Source: The Democratic Alliance
Title: DA: James: Address by the Democratic Alliance federal chairperson, on the Protection of Information Bill, Cape Town
We are not here for the show. No.
Hier is ons nie na geld nie. Nee.
Asenzeli amandla. Aikona.
We are here for the cause. And that cause is freedom.
To be free we need to know what is going on in our land.
We need to know what our government is up to, because, if it is doing the wrong thing, we want to say so and demand that it be made right.
State information is our information, not only the government's.
Much like tax money is our money even when it is in the hands of government, the Constitution protects our right to have state information because citizens have ownership by virtue of taxation.
That is how it should be in a democracy.
That is why S 32 of the Constitution says ‘everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state.'
The Constitution also declares in s 32 (2) that a law must be enacted to animate this right.
For this reason the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 was passed by Parliament and enacted by former President Thabo Mbeki.
This law spells out very clearly which circumstances allow the government to refuse certain classes of information from its citizens.
They have largely to do with clearly delineated matters of state security.
It is, for example, entirely proper to maintain secrecy about the President's upcoming travel plans, which is why it is a monumental travesty of Presidential confidentiality that the information reportedly can be found on the Internet.
It is not, however, a legitimate state secret to know how often the President has traveled over the last year, even where and at what cost. Defense Minister Ms. Lindiwe Sisulu MP has no case in withholding information about President Jacob Zuma's past travel as requested by Mr. David Maynier MP. She may wish to leave out sensitive details but she is in breach of the Constitution to issue a blanket refusal.
Do not therefore use our security as an excuse to classify or close off our information. You cannot dispense with information as you wish because it does not belong to you.
Furthermore, do not gag the media who impart the information we need to receive under the Constitution's ‘free speech' (s 16) clause because we need it to make our democracy work.
Citizens need it to hold government to account.
MPs need it to perform our function of oversight of Government.
Free speech is a Constitutional imperative precisely because citizens need information to make informed political choices about how our leaders govern, and about positions that political parties, reporters and commentators take.
Free speech is essential to an independently minded and exacting citizenry, the lifeblood of a vibrant and functional democracy.
Mess with free speech and your mess with our democracy. It is not yours to mess with.
You are our humble servants. We are not yours.
To stubbornly press on with this "Secrecy Bill," government is not only arrogant. It is also paranoid. You use fear to tell us that the "intelligence" services now should have a role in administering so-called valuable information.
The Protection of Information Bill entrenches the iniquitous practise where intelligence personnel advise and inspect government departments, parastatal organisations and even private institutions on safe filing. They also provide advice about classifying information that has no need of classification.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele MP is so paranoid that he sees enemies everywhere, including, would you believe, diplomats too! Cwele most recently refused to hand over his document dealing with ‘information peddling' which he presented in Parliament.
The media has already reported on it.
Cwele is simply ineffective.
He and the African National Congress (ANC) are moved not by rational concern but by paranoia about leakers and peddlers of information because of their pathetic internal squabbles over the spoils of corruption. They want to use state institutions and national laws to cover up and shield citizens from their inability to find a decent direction.
We have the utmost faith in our legislators - Ms. Dene Smuts, Mr. David Maynier and Mr. Theo Coetzee - to do the right thing. They, with their committee colleagues, will remove or amend any onerous provisions that intrude on our freedom under the guise of misguided security concerns.
Thankfully, the idea of a media tribunal is not before Parliament.
It should stay that way.
The media tribunal is the ANC's expression of its paranoia, concocted at Polokwane in 2008.
I suggest the ANC leave the media tribunal idea in Polokwane. Let Julius Malema for once do something useful and bury it there.
I will go to Tuynhuis to hand over the 28,710 signatures we have collected from citizens to the Presidency. Letters have been addressed to Minister Cwele and Chairperson of the Ad-hoc Committee on the Protection of Information Bill Mr. Cecil Burgess MP informing them of this fact. It is unfortunate that the Minister has refused to send someone - however we will be handing it over regardless.
Pansi media tribunal, Pansi.
Viva common sense.