Lack of meaningful participation threatens Secrecy Bill public hearings
Alf Lees, DA Member of the NCOP for Kwazulu Natal
20 January 2012
The final programme of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill does not adequately deal with obstacles to ensuring broad and meaningful public participation.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) will ask that the programme be discussed and revised at the committee’s meeting on Tuesday.
The programme did deal with some of the concerns raised by the DA this week, but fails to convincingly demonstrate a commitment on the part of the committee to ensure that ordinary citizens, both in rural and urban South Africa, are well informed and consulted on the Bill and its potential impact on their lives.
I will today be writing to the committee chairperson, Mr Raseriti Tau, requesting an explanation on a number of key issues and how the committee intends correcting the situation.
These issues include the following:
- The three days allocated for deliberations on the Bill, which are unlikely to be adequate and may suggest that another rushed rubberstamping process could be on the cards.
- The two days allocated for relevant industry, media and civil society stakeholders to make public submissions in-committee on the Bill are simply insufficient considering the significant number of interested and affected organisations.
- The seemingly arbitrary allocation of an additional opportunity for public hearings in Limpopo while side-lining the City of Cape Town metro, where an ikapadata survey has indicated that 56% of township residents do not know about this Bill.
The lack of information on the public hearings advertised in local newspapers and on community radio stations threatens to derail the well-intentioned attempts to involve ordinary South Africans in the process. The first public hearings take place in ten days and neither the committee nor the public know the venue or time for these hearings.
We are also concerned that, as it stands now, the public participation process runs the risk of being hijacked by the ruling party and turned into a political rally, as was the case with hearings on disbanding the Scorpions. I will further request that this issue be discussed on Tuesday.
I will also request that the Chairperson present a detailed budget to the committee because we have a duty to ensure that the public hearings are meaningful and that the costs of these extensive hearings are sufficient to add value to the process.
We will take all possible steps to ensure that the broadest possible public participation takes place on this controversial Bill and that the deliberations take place in an open and transparent manner.