Info bill deadline extended

2011-01-28 17:04

Parliament - Speaker Max Sisulu on Friday extended the lifespan of the committee drafting the Protection of Information Bill by two months after a deadline to report to Parliament passed on Friday with many critical issues still unresolved.

"The lifespan of committee has been extended to March 31," said Cecil Burgess, ANC chairperson of the committee handling the draft law.

Burgess had earlier rejected a request from ANC colleague Luwellyn Landers to ask for an extension of one year, instead of a few months at a time, as has repeatedly happened.

The Democratic Alliance supported the proposal. The opposition party also welcomed suggestions by Burgess that State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele would return to brief the committee on "best practices and the public interest matter".

The latter remains a major sticking point on the bill. The opposition, media and activists have been trying to persuade the ANC to include a clause that would allow whistle-blowers and journalists to argue they published classified information in the public interest.

Cwele has said he would not countenance it.


MPs on Friday returned to the debate on whether the bill should set up a separate process for requesting access to classified information, or whether all applications should be handled through the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia).

Paia came under the spotlight recently when the state announced it would appeal a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling in favour of the Mail & Guardian, ordering the presidency to release the Khampepe-Moseneke report on Zimbabwe's 2002 elections.

The case has raised concerns over whether an affected third party needs to be considered in a decision to reveal classified information.

Also at issue is a clause in the bill giving all organs of state the power to classify information. In a submission this week the Institute for Democracy in South Africa argued this meant 1 001 entities could file information as secret, ranging from state departments to parastatals to museums, theatres and zoos.

The opposition is fighting for the scope of the bill to be narrowed to matters of intelligence, national security and possibly international relations, but the ANC is rejecting this position.

Landers insisted this week all state organs should have the power to classify information. He said it could be necessary to "ring fence" information for reasons other than national security or protecting intelligence.

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