Sharp words as ANC bulldozes secrecy bill changes

2013-10-11 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The ANC yesterday used its majority to force through amendments to the State Information Bill without any consideration of alternatives.

In protest against the process, all opposition parties abstained from voting.

Two sections of the bill were amended, (42 and 45) as well as a slew of grammar and punctuation errors in other sections. The amendments to section 42 were only to correct a wrong cross reference. The amendments to section 45 prevent corruption, mismanagement and tender fraud, among other offences, being swept under the carpet by making it an offence to wrongly declare information as secret.

Opposition parties said while all the amendments improved the bill, the vague wording President Jacob Zuma used in referring the bill back to Parliament would not pass muster in the Constitutional Court.

The court’s verdicts have always stated clearly that the president must be specific and clear on which aspects of a bill he is referring back for amendment, and why he is doing so.

“The manner in which this request was handled can create a precedent that heads of state can send back to Parliament any legislation that they do not like,” said DA MP Dene Smuts.

ANC MPs yesterday rejected the opposition parties’ suggestions out of hand and voted in their own recommendations as well as those of the State’s chief legal adviser, advocate Enver Daniels.

Despite the insistence of even Cecil Burgess, ANC MP and chair of the ad hoc committee, that the opposition’s objections must be recorded in the committee report, the ANC used its majority to block this from the record.

“Why must we compromise? We have won. They [the opposition] don’t have any muscle. This is how a democracy works,” said Jerome Maake, ANC MP.

“Oh, so might is right,” answered Smuts.

“Democracy rests on decision making within agreed rules. You should at least know the damn rules. This is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship,” said IFP MP Dr Mario Ambrosini, to Burgess, his ANC colleague.

Ambrosini pointed out that section 20 contains a similar language error as section 45 had, but this had not been on Daniels’s list (who had approved the faulty bill in the first instance) and hence was rejected by the ANC.

“The president probably missed that [error],” Smuts said, referring to the ANC’s constant insinuations that it was Zuma’s own sharp legal knowledge that had led to the list of amendments. The National Assembly will next vote on the amended bill.

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