Info bill briefing - opposition walks out

2011-02-15 17:56

Cape Town - Opposition parties on Tuesday walked out of a government presentation on the contentious protection of information bill because they claim that the lifespan of the committee drafting the bill was extended unlawfully.

"It is our view that there is no ad hoc committee," Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts objected, challenging the ANC position that the lifespan of the committee had been extended to March 31.

Her colleague from the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini added: "We are just a group of MPs shooting the breeze."

He said the lack of mandate from the National Assembly meant that any decision of the part of the committee would have no standing and any resources used by it would amount to unauthorised expenditure.

The African Christian Democratic Party joined the DA and IFP in walking out from the meeting, before the department of state security began its briefing on international best practice on the classification of information.

Acccording to the opposition, the speaker's office has no authority to reconstitute the committee and its recourse to Rule 2 of the legislature was flawed.

"(It) gives the Speaker the power to frame a rule where no rule exists and in case of an unforeseen eventuality. This rule only applies in the respect of the conduct of proceedings," Oriani-Ambrosini said.

Committee chairperson Cecil Burgess rejected the views of the opposition parties as plainly "wrong" and said he was bound by a decision by the deputy speaker in January to extend the life of the committee.

"The issues you raise are insignificant," he added.

The issue arose because a sitting of the National Assembly on January 28 at which the committee had to report to Parliament was postponed.

That date also marked the expiry of a the lifespan of the committee, which has repeatedly been extended as controversy about the wide powers the bill gives the state to keep information secret rages on.

Culture of secrecy

Burgess told the media at the end of last month that committee meetings would carry early this month, but afterwards the committee disappeared off Parliament's schedule until Tuesday.

The DA told Sapa it had formally objected to the Speaker's office.

The Speaker's office confirmed that the lifespan of the committee was extended in terms of Rule 2, in a letter dated January 28.

Earlier on Tuesday, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in a presentation to the portfolio committee on justice signalled its concern about the bill, and what deputy chairperson Pregs Govender termed "the culture of secrecy" in the South African government.

Govender told MPs the SAHRC's mandate to monitor compliance with the Protection of Access to Information Act (PAIA) had made it keenly aware that South Africa was struggling to shake off a mindset of state secrecy.

"It has been difficult to get government departments to understand the culture of openness and transparency," she said.

"We came out of a culture of secrecy as a country in 1994 and that culture is a very hard one to break."

Govender said the SAHRC was therefore "wary" of a call by the ANC, backed by several opposition MPs, to link PAIA and the protection of information bill by stipulating that any request for declassification should be made using the provisions of the earlier legislation.

  • G0ldf!nger - 2011-02-15 18:55

    It's a case of "We'll gladly take your taxes and use it to pay our salaries, but we'll be damned if we're going to tell you what other shenanigans we get up to with your money... now leave us alone and pass the sushi on your way out, you bloody agents."

  • SamuelMabena - 2011-02-15 18:56

    I only have one question to this new proposed 'secrecy' bill. Why is this whole thing so closed and so secretive? Where is the transparency? What are we trying to hide? (I apologise, that was three quesions)

      Warren - 2011-02-15 19:01

      Well, it is the "SECRECY" bill... is'nt it?

  • Douglas Hendry - 2011-02-15 19:00

    In the UK we have, for better or worse, the Freedom of Information Act, which pretty much gives anybody the right to ask questions, and expect answers. It is difficult to hide things, one of the reasons why so mnay of our MP's have been convicted of fraud, or face charges.

  • Shorts1 - 2011-02-15 19:01

    One of the many things that the ANC want to do, in an attempt to cover up their extremely naive, self-indulgent and gross mismanagement of South Africa, is to totally clamp down / restrict / prohibit the ability of the presently free media, and other critics, from highlighting ongoing everyday examples of their disgusting incompetence, at every level within the public sector, as well as their ongoing attempts to restrict the freedom of & establish control over various sectors of the private sector in their own self interest. Actions of this ' Animal Farm ' mentality & nature completely undermine the concept of free speech and must be resisted at all costs at every level. Every vote against the ANC is a vote for true democracy and a signal to them to go, once and for all. The opposition 'walk their talk ', whilst the ANC haven't the faintest idea of what this means.

  • ProudofPink - 2011-02-15 19:03

    Good for the opposition. If you have meetings with dogs, you end up with fleas.

  • Madelane - 2011-02-15 19:26

    Politicians will be politicians no matter with what party they align themselves. This muzzling of the press was done by the NATS and for the same reasons ...... to cover their dishonesty. The ANC are no different as their hidden agenda is the suppression and oppression of the entire country aka....Mugabe, Mubarak, Amin, Botha, endless list of one party states with everything that goes with it. This 'democracy' is a sham.

      cerveza - 2011-02-16 08:06

      The current definition of a democracy is "the freedom to vote for your oppressor"

  • Alibaba - 2011-02-16 08:23

    Trust the SAHRC to blame this mess on the previous regime and Apartheid - I don't think they have blamed anything on the current government/ANC. Makes sense though as they are all members... So, who's going to win the cricket?

  • Carl Muller - 2011-05-25 08:45

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