To my mind

Finweek English Edition - - Front Page - COLLEEN NAUDÉ colleenn@fin­week.co.za

THERE’S SOME­THING ROT­TEN in the prover­bial state of Den­mark. There’s in­creas­ing ev­i­dence that the SA Gov­ern­ment is ex­ceed­ing the lim­its of its pow­ers. The latest proof of this is the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to pro­hibit the di­vulging of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. If that be­comes law it would mean in­for­ma­tion leaked to jour­nal­ists with re­gard to cor­rup­tion in Gov­ern­ment would be banned from be­ing pub­lished. It’s pro­posed that a jour­nal­ist us­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion to ex­pose cor­rup­tion could face im­pris­on­ment of up to five years. The same ap­plies to any­one who re­ceives or di­vulges such in­for­ma­tion.

Through that pro­posal Gov­ern­ment will not only pro­mote cor­rup­tion but will also be shift­ing the blame from the per­pe­tra­tor to the mes­sen­ger. This ac­tion flies in the face of the cul­ture of trans­parency Gov­ern­ment prided it­self on when it came into power and which sup­pos­edly would set it apart from the pre­vi­ous regime.

It’s also en­tirely out of kil­ter with the ef­forts to achieve a cor­po­rate sec­tor free of cor­rup­tion, en­cour­ag­ing whistle­blow­ers to re­port ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties anony­mously. Com­pa­nies aren’t only be­ing en­cour­aged to in­tro­duce mech­a­nisms that will help pro­tect whistle­blow­ers, there are also even com­pa­nies whose busi­ness is to pro­vide anony­mous re­port­ing mech­a­nisms.

In fact, the Pro­mo­tion of Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act was in­tro­duced with much fan­fare pre­cisely in or­der to help in­ves­ti­ga­tions into ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. How­ever, it seems Gov­ern­ment it­self will be play­ing to dif­fer­ent rules.

And it’s lit­tle com­fort that the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion makes pro­vi­sion for jour­nal­ists to claim pub­lic in­ter­est in their defence for pos­sess­ing or pub­lish­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. It’s ob­vi­ously in the pub­lic in­ter­est that cor­rup­tion in Gov­ern­ment should be ex­posed, re­gard­less of how that in­for­ma­tion is ob­tained.

This is a dan­ger­ous re­stric­tion in the statutes and could cre­ate a cli­mate dis­cour­ag­ing the ex­po­sure of all cases of cor­rup­tion, such as the arms scan­dal, the so-called Trav­el­gate fraud by mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Jackie Selebi’s al­leged as­so­ci­a­tion with the un­der­world and our es­teemed Min­is­ter of Health’s theft from de­fence­less pa­tients.

This ar­ro­gant piece of leg­is­la­tion, which makes a mock­ery of Gov­ern­ment’s claims of pro­mot­ing free­dom of speech, is all the more dis­turb­ing when seen against the back­drop of an­other pro­posed Bill for the ex­pro­pri­a­tion of prop­erty ex­e­cuted in so-called pub­lic in­ter­est by stip­u­lat­ing that any prop­erty – agri­cul­tural land, busi­ness premises or even some­one’s house – may be seized in “the pub­lic in­ter­est”. That can ob­vi­ously be in­ter­preted as widely as the Lord’s mercy.

It’s not overly alarmist to say heaven help us if both Bills be­come law. It looks as if in its dogged quest for power Gov­ern­ment is ig­nor­ing the very real and fright­en­ing con­se­quences. In ad­di­tion, it ap­par­ently also doesn’t re­alise it’s over­play­ing its hand and could drive po­ten­tial for­eign in­vestors away from th­ese shores for good.

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