ANC NEC members weighed in on info bill

2011-06-24 14:46

kalahari.com

Cape Town - An ANC national executive member told the lawmakers to go back to the drawing board over the protection of informational bill, resulting in the party making major concession on the legislation.

The ANC on Friday announced that it had bowed to pressure on the controversial bill and would drop certain clauses that would bring it in line with the Constitution.

According to ANC MP Luwellyn Landers, who has led the ruling party's arguments in the committee drafting the bill, the rethink was a reaction to serious concern expressed by senior ANC members and civil society in the past six weeks.

"It was everybody, Luthuli House, NEC members, civil society, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Cosatu."
Landers revealed that a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee, whom he did not name, had told lawmakers in no uncertain terms to go back to the drawing board.

"He said 'what the hell are you doing?'. It was strong language, I'm toning it down."

Promised changes

The governing party agreed to restrict the power to classify, which it had previously sought to extend to all organs of state, to bodies dealing directly with security and to scrap mandatory prison sentences for leaking secret information.

"We believe, and this is a formal proposal from the ANC, that the scope of application of the bill must be drastically reduced in so far as it applies to the authority to classify information," ANC MP Luwellyn Landers said.

"The minimum sentences in the bill, we propose be removed," he added of the provision widely seen as a threat to the media and whistle-blowers.

The party also agreed to appoint a retired judge to review classification, allowing independent oversight rather than leaving all power in this regard with the state security minister.

About-turn

The concessions address three of the main objections raised to the bill by activist, academics, journalists and former ministers in the biggest outcry triggered by legislation since the end of apartheid.

Landers, spelled out the ANC's revised position a day after Parliament extended the deadline for the completion of the bill by three months.

He said the ANC had heeded calls that the bill could be used as a tool to cover up corruption.

"We want to state in very clear terms this morning that we are concerned about the possible abuse of the provisions of this act for the purposes of hiding corrupt activities."

He said the bill should be redrafted to ensure those who abused it to this end would suffer strong sanction.

"So we must do everything possible to ensure that we put in the bill provisions that not only penalise stringently any such attempt but methods that could be used to prevent that."

Vindication

Opponents of the bill had termed it a return to apartheid-era state secrecy and vowed to refer it to the Constitutional Court for review.

Up till now, the ANC's response to the threats have been that chief state law advisor Enver Daniels was satisfied the bill would pass constitutional muster.

"It is not enough for Enver Daniels to come before the committee to say it is constitutional. I believe, every single clause in this bill, we have to ensure that it meets that requirement," Landers said on Friday.

Opposition parties welcomed the concessions, but added concerns remained, including the need to consider a public interest defence to protect the press and whistle-blowers.

Opposition parties welcomed the concessions, but added concerns remained, including the need to consider a public interest defence to protect the press and whistle-blowers.

"It is a vindication of the parliamentary legislative process in which we talk till we hear each other. It is good news indeed," Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts said.

Keeping a close eye

Murray Hunter, the co-ordinator of the Right 2 Know Campaign launched in opposition to the bill, welcomed the ANC's announcement.

He said the concessions were a bold move in the right direction but activists would watch closely whether lawmakers followed through on promises to limit the extent of classification of information.

"We are very pleased to see MPs take the first step in the right direction. We are at last having proper engagement, but no document has been tabled," he said.

"While they are proposing to limit the scope of the bill to the security cluster, we must now see that the cluster is limited in its power to classify information."
- SAPA
Read more on:    anc  |  media  |  info bill
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