Parliament to rule on info bill committee

2011-03-07 17:30
Cape Town - The future of the parliamentary committee handling the contentious protection of information bill is likely to be settled on Wednesday, the Speaker's office said.

The issue is expected to be handled in a motion in the National Assembly.

Work on the legislation ground to a halt last month when opposition parties said the lifespan of the committee had been unlawfully extended, the Speaker's spokesperson Sukthi Naidoo said.

The extension was granted by Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo after the committee's lifespan lapsed on January 28, following a request from committee chairperson Cecil Burgess.

The opposition protested that it was unlawful to extend the lifespan of a committee after it had expired, and that instead it should have been reconstituted, which only the National Assembly could do.

Further grounds for legal challenge

On Monday, the Democratic Alliance said it suspected the ANC would use its majority in the house to push through a ratification of Mfeketo's decision.

DA MP Dene Smuts warned that the ruling party was potentially creating further grounds for a legal challenge to the legislation, which is already viewed by many as unconstitutional in its current form.

"There are already so many for a constitutional challenge," Smuts said.

"You cannot extend the lifespan of something that has expired. It is a contradiction in terms."

Smuts said the DA's concern should not be interpreted as an attack on the person of the deputy speaker, and blamed Burgess for the confusion.

"There is no ad hominem attack on the deputy speaker. We are just sticklers for procedure as one must be when one has to uphold the Constitution," she said.

"If anybody is to blame it is the chairman, because he incorrectly reported that the committee had asked for an extension to the end of March. We did no such thing."

Tea ‘is unauthorised expenditure’

The opposition as well as an ANC member of the committee Luwellyn Landers had proposed that the committee be reconstituted with a year-long mandate to complete the drafting of the bill.

Opposition parties last month walked out of the meeting of the committee after signalling their protest against the extension.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani Ambrosini warned Burgess that the meeting was unlawful to the point where the tea served to members amounted to unauthorised expenditure.

The bill provoked a public outcry last year because of the vast powers it would confer on organs of state to classify information.

Faced with accusations that it was resorting to apartheid-era secrecy laws to stifle criticism, the government made two major concessions.

The state security ministry agreed to scrap provisions allowing for classification in the national interest - a concept dismissed by critics as nebulous - and the classification of commercial information.

Vast areas of discord remain, and meetings have regularly been attended by placard-bearing activists protesting that the bill is an attack of freedom of expression.

Read more on:    nomaindia mfeketo  |  cecil burgess  |  dene smuts  |  media  |  info bill

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