‘Time to protest against info bill is now’

2011-05-27 14:11

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini today issued a call for popular protest to keep the Protection of Information Bill from becoming law.

“The time for protest is now, before it is too late,” Oriani-Ambrosini said.

“Now is the time to occupy this place,” he said of Parliament, adding that the remark was only “nominally” metaphorical.

Oriani-Ambrosini said the contentious draft law, which imposes a minimum prison term of 15 years for anybody who publishes a state secret, did not reflect the will of South Africans.

Instead it was clearly imposed by the top echelons of the ANC who were rejecting “the liberal agenda” the party followed for 15 years after the end of apartheid.

The nine ANC MPs on the ad hoc committee dealing with the bill were divided into those who did not grasp its repercussions and those who were clearly uncomfortable with it but had to follow political orders, he said.

“This bill does not reflect the will of the people. When there is a divorce between public policy and public opinion democracy does not work. Public submissions have been ignored and now even common sense is being ignored.”

Opposition MPs should use filibustering – any means of obstructing legislation within Parliament – to block it’s passage, he said.

The DA said it planned to petition the president not to sign the law.

“We will listen to his proposal but I think we prefer the tried and trusted route of petitioning the President not to sign it into law,’ DA MP Dene Smuts said.

“The President cannot just sign the bill, he has to apply his mind as to its constitutionality,” she said.

The party has successfully done so in the past with former presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe.

But its court bid to prove that President Jacob Zuma failed to apply his mind when he appointed Menzi Simelane as head of the National Prosecuting Authority failed.

The opposition’s plans to halt the passage of the bill come after it became clear this week that the committee was embarking on a drive to get it through Parliament without major further amendments.

The deadline for the committee to complete its work is June 24.

On Tuesday, the committee chairperson, Cecil Burgess, stated that he would not allow indefinite debate on the bill and instead began putting contentious clauses to the vote.

This allowed the ANC majority to dismiss opposition arguments that the bill should neither apply to all organs of state nor give the minister of state security the power to determine when and how information is classified in government departments.

Opposition MPs have termed this the “Stasi clause” in reference to East Germany’s feared secret police and said it would entrench the existing situation where spies meddled in all areas of government and abused their powers.

The bill caused a public outcry last year. Academics, activists, journalists and former cabinet ministers warned it was an unconstitutional attempt to curtail media freedom and criticism of the government.

This week the Right2Know Campaign, which was born last year in response to the bill, said the legislation was reminiscent of apartheid-era repression and called for a revived campaign to stop the ANC ramming it through Parliament.

Idasa said it would not only affect the media, but would also infringe on the rights of poor communities by drawing a veil over the workings of government, including service delivery. 

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