The Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill adopted the final committee report on the Secrecy Bill today despite opposition to the process. The Bill will now be debated in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Thursday.
The report, which was tabled today, was supposed to contain all amendments agreed to by the committee and express the views of any minority concerned in accordance with rule 211 of the NCOP. This would understandably require sufficient time to examine the report.
It was agreed that the committee would meet today to table this report; however, the report was only handed to members half an hour after the meeting was due to begin. There is no possible way that committee members would have had sufficient time to examine this report and check that it was in line with rule 211.
The opposition refused to adopt the report based on these grounds and walked out.
The correct thing for the Chairperson of the committee to have doen would have been to postpone the meeting to ensure that a proper democratic process was followed and that a meaningful contribution could be made by all parties to the content of the report.
The ANC ignored the voices and opinions of the opposition, which is a growing trend in Parliament.
This trend was continued in a press statement distributed this morning by Chairperson Raseriti Tau, who came out in defence of the ANC rather than speaking on behalf of the committee. In fact, he slammed the opposition and civil society for being misinformed and using the Secrecy Bill as a platform for political grandstanding and opportunism.
No matter that ANC Masters Vavi and COSATU may be happy with the limited amendments finally accepted by the ANC, the DA, the majority of opposition parties and civil society remain opposed to many other aspects of the bill. The ANC continues to misrepresent the impact of the Secrecy Bill and to fudge the very serious threat that the Bill poses to freedom of expression and access to information.
We still believe that core provisions in the Bill will close down the democratic space, give too many state institutions the right to classify information and fail to provide sufficient protection for whistle-blowers.
It is unfortunate that the ANC has once again bullied its way through a critical process which will have far-reaching impacts on the lives of South Africans in years to come.
The DA will continue to oppose the Bill in its amended form.
Alf Lees, DA Member of the NCOP for Kwazulu Natal