New rush to get info bill adopted

2011-08-26 09:28

Cape Town - The ANC intends wrapping up work on the protection of information bill next week and put it to the vote in the National Assembly, though political parties remain at odds over key aspects of the new state secrets legislation.

“We should be finished by the end of next week,” Cecil Burgess, the chairperson of the ad hoc committee drafting the bill, said on Thursday.

“They [MPs] have had enough time to debate now. If they cannot reach consensus then we will put it to the vote. I have given them time, I have asked them to consult in the corridors and find each other. They cannot say they were not given time to put their point of view,” he told Sapa.

“The house will vote on this before the 15th of September.”

Impatience to finalise the fractious drafting process has been palpable in recent days, as political parties reached an agreement on narrowing the application of the bill, a move welcomed by activists and academics.

Major setback

But on Thursday they stumbled into a fresh disagreement which the opposition described as a major setback. It relates to the test to be applied for classifying information as confidential. MPs had agreed earlier that potential threats to national security would be the only grounds for keeping information secret. However, the additional grounds of a threat to security, without any further qualification, found itself into the latest draft.

The ANC’s Luwellyn Landers said it was the work of a senior advocate consulted by the opposition, but should stay in the bill.

“They put it in and we said okay. Now why should we take it out?” he asked.

The DA said it had the assurance of the advocate that the inclusion was a simple error, and retaining it would create the risk of over-classification.

“The concept is not only overly broad, but it is not clear. And because of that I think it once again raises the issue of constitutionality,” DA MP David Maynier said, adding that the issue was “one giant leap backwards”.

Earlier the ANC accepted additions to the definition of national security proposed by the DA, which further narrow down the concept by stating expressly that secrecy should be allowed only to counter threats clearly aimed at “undermining the constitutional order of the republic”.

Public interest defence lacking

African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart also warned the new development could have serious consequences.

“It would have a direct impact on classification levels and make a mockery of narrowing down the definition of national security.”

The biggest concern for opposition lawmakers, activists and trade unions however remained the absence in the bill of a public interest defence that would protect journalists and whistleblowers who publish secret information to expose corruption.

The ANC has said time and again it would not countenance such a provision.

Civil society groups are also wary of a clause that gives intelligence agents the power to classify anything deemed a state security matter.

The opposition is expected to fight hard in the final days of deliberations to have it scrapped.

  • Dr Filemon - 2011-08-26 09:43

    I wonder if the aNc MP's will take the time to leave the troughs of gravy that they are gorging on to vote. I will put money on that winnie once-a-year MP will not be present to cast her vote

      onetickie - 2011-08-31 13:51

      They want to rush the bill so that they can clamp down on whats going on inside Lithuli House and also, to clamp down on on scenes like were shown outside Lithuli House yesterday. They want us to believe SA is ok, they want the outside world to think the same. They think we are all brain-dead like they are.

  • Vullis - 2011-08-26 09:49

    Good Morning Everyone. Don't you just hate when the weather man says "Clear and Sunny Skies Ahead for Cape Town" and the bastard turns out to be WRONG!!

      Felix - 2011-08-26 10:08

      Only when I'm in CT.

      Vernon - 2011-08-26 11:42

      You Vullis sh@#,lol

  • Jedi knight - 2011-08-26 11:56

    This will be rolled thru' , as with the Toll system.. There was to be consultation on taxi and bus use and all of a sudden it's done and dusted. Just pay , while others donot.

  • umlaut - 2011-08-30 09:51

    This burgess feels nothing for the well being of a democracy or fairness--they want to steam roller this because of new evidence from overseas on the armsdeal that will sink them and malema probably threatened to make some secrets public if they don't drop charges against him. SA is entering another dark chapter in its history.

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