Vote next week on secrecy bill

2011-11-15 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The National Assembly (NA) will vote on the controversial Protection of Information bill next week and the ANC is expected to use its majority to pass the bill without a public interest defence.

ANC MP Luwellyn Landers confirmed yesterday that the NA was set to vote on the bill tomorrow, but that voting was postponed for a week to clear up a “technical matter”. The ANC temporarily withdrew the bill from the parliamentary programme in September to follow its own consultation process outside Parliament.

Interest groups were under the impression that the consultation process would pave the way to revive the ad hoc committee concerned with the bill in order to amend it.

National co-ordinator of the Right2Know organisation, Murray Hunter, said last night that his members are extremely frustrated.

“There has been no openness around the so-called consultation process. Now the bill is back [on the parliamentary programme] without any changes having been made.”

Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts argued yesterday that from the outset the ANC did not know what it was doing. “The form [the consultation process] took is testament to their absolute ignorance about the legislative process.”

Among the greatest objections is that the bill is unconstitutional in the absence of a public interest defence to protect journalists who make classified state information public.

Beeld has learned that labour federation Cosatu still has the view that the bill has to be drastically rewritten, especially because it does not adequately protect whistleblowers.

However, all indications are that the NA will pass the bill next week and that the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) will propose certain amendments when the bill is put before it.

Among the possible amendments will be to broaden the grounds on which someone may approach a court in order to gain access to classified state information.

The bill already makes it possible for someone in possession of classified state information to submit it to a judge before publication, who will decide whether its disclosure would be in the public interest.

Should the NCOP propose certain amendments the bill will be referred back to the NA for further refinement.

Apparently the ANC no longer intends finalising the bill this year, but remains unmoved regarding the public interest defence.

“Once classified information is out there nothing can be done to reverse it. It’s like toothpaste out of a tube — how do you get it back in?” an informed source asked.

The NA will have a one-hour debate on the bill tomorrow.

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