ANC pushes info bill though NCOP

2012-11-29 21:04
Info bill (Picture: Sapa)

Info bill (Picture: Sapa)

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Cape Town - The African National Congress on Thursday used its parliamentary majority to pass the reworked protection of state information bill through the upper house, brushing aside fears that it will muzzle whistleblowers and the media.

The bill, which still has to clear the lower house, sailed through by 34 votes to 16 despite opposition parties' attempts to persuade upper-house lawmakers to reject it.

The Protection of State Information Bill is designed to replace outdated apartheid-era legislation on classified information and espionage, but has met fierce opposition in a country where the media regularly uncover wrongdoing and government excess.

It carries heavy penalties, including jail terms of up to 25 years.

It will now be sent to the main chamber, the National Assembly, for approval next year after undergoing 800 changes in the past 11 months.

"To those who fear that the bill may be abused, we say: the only thing to fear is fear itself," State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele told lawmakers ahead of the vote in the National Council of Provinces.

The minister argued that the bill aimed to criminalise espionage and information peddling, and not to cover up corrupt activities or to "limit scrutiny or prevent embarrassment".

Abuse

"Let me assure you again that this bill does not permit the abuse of power," he said.

The draft law has been one South Africa's most controversial pieces of legislation, drawing alarm from democracy icons Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela's office, as well as the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

While welcoming the new amendments, watchdogs warn that the redrafted version still carries the threat of "draconian" jail terms of up to 25 years if found to be espionage related.

Simply holding or disclosing classified data is punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) tried to postpone the debate, saying that the amended version had not been distributed before the house gathered, but the bid was shot down.

"Given the extremely high levels of corruption that we see in government today, it is inevitable that the bill enacted will be used to cover up crime and corruption by those who wish to escape exposure," said DA lawmaker Alf Lees.

Read more on:    da  |  siyabonga cwele  |  politics  |  media  |  legislation  |  info bill
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