Criticisms Mount Against South African Government

1 October 2014

The Right2Know Campaign in South Africa Sept 28 called on President Zuma to refuse to sign the controversial “secrecy bill” that has been on his desk for 316 days and questioned the government’s leadership role in the Open Government Partnership.

The Right2Know Campaign also urged Parliament to revoke the apartheid-era 1982 Protection of Information Act and to write a new classification law.

“Every day that President Zuma refuses to scrap the Secrecy Bill is another day that government uses the Apartheid Act to classify government information as secret,” according to a statement by the group.

Recapping its objections to the secrecy legislation passed last year, the group said:

The Secrecy Bill, if signed, will lead to a culture where important information is routinely classified as secret. The Bill gives powers of the Minister of State Security to give classification powers to other state bodies (and junior officials) without adequate public consultation. If Zuma signs the Bill the culture of secrecy will spread like a cancer from the Intelligence Agencies to other parts of government. Courageous whistleblowers, activists and journalists who release vital information to the public may not be covered by the limited public interest defense and could face up to 25 years in jail.

OGP Leadership Role Questioned

The Right2Know campaign also called on Zuma to “explain the contradiction between his stated commitment to Open Government at the United Nations and his apparent support of the Securocrats and state secrecy at home.”

South Africa recently became a co-chair of the Open Government Partnership in late 2015 and is poised to become the lead co-chair in late 2015. (See FreedomInfo.org article.)

Although a founding member of the OGP, South Africa did not fare to well in implementing its first national action plan, according to the OGP independent reviewer who assessed its fulfillment in September 2013.

South Africa’s plan was been only partly completed, focused on easy goals and did not adequately involve civil society, according to the report prepared by Ralph Mathekga of Clear Content Research and Consulting, an independent public policy and research firm. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Further back, the civil society members of the OGP Steering Committee on Dec. 12, 2011, issued a statement critical of South Africa for the then-pending secrecy bill.(See previous FreedomInfo.org article.)

Recent Reports Critical

Right2Know recently issued a report, The Secret State of the Nation, saying that South Africa “is drifting towards a more closed, secretive, and authoritarian future.” (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

“The report finds that across government, civil society is struggling to get access to information needed to hold local power to account,” the Right2Campaign said,” continuing, “Surveys show requests for information via the Promotion of Access to Information Act are mostly failing.”

The report found that last year only one in six information requests (16%) resulted in a full release of information. “This is an all-time low,” the group said.

A report in late 2013 reached a similar conclusion. Compliance with the South African access to information law has “decreased from the already worryingly low levels of compliance,” according to the 2013 “shadow report” by the PAIA CSN, the civil society network that monitors the Promotion of Access to Information Act. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Concerns Expressed About Opague Nuclear Deal

The Zuma government also came under criticism from Judith February, a senior associate at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in a published commentary.

She commented on news of a $50 billion deal between the South African government and Russia to purchase a fleet of nuclear power stations.

Her article discusses efforts, including by the Right2Know Campaign, to increase transparency about the deal.

“The Nuclear Deal – conducted in secret without any public consultation or Parliamentary oversight – commits us to a dangerous technology and has all the hallmarks of the corrupt Arms Deal: The risk of massive corruption prone foreign tenders that have the potential of indebting us to foreign companies and rob the country of funds for service delivery and job creation,” Right2Know said.

February expresses concern about the transparency of the procurement process. She says in part:

It is clear, however, that the South African public via Parliament or any other fora have no meaningful information regarding the deal or, crucially, who will finance the cost of the deal in the future. There are various pricing models that might be able to be invoked, yet information regarding these must be placed in the public domain, surely? The procurement processes which will see local industrial enterprises involved will also need to be transparent, with criteria which are open for scrutiny.

One of the lessons of the arms deal was that procurement criteria were selective, changed halfway through and in other cases deviated from.

Another assessment of transparency challenges for South Africa was recently published in FreedomInfo.org, written by Catherine Kennedy, the Director of the South African History Archive and Piers Pigou, a member of the SAHA board of trustees.

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