Information bill meeting delayed

2010-08-12 14:04

Cape Town - State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has asked for more time to consider submissions made on the protection of information bill.

This has led to a postponement, of several weeks, of Cwele's scheduled briefing to a special parliamentary committee dealing with the bill.

In a statement on Thursday, the ministry said it had been following the process of the public hearings on the bill "with a keen interest".

Various submissions and presentations were made to the ad hoc committee on the bill by members of society, the media and interested organisations.

Cwele viewed these submissions seriously and required sufficient time to consider them comprehensively.

"This has necessitated a request for postponement of the interaction with the ad hoc committee, originally scheduled for Friday 13 August 2010.

"The minister looks forward to a deeper level of discourse on this very important piece of legislation by all sections of our society," the statement read.

In a letter to committee members on Thursday, committee chairperson Cecil Burgess said a postponement of "two to three weeks" had been requested, to which he had agreed.


Cwele was set to hear MPs' concerns on Friday after a series of public hearings on the draft law. There had been calls from his predecessor for the State to redraft it to safeguard media freedom.

The bill has been decried as unconstitutional and an attempt to return to apartheid-era repression, because of the wide discretion it gives government officials to classify information, and the harsh penalties it imposes on the press for publishing such information.

One of the main concerns is the absence of any provision that would allow journalists to argue that they acted in the public interest by publishing classified information.

In a radio interview on Tuesday, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said he was "appalled" by a suggestion from Burgess that South Africa was becoming "obsessed with openness" and urged the committee to listen to criticism and rework the bill.

"Let's hear critique of the bill and let's improve it," he said.

Also on Tuesday, Burgess, who in previous sessions staunchly defended the bill and gave short shrift to opposition interjections, admitted the bill had "good qualities and bad qualities".

He also indicated that the deadline of September for the committee to finalise the bill may be extended.

"We are at a very early stage and we cannot say what this bill is going to look like. If we are not finished we will extend it again," he said.