Sparks expected to fly

2012-11-13 00:00

THE Protection of State Information Bill (the so-called Secrecy Bill) has appeared out of the blue on the parliamentary order list for finalisation on Thursday through a final vote in the National Council of Provinces.

The ad hoc committee dealing with the bill, which contains strict new prescriptions and penalties regarding when information should be declared secret, meets in an ordinary meeting today. Sparks are expected to fly about the apparently sudden acceleration of the process.

The decision that the ad hoc committee has to finalise its work this week is unexpected, since the deadline for finalisation of the committee’s work was just recently extended to November 30.

Furthermore, the ANC’s Raseriti Tau, who chairs the ad hoc committee, said in a recent interview with sister newspaper Beeld that there has been no pressure on him from Luthuli House (the ANC’s national head office) to finalise the legislation this year.

On inquiry yesterday it was clear that no new instructions had been received, but that Tau was leaving the door open for a more forceful ANC approach.

“The ANC has not yet decided whether we want the committee to complete the bill as early as this week,” Tau said. He said the ANC, which, as the majority party, can outvote the united opposition, will announce its decision at today’s meeting.

It is no secret that great division exists within the ANC about the bill. The damning criticism of the bill from almost all sectors of society clearly made an impression on ANC MPs serving on the committee. Several changes have already been informally proposed by ANC MPs.

On the other hand the redeployed ANC cadres in the country’s intelligence services have, until now, been totally unwilling to make any changes to the version of the bill that was passed by the National Assembly last year and attracted so much criticism.

At present it looks as though the well-known influence of the intelligence services in the presidency may be decisive, despite sharp criticism from society at large.

If a vote is, in fact, forced on Thursday, that would mark the beginning of a new battle.

This is because all the opposition parties are opposed to the bill, and if they vote together, as they have undertaken to do, they will form more than one third of the National Assembly forcing President Jacob Zuma to refer the bill to the Constitutional Court either to accept it as constitutional or reject it as unconstitutional.

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