South African Parliament Restarts Work on POIB

21 January 2011

A South African Parliament committee in the week of Jan. 17 held three meetings to continue its work on the controversial Protection of Information Bill.

The committee is expected to keep deliberating on the measure throughout January, and perhaps longer.

Although no concrete steps were taken during the three days of discussion, there was considerable debate on issues such as:  the definition of “information peddler,” what governmental bodies should be covered, and what level of official should make classification decisions, according to accounts prepared by members of the Right2Know Coalition, the national group still opposed to the bill proposed by the government.

On Jan. 20, the committee heard from the State Law Advisor, largely on the interplay between the proposed POIB and the existing access to information law. Among other things, the State Law Advisor said that the existing access law would need some revision and that the POIB should apply to all state institutions.

The committee now has two versions before it. Working Document 1 makes provision for both classification and review/access to classified information under the POIB, while Working Document 2 provides for the POIB to deal solely with classification and PAIA to deal with review/access. Both working documents include amendments agreed on by the committee last year.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene Jan 25.

In general, critics believe the bill has been improved through limiting secrecy to strictly defined security matters and removing commercial information as a classification justification. Concerns still surround what organizations it will apply to, the penalties for disclosing secrets, whether a “public interest defense” will be included and whether there will be an independent review body.

Detailed Reports on Meetings

Detailed notes on the meetings are being prepared by members of the RTK Campaign and are reprinted with permission of the authors

Reports on the Jan. 18 and Jan 19 meetings were written by Sithembile Mbete.

For an account of the Jan. 20. discussion, see this report prepared by Sarah Duff.

For various media reports on the meetings, see this Independent Online report,  a DefenceWeb article, and Business Day’s story.

The debate over coverage that occurred Jan. 20 was summarized in this report by Andisiwe Makinana and by Thabo Mokone for in a report for The Times.

An overview of the bill was written by Lynley Donnelly in The Mail & Guardian.

An op ed article in The Sunday Times by Mark Paterson, a communications consultant at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, raised questions about media coverage and lobbying on the bill.

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