ANC again calls for info bill delay

2011-04-19 19:41
Cape Town - The ANC on Tuesday again called for a time-out on the protection of information bill, this time to allow it to mull whether to include the police and military in the ambit of the law.

The issue arose in the last meeting of the drafting committee before Parliament goes into recess until after the May 18 municipal elections, a month before MPs' deadline to finalise the bill expires.

The meeting was meant to conduct a comprehensive review of all political parties' submission for changes to the bill, but stumbled on the ANC's proposal that it be changed to apply to "all security services as contemplated in chapter 11 of the Constitution".

Opposition parties disagreed on whether the bill should apply to police and defence, whose powers to classify information derive from existing security legislation.

More talk time for ANC

The Inkatha Freedom Party said it should, but the Democratic Alliance's Dene Smuts said the ANC was contradicting a statement by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele that it should cover only the intelligence services.

"You know as well as I do that this won't come right. Why do you want to drag other agencies into this marshland?" Smuts asked.

After a 15-minute break to give the ANC caucus time failed to settle the issue, ANC MP Nkosinathi Fihla said there was "a need for further consultation on this issue by the ANC" and the meeting was adjourned.

It was the second time in less than a week that a meeting of the committee was closed with little or no progress.

On Friday, committee chairperson Cecil Burgess said there was no point in proceeding with a scheduled session because ANC members had not had time to study the submissions.

Opposition MPs believe that work on the contentious bill has stalled because ruling party colleagues no longer have a clear political mandate on how to proceed.

Power to classify information 

Smuts's statement that the bill "won't come right" reflects the further, growing conviction among opposition parties that the legislation will end up in the Constitutional Court.

She argued that the scope of the legislation must be narrowed down also with regard to the number of organs of state that would have the power to classify information.

As it stands, the bill would give 1 001 organs of state, right down to the Johannesburg Zoo and the Roodepoort City Theatre, the power to file information as top secret.

"It is unconstitutional to make the bill applicable to all organs of state," Smuts said.

If the ANC pushed the bill through Parliament with that provision intact, she would petition the president not to sign it into law, she said.

Muzzling the media?

The bill sparked a public outcry last year, along with plans by the ANC to set up a media tribunal that reports to Parliament.

Together they were read as an attempt by ANC hawks to restrict investigative news reporting.

The bill makes it a crime punishable with 25 years in prison to communicate top secret information.

The ANC has rejected calls by the media, activists and the opposition to temper this with a clause enabling journalists to argue in court that they published classified information in the public interest, and said there was no hope of persuading it otherwise.
Read more on:    anc  |  dene smuts  |  cape town  |  info bill  |  media  |  parliament 2011

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