Despite welcoming the Access to Information (ATI) Bill tabled by Peya Mushelanga, the Minister of Information and Communication Technology in the National Assembly earlier in June, the ACTION Coalition has since noticed a number of concerns with specific sections of the Bill which they feel need to be addressed with the aim of making the eventual law and regulatory framework even stronger.
Our concerns include the blanket exemption for 'proceedings and decisions of Cabinet and its committees in the Access to Information Bill is to broad and not an international norm'.
We recommend the removal of clause 2(2)(a)(i) which exempts Cabinet entirely from the Act. Substitute it with a new provision exemption information about Cabinet deliberations until a period of 10 years have passed, but do not provide an exemption for Cabinet decision and resolution, or for factual information submitted to Cabinet or its committees and all Cabinet materials should be subject to the public interest override in clause 64.
The blanket confidentiality of judicial functions and nominations, selection and appointment of judicial officers goes too far and they propose the removal of clauses (2)(2)(a)(ii) and(iii). Which should be substituted with more narrowly-worded provisions which exempt from the Act only material relating to the deliberations of judicial officers and judicial selection bodies, without shielding from the public other information about the operations and the decisions of courts and tribunals, or information abut the nominations, qualifications and appointment of judicial officers.
The rationale for exemptions of some non-profit public entities under clause 29 is unclear, we propose either the complete removal of clause 29 or clear criteria for the exclusion of certain public entities from the coverage of the Bill, if there is a rational motivation for any such exclusion.
The definition of 'personal information' in clause 1, which may be too broad while at the same time excluding some issues that should be covers and the procedure for dealing with situations involving third party personal information in clause 38 seems too cumbersome. "We propose, the re-consideration of the definition of 'personal information' and to streamline the access process, the law should enumerate more specify exemptions to the protection of personal information to give guidance to the exercise of discretion by information officers, therefore the law should not equate inability to locate the third party in question, or a lack of response by the third party, with consent to the release of information.
We recommend that the ATI law be inapplicable if disclosure is reasonably regulated by another law and the Selection Committee for the appointment of the Information Commissioner described in clause 6(2) consists of five persons.
We propose that the Media Ombudsman should be an additional member of the Selection Committee and the interviews of short listed candidates for Information Commissioner should take place in public. We urge Members of Parliament to refer the bill to a committee for fine-tuning, but they are not proposing going back to the drawing board.
We feel some of these concerns would benefit from wider public input, and we would welcome the opportunity to make a submission or presentation before any parliamentary committee on the issues outlined in this statement.