Cosatu to fight Info Bill

2011-11-24 13:34

Labour federation Cosatu has vowed to fight the protection of state information bill in the Constitutional Court if it could not convince Parliament to amend it or government to withdraw it.

The labour federation’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told journalists in Joburg today that MPs on the ad hoc committee dealing with the bill “promised that space has not been closed and that the National Council of Provinces will open the space and make further amendements to the bill”.

The bill was passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday following a vote which saw all the opposition MPs present voting against it.

Civil society organisations and newspaper editors also voiced their concern, saying the bill, which provides for the classification of sensitive state information, should have a public interest defence to protect whistle-blowers and journalists.

Vavi said Cosatu’s central executive committee, which had its regular meeting from Monday until today, still felt “there is a need to introduce a public interest defence that would maintain a balance between the restrictions legitimately placed on state information against disclosures and media publication of such information in the public interest”.

Vavi said the ANC was correct when it said in its statement that it had consulted with Cosatu, but this wasn’t sufficient.

Despite numerous amendments to the bill, Cosatu’s “original fundamental concerns remain largely unaddressed”, he said.

These concerns included giving the minister (of State Security) the discretion to include any organ of state or “national key point” in the bill, the definition of “national security” and “numerous provisions that undermine rights of access to information”.

Vavi said Cosatu had written to the ANC three weeks ago – after the party caucus slammed the brakes on the bill so that the ANC could consult more people – expressing concerns about the bill, but the labour federation had received no reply yet.

While Cosatu was opposed to acts of espionage and activities hostile to the state, “we are concerned that relevant provisions in the bill are capable of such broad interpretation that it would have the effect of imposing criminal responsibility on whistle-blowers who disclose information in the public interest”.

Asked afterwards why he thought the ANC had rushed to get the bill through parliament despite massive concerns by Cosatu and civil society, Vavi said it was due to “securocrats”.

The labour federation did not intend to take action against MPs who were formerly unionists and who voted for the bill.

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said even though those MPs came through the ranks of Cosatu and were expected to behave likewise, “they are deployed by the ANC and given instructions by the ANC”.

The DA in Parliament this morning announced a range of steps the party would take to prevent the bill from becoming law, including court action.

The bill still has to pass through the other house of Parliament, the National Council of Provinces, before it is signed by President Jacob Zuma into law.

It could still be referred back for public consultation before that, and Zuma has the power to refer it to the Constitutional Court to check if the bill would pass constitutional muster.

Meanwhile, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said MPs like Ben Turok, who didn’t vote for the bill, were “ill-disciplined” and would be dealt with by the party internally.

But ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga told SAFM talk radio earlier today that there had been no decision by the party’s caucus to this effect.

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