Info bill set to be tabled after delay

2011-11-10 21:30

Cape Town - The protection information bill will come before the National Assembly next week after a two-month delay, the office of the ANC chief whip said on Thursday.

Spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said it had been decided the bill would be tabled before the National Assembly "next week, on Wednesday".

The debate on the bill was originally scheduled for September but was postponed at the eleventh hour, with the ruling party inviting further submissions on the contested state secrecy legislation.

Mothapo said the ANC believed this process had now been completed.

"We are satisfied with the level of what we have received."

The bill will be tabled as the ad hoc drafting committee had signed off on it - a version media houses and civil society organisations have vowed to challenge in the Constitutional Court.

No amendments have been made as the bill was not sent back to the committee.

Apparently, a set of proposed changes submitted to the Speaker by the Inkatha Freedom Party will also be placed before MPs.

The media and activists' chief concern about the bill is the absence of a public interest defence, which would have enabled people prosecuted for disclosing state secrets to argue that they had acted in the interest of society.

The ANC has refused to countenance such a defence, with State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele saying it would amount to shredding the bill before it became law.

But earlier this week, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe suggested that there could yet be "a meeting point" on this issue.

Farce

Motlanthe provided little detail but promised that the ANC would not use its majority to drive an unconstitutional piece of legislation through the house.

He said once passed by the National Assembly the bill must still go to National Council of Provinces. This would happen next year.

It has since been suggested from within the ANC that Motlanthe's comments were misinterpreted to mean that the party may yet write a public interest defence into the legislation.

He meant rather that it could agree to strengthen the so-called public interest override already enshrined in the Promotion of Access to Information Act, Sapa was told.

In practice, this would see journalists take classified information to judges with the argument that publication should be allowed because it would serve the public interest.

The bill was held back in September amid reports of divisions in the ANC on its provisions, which give the state security services extensive powers to classify information and makes disclosure punishable with between five to 25 years in jail.

The Democratic Alliance said it hoped amendments would still be made once the bill came before the National Council of Provinces.

DA MP Dene Smuts said: "Amendments could also be done in the NCOP, allowing this bill to be taken to the provinces for a proper consultative process."

She added: "In the power struggle within the ANC, we can only hope that Deputy President Motlanthe's views win out."

Both the DA and the Right 2 Know Campaign were scathing of the ANC's claim that it had held the bill back for the sake of wider public consultation.

Murray Hunter, the national co-ordinator of the Right 2 Know, said the ruling party had, either through lack of planning or transparency, failed to launch any meaningful public participation process.

Said Smuts: "It was a farce from the beginning."

- SAPA

Read more on:    da  |  right2know  |  ifp  |  dene smuts  |  murray hunter  |  siyabonga cwele  |  kgalema motlanthe  |  media  |  info bill
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