Spy clause delays info bill
Cape Town - The ANC's plans to finalise drafting of the protection of information bill were upset on Thursday after the opposition complained that a new amendment introduced higher standards and harsher prisons sentences specifically to shield intelligence matters from disclosure.
The DA's Dene Smuts said it made no sense that disclosure of classified information carried a maximum prison sentence of five years, but disclosing classified information relating to intelligence work was now punishable with 15 years.
In the case of disclosure to a foreign state, the maximum penalty rose to 25 years, following the latest demand from the ANC.
"It is a complete discrepancy and makes no sense," Smuts said.
A harsher sentence of 10 years for disclosing intelligence information was proposed by the IFP's Mario Oriani Ambrosini on Wednesday night, in an attempt to get the ANC to relent on its long-held insistence to criminalise disclosure of any state security matter.
The ANC position was widely criticised because it would open the door for intelligence agents to draw a veil over any aspect of their operations and thereby again widen the scope of the legislation.
In return for the stiffer sentence proposed by Oriani Ambrosini, it agreed to his amendment that "a state security matter" can only be contained in a document that is classified under the new law.
On Thursday, the ruling party rejected opposition calls to lower the sentence to five years and to narrow the clause by making it applicable to intelligence agents who revealed such information.
ANC MP Luwellyn Landers dismissed the notion that originally the aim of this clause was purely to deal with the security risk posed by double agents.
ANC 'won't give in on this'
"We are not going to give in on this. We can't," Landers told Sapa.
"It is not just aimed at intelligence agents. What about sources, people under witness protection."
With no agreement in sight, Cecil Burgess, the chairperson of the ad hoc committee drafting the bill, adjourned deliberations until Friday morning.
Rights groups, which have criticised the bill as an attempt to put more power into the hands of the government's security cluster, are also objecting to the amendment.
Time for further compromise is running out as the ANC wants to put the bill to the vote in the National Assembly within the next two weeks.