MPs vote against IFP's info bill changes
Cape Town - The ad hoc committee on the protection of state information bill formally adopted a report on Friday rejecting all 123 amendments proposed by the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The one-line report - simply stating that all MPs save the IFP's Mario Oriani-Ambrosini voted against the changes - will be tabled in the National Assembly next week.
This paves the way for a vote on the bill before the Christmas recess, with the ANC majority expected to pass the contentious measure comfortably.
"The bill will now be voted on next Wednesday or Thursday," ANC MP Luwellyn Landers said.
It will then go to the National Council of Provinces where opposition MPs hope they can convince the ANC to narrow down clauses criminalising possession and disclosure of classified information.
In the debate on the bill this week, all opposition parties made it plain that they would not support the draft law on the basis that it threatens media freedom and gives the state excessive power to keep information secret.
But the Democratic Alliance and the African Christian Democratic Party still joined forces with the ANC to dismiss Oriani-Ambrosini's amendments because they believed he was abusing parliamentary process to filibuster.
Many of the amendments merely dealt with semantics, notably dozens suggesting the substitution of "shall" with "must" in various clauses.
A few, though, touched on core concerns, such as the need for a public interest defence.
This put his opposition colleagues in the awkward position of rejecting ideas they may support in principle, because they did not agree with the way in which he went about it.
"He should have used the NCOP process to table these amendments," the ACDP's Steve Swart said.
Swart said he hoped the process would eventually lead to amendments to the legislation to protect whistle-blowers and give the media wider scope to approach courts to overturn classification orders.
Public interest defence
The opposition thinks this could produce a compromise to the ANC's flat refusal to write a public interest defence into the bill to allow journalists facing jail for publishing state secrets to argue in court that they did so for the greater social good.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele was adamant this week that the party would not countenance such a defence, calling the very principle "reckless".
Media houses and civil rights groups have vowed to launch a court challenge to the bill if the ANC does not relent on this point.
They argue that without a public interest defence the bill would fail to balance the constitutional imperative of transparency with the state's legitimate right to classify information to protect the national interest.
The ANC also faces pressure from its alliance partner the Congress of SA Trade Unions.
The trade union federation said this week that its extensive concerns with the bill had not been addressed and it threatened to refer it to the Constitutional Court.