ConCourt next for ‘secrecy bill’

2013-04-26 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Plans to test the so-called secrecy bill in the Constitutional Court were under way yesterday after the National Assembly approved the controversial measure.

After a fiery and sometimes personal debate, 190 MPs voted for the Protection of State Information Bill, 75 against and one abstained.

The abstainer was Stanley Ntapane of the United Democratic Movement, whose leader, Bantu Holomisa, said he had followed his conscience.

All opposition members who were present voted against the bill, and all the ANC members for it, except chief whip Mathole Motshekga, who apparently voted no “by mistake”.

Ben Turok and Gloria Borman, the ANC rebels who did not vote on the bill two years ago, did vote yesterday, after being disciplined by Motshekga then.

The next step is for President Jacob Zuma to sign the bill into law, unless a third of MPs vote for its constitutionality to be reviewed.

If all opposition members stand together, this would take place. But if the ANC can persuade three opposition MPs not to vote for review, civil society would have to wait for the bill to be signed and then approach the Constitutional Court.

By last night, the ANC had persuaded the Minority Front’s Roy Bhoola not to support review, but the rest stood firm.

Zuma himself could refer the bill for review, but very senior government sources said this would not happen.

If the bid to get the votes of a third of MPs for review fails, media groups and the Right2Know campaign have already said they would go to court.

The debate in the National Assembly revealed a gulf between the ANC and other parties.

The ANC’s Cecil Burgess, Luwellyn Landers and Mzunani Sonto accused opposition MPs of deviously overstating the dangers of the bill and of having murky reasons for not wanting to pursue foreign spies.

ANC speakers also said the bill had been greatly improved through their party’s goodwill and now contained a public interest defence.

Opposition MPs insisted that the bill was still unconstitutional because the public interest defence is limited. It contains no defence of re-publication of classified material already made public and interferes with the rights of provinces.

The IFP’s Dr Mario Ambrosini pleaded with ANC members to listen to their consciences, but was laughed at by Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who questioned his patriotism, as he also held a U.S. passport.

Motshekga blamed the voting equipment for his no vote. His vote will now be officially recorded as a yes.

Turok issued a statement explaining why he had voted in favour. He said his previous “protest vote” achieved little, and while he was not wholly satisfied with the changes, he understood that the bill would inevitably be tested in the Constitutional Court. The parliamentary process had run its full course and it was time for others to take up the debate and rely on the good judgment of the country’s top lawyers to decide, he said.

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