Head of Advocacy speaks on Secrecy Bill

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The Open Democracy Advice Centre calls on the Parliamentary Committee dealing with the Secrecy Bill on Wednesday to do more than fix the typos.

“We know that the committee have been given the mandate to deal with the constitutionality of the Bill, on the basis of the President’s referral. Usually, only sections of a Bill are referred back to Parliament, and the relevant Committee normally only deals with those sections. But until the President says otherwise, he referred the Bill back as unconstitutional. It is certainly not normal practice, but when has anything to do with this bill been normal practice? From the Minister haranguing members of Parliament, to constant deadlines which can’t be met, this process has not exactly been a model for the passage of a Bill”, said Alison Tilley for the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

Parliament will meet over the next two days to consider the Secrecy Bill. They have been referred to two sections of the Bill in the President’s referral , but the letter from the President referred to unconstitutionality generally.

“We think parliament should pull their socks up, and pass a constitutional Bill. That’s what they are paid to do.”

Technology could empower Africans to hold their governments to account – Loren Treisman

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Excerpt from an article printed by the Guardian: for the full article click here.

Next year, South African citizens will take part in their fifth democratic election. While the African National Congress will undoubtedly triumph, it can no longer rest on its laurels.

In a country with a long history of civil action, people are getting tired of waiting for the improved living conditions they’ve long been promised. The massacre of 34 miners protesting over pay and working conditions last year shows how bad things can get when frustrations escalate. The Democratic Alliance, the ANC’s strongest opposition, is gaining strength.

Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to more than 650 million mobile phone subscribers and 50 million Facebook users, enabling critical information to reach citizens at scale and at a relatively low cost.

Technology hubs are springing up across the continent. These facilities provide people with access to high-speed internet, events, mentorship and training. Through galvanising the tech community, they’re beginning to have a catalytic effect on the number and quality of tech projects being devised in-country.

But can these new technologies be harnessed to ensure that citizens have access to information and services that enable them to hold their governments to account?

The Open Democracy Advice Centre is taking this process a step further by creating a site that enables citizens to make Freedom of Information requests. The site will also act as a data repository, enabling citizens, journalists and activists to scrutinise public service delivery and utilise this information to hold their governments to account.

Right to Know in the Maldives

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In continuance of our Executive Director Mukelani Dimba’s extraordinary work in forwarding access to information regionally and internationally, Mukelani represented ODAC at the Maldive’s Right To Information symposium to contribute to discussions taking place on forwarding RTI in that region.

Image courtesy of the Commonwealth Secretariat/Victoria Holdsworth (cc)

ODAC is delighted to note the commitments made, as a result of the symposium, to expand the application of the new RTI Bill. We also hope that the Bill will be passed as intended before the end of the year to advance the right of Maldivian’s to know.

Proposal of insult law disaster for South Africa and the continent

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There is a renewed focus on transparency in South Africa and around the globe. With local struggles continuing around the Secrecy Bill, and international efforts to trigger a ‘race to the top’ around open government through the Open Government partnership, there has never been more focus and attention on the transparency issues that are on the national, regional and international agenda.

In the face of the disaster of Marikana and mining sector strikes, government is aware that a new PR offensive is necessary to persuade the international community that all is well. International investors are not drinking the Kool-Aid however, and ratings agencies have downgraded South Africa as an investment destination, despite government assurances that all is well.

The President’s emotional defence of spending at Nkandla, his personal homestead, has not turned the tide of belief that something is being hidden, probably because his Ministers have invoked the National Key Points Act and the Protection of State Information Act, beloved of the Groot Krokodil, and others of his ilk, to prevent release of information. Labour ‘unrest’ grows – this apartheid euphemism disguises riots and burning of property in the farmlands of the Western Cape.

The response of government to this ongoing haemorrhage of political capital has been to call for insult laws, and to sue a major Sunday paper in an attempt to interdict them from releasing transcripts of the tapes that allegedly describe the NPA dropping corruption charges against Zuma.

The impact of all this is extraordinarily damaging for the rest of the continent, for Africa. Setting aside the impact on South Africans, we are particularly concerned about countries on the verge of introducing access to information laws, like Ghana, and those on the verge of repealing insult laws, like Liberia and Nigeria.

They look to South Africa, and those against change say “You see South Africa? See why we need these things? They are a democracy praised by the world, and yet they need to control these journalists, these opposition people.”

We become a leader in the worst possible way – a justification for tyranny, rather than an aspiration for democracy. We must consider our words beyond a narrow constituency in this country – the continent is watching. We will probably never see an insult law on the books – it is an empty threat in the face of the Bill of Rights. Others will not be so lucky.

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