12 December 2011
The Open Government Partnership – now endorsed by 50 countries around the world – was launched in September 2011 to promote greater openness and transparency between governments and their citizens. South Africa is one of the founding member countries and was represented by President Zuma at the launch where he emphasized, “Open government in the South African case, is premised on our progressive and transformative Constitution which enshrines a Bill of Rights and the principles of open governance…We pride ourselves on having freedom of expression and media freedom that are enshrined in the Constitution.”
In this context, and as civil society members of the Steering Committee, we are concerned to receive a letter from the Right2Know coalition, a broad grouping of South African civil society organizations, regarding the Protection of State Information Bill. The coalition expresses concern that the bill compromises the progress that South African has made in guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms, including its pioneering right to information law. We note that this concern has been widely expressed in many quarters, including by other governments serving on the Open Government Partnership steering committee. We support the OGP Steering Committee’s commitment to a vigorous dialogue with the South African government.
We urge the South African government to take South African civil society’s concerns seriously and continue to dialogue with them in the interests of achieving final legislation that is embraced by all quarters in South Africa, including both government and civil society. We believe that engaging in a good faith dialogue with civil society will enhance trust and lead to a law that is broadly owned and reflects the high standards of open government.
Failure to amend the current bill to a point where there is broad agreement could hinder South Africa’s progress towards fulfilling the country’s Open Government Partnership commitments and could cast a shadow over South Africa’s leadership role in the OGP. It could also potentially undermine civil society engagement in the OGP if the government were to ignore what we believe to be the legitimate and well-founded concerns voiced by South African stakeholders.
The Open Government Partnership is built upon the unique foundation of governments standing shoulder to shoulder with civil society in an effort to push both sides towards more ambitious open government commitments. We acknowledge the efforts to date of both government and civil society in South Africa to improve and strengthen the Protection of State Information Bill. We hope that collaboration continues so that the final legislation reinforces the highest aspirations of both the Open Government Partnership and the South African people.
OGP Steering Committee Civil Society Members
Tom Blanton, National Security Archive (United States)
Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy, MKSS (India)
Suneeta Kaimal, Revenue Watch Institute (Global)
Warren Krafchik, International Budget Partnership (Global)
Gladwell Otieno, Africa Center for Open Governance (Kenya)
Juan Pardinas, IMCO (Mexico)
Iara Pietricovsky de Oliveira, INESC (Brazil)
Rakesh Rajani, Twaweza (East Africa)
Nathaniel Heller, Global Integrity (Global)
Anthony Richter, Open Society Foundations (Global)