To my mind
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.