notion that Press Freedom was currently under threat in South Africa, that passing of the Protection of State Information Bill were clear indications of infringing Constitutional achievements made since 1994.

Honourable members, we want to state it categorically clear that there nowhere, were the Bill seeks to regulate the media. There is no single mention of the media in the Bill. Neither is the Bill about covering up corruption as continually reported in all media outlets, rather what the Bill seeks to do is to balance secrecy and openness in upholding national security which is key in the development of a developmental state.

Amica Cabral one of the lucid and brilliant leaders in Africa once said “Do not hide the truth from the people…Tell no lies and claim no easy victories” meaning the South African press needs to demonstrate a consistent record of integrity in its reporting, commentaries and analyses. Without that record, the right to be wrong becomes the right to misinform, defame, scandalise and exploit through damaging innuendo, all in the name of free flow of criticism and debate –and ,of course, selling newspapers.

From the on-set let me make it clear that for ideological reasons, I am uncomfortable to quote the following leaders, but for the sake of this debate let me borrow from their words; for instance during the 1st World War, Churchill the British Commander in Chief once said “truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”.JF Kennedy once said “no matter how big the lie, repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth”. Therefore Chairperson, a destructive campaign was launched based on half-truths, distorted conflation and mischievous political deportment, especially by those who saw nothing wrong in operations of information peddlers and espionage activities. However I must report that our elaborate process to educate our people to clarify the misconceptions and misinformation about The Bill now termed the Secrecy Bill assisted ordinary South Africans.

The improvements made to the Bill would not have been possible without the submissions and contributions of our people through their diverse organs of civil society and campaigning in the public hearings. But over and above that, certain elites who have projected themselves as speaking for the ordinary masses of our society still treat the Bill with extreme cynicism even when a plethora of amendments have been made to the Bill, which largely seek to address many of the challenges and concerns raised by the public at large?

After a lengthy consultation process with various parties like Cosatu, Public Protector, Open Democracy foundation and the Right2Know, the committee took a decision to delete section 1(4) of the Bill by strengthening clause 1(3) to avoid any perception that the Bill was intended to undermine the Constitution and the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000(Act no2 of 2000)

We have also expanded the protection offered by clause 43 to include the key pieces of legislation such as the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Activities Act, 2004 (No 12 2004), Companies Act, 2008 (Act No 71 of 2008), the Labour Relations Act and the National Environmental Management Act

The professionalisation of decision making demands more variety of opinion, including counter opinion, as a principle, in order to ensure the best decision are arrived at, and for that we are thankful as a committee to all South African who took time to participate in this process of these Bill.

We would like to thank all journalist students who attended our hearings in Umlazi, Mangaug, Polokwane and Shoshanguve, and we would like to appeal to them to familirise themselves with the current list of proposals the committee made and check whether if they still feel the same way like when they met with the committee.

I thank you!