On Wednesday the National Council of Provinces ad hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill released its draft schedule for public hearings on the bill. With 40% of township residents blissfully unaware even of the existence of the bill, the committee has its work cut out to ensure hearings are factual and inclusive. By THERESA MALLINSON.
The roadshow will visit all nine provinces during February, to canvas as many opinions as possible. When the ANC used it Parliamentary majority to railroad the Bill through the national assembly in November, it was a globally recognised black day for freedom of access to information in South Africa. But it was far from the end of the road.
Late last year the NCOP formed an ad hoc committee on the bill, chaired by the ANC’s Raseriti Johannes Tau, to further engage with South Africans around the impending legislation. The 15-person committee comprises 10 ANC MPs, two DA MPs and one each from Cope, the ID and the IFP.
In December, the ANC stated: “The committee will make sure the bill reaches even the remotest villages and townships of our country so that as many people as possible are afforded an opportunity to have a say.” And it seems the committee has tried pretty hard to live up to this promise at least. The provincial roadshow will take in 18 municipalities (two in each province) and run from 31 January to 1 March.
By its very nature, making the hearings accessible to the entire population was never going to be achievable. Note the ANC’s phrasing on this one: “as many people as possible are afforded an opportunity to have their say” (emphasis added). The DA, however, has called into question whether the selection of the 18 municipalities has made the hearings as inclusive they could be. On Wednesday DA committee member Alfred Lees issued a statement, indicating concerns around the final schedule of the hearings:
Lees said he would raise these and other concerns with Tau before the schedule is finalised. Although last year’s Press Council public hearings and the Press Freedom Commission public hearings set to launch on Thursday focused on different issues, they can all be categorised as broadly dealing with similar media matters. As such, at least the NCOP’s public hearings have the potential to reach a far larger and, given their locations, presumably more diverse sector of South Africans.
For its part, the Right2Know Campaign, the coalition of civil-society organisations that has been the most vocal opponent of the Secrecy Bill, broadly welcomed the NCOP’s public hearings. “The move to host provincial hearings outside of the urban centres is a welcome change to a process where all doors to engagement appeared to have (been) shut.” However, its major concerns were with the limited time allocated to the committee for the hearings process, and particularly that only one day has been set aside to consider amendments. “Any serious consideration of the problematic contents of the bill and the substance of public submissions would require many more meetings than provided for in the current schedule,” Right2Know stated. “We, therefore, call on the NCOP to host more meetings, over a longer period of time, to ensure there is an environment for meaningful and thorough public participation – something sorely lacking from the process in past months.”
Whether the participation process actually results in members of the public making their voices heard will be crucial to the legitimacy of the NCOP hearings. Despite the debate around the bill over the last 18 months, when research company ikapadata questioned township residents in January about their knowledge of the bill, 40% had never heard of it. The 1,108 respondents were based in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The Capetonians were the least aware of the bill, with 56% of them having no knowledge of it, despite the fact that Parliament is based there.
It’s to Cape Town that the committee will return after its tour of the country, with public hearings to be held in Parliament on 13 and 14 March, before the report of the bill is adopted on 15 March. If the committee has done its work properly the publicity created by the hearings will mean ordinary South Africans should have a much clearer understanding of the issues surrounding the bill and their implications for the country and its citizens. And, in turn, the committee itself should have a better idea of ordinary South Africans’ attitudes towards the bill. Of the 60% of respondents in the ikapadata survey who were aware of the bill, only 21% supported it and 25% thought it was a bad idea.
Whether the National Council of Provinces will make any significant amendments to the bill before it is sent back to the national assembly is doubtful, although we’d be pleasantly surprised on this one. Nonetheless, if the hearings achieve a meaningful level of public input, it’ll be fascinating to watch them play out – and be a good indicator of whether South African can claim to be a genuine participative democracy. DM
Draft schedule for NCOP public hearings into the Protection of State Information Bill
Tues 31 Jan, Western Cape
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, West Coast District Municipality
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, Southern Cape District Municipality
Thurs 2 Feb, Eastern Cape
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, Nelson Mandela Bay
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, OR Tambo District Municipality
Tues 7 Feb, Free State
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, Ljweleputswa District
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, Mangaung Metropolitan
Tues 14 Feb, Gauteng
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, West Rand District
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, Sedibeng
Thurs 16 Feb, Limpopo
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, Mopane District
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, Waterberg
Tues 21 Feb, North West
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, Bojanala District
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, Dr Kenneth Kaunda District
Thurs 23 Feb, Mpumalanga
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, Nkangala District
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, Gert Sibanda District
Tues 28 Feb, KZN
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, Zululand District Municipality
Group 2: 9am to 4pm, Ugu District Municipality
Thurs 1 March, Northern Cape
Group 1: 9am to 4pm, Francis Baard District
Group 2: 11am to 5pm:,John Taolo Gaetsewei District
Tues 6 March
Deliberations: Shortlist on oral submissions
Tues 13 March
Public hearings in Parliament
Wed 14 March
Public hearings in Parliament
Thurs 15 March
Committee deliberations on outcome of public hearings, adoption of report on bill
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