IFP's info bill changes rejected
Cape Town - A last-minute tabling of 123 amendments to the protection of information bill by the Inkatha Freedom Party turned to farce on Thursday as the ANC and all other opposition parties swiftly voted down every proposed change.
The drafting committee on the bill, reconstituted by the National Assembly specifically to mull the amendments, declined to debate the amendments.
Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts accused IFP colleague Mario Oriani-Ambrosini of wasting the committee's time and making a mockery of the legislative process.
She pointed out that Oriani-Ambrosini had already tried and failed to persuade colleagues of most of the changes during more than a year of fractious deliberations on the state secrecy legislation.
"Many aspects have come before the committee and were rejected. We will not allow somebody to make light of the law-making process and that is why, to a man and a woman, we voted down every amendment."
Smuts and the ANC believe Oriani-Ambrosini was filibustering to slow down the passage of the bill, which was debated in the National Assembly on Wednesday.
It will now come back to MPs unchanged next week. All opposition parties will vote against the bill because they believe it paves the way for regressive state secrecy.
However, the ANC's majority is expected to see it passed comfortably.
The bill then has to go to the National Council of Provinces and the opposition has hope that this process could yet see amendments.
The ANC faces an uphill battle in coming months to secure the support of formal alliance partner Cosatu for the unpopular draft law.
The trade union federation on Wednesday reiterated a threat to challenge it in the Constitutional Court unless its demands are met.
These largely coincide with the demands of the media, opposition and civil rights groups.
Cosatu argues that in its current form the bill will threaten media freedom, expose whistle-blowers to criminal prosecution and give the state too wide powers to classify information.
It also wants a public interest defence to be written into the bill to protect journalists who publish classified information to expose wrongdoing on the part of the state.
"[The media] remains one of the broadest forms of disseminating and implementing access to information to the masses," Cosatu said in a statement this week.
But State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele was emphatic that the ANC would not allow such a defence, telling the National Assembly the principle was "reckless" and would lead to random publication of state secrets.
The opposition said on Thursday it had little hope for a U-turn from the ANC on this proposal, but believed the ruling party could yet concede to strengthen the so-called public interest override.
"It's a very good idea to expand the public interest override and would be very useful," the African Christian Democratic Party's Steve Swart said.
As it stands, the bill allows anybody to go directly to court to ask that information be declassified because it is in the public interest, without exhausting the process of applying to the relevant ministry.
Swart said he foresaw that the instances where this would be allowed could be extended to include, for example, cases of abuse of public money.
There is a perception that the ANC could be open to argument in this regard after Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said allowing a judge to decide on these matters could be a "meeting point" between opposing camps on the bill.