South African Secrecy Bill Moving Forward Unchanged

27 May 2011

The ruling party in South Africa this week resisted changes to the proposed Protection of Administration Bill.

 The ad hoc committee considering the bill met on May 24 and 26 and voted on amendments. The South Africa Press Association (SAPA) reported:

Opposition parties pleaded in vain on Thursday that South Africans were going to rue the wide powers the protection of information bill would give intelligence services, as ruling party MPs proceeded with an apparent bid to rush the draft law through Parliament.

Efforts to amend the bill were mostly unsuccessful. The African National Congress majority members voted to retain clause 7 of the bill, which allows the state security minister the power to regulate the classification of all information in all state departments.

Also defeated was a proposal to harmonize the  so-called Secrecy Bill with other legislation, such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The ANC also opposed allowing a public interest defense, one of many proposals by critics. The chairperson of the ad hoc committee, Cecil Burgess, was quoted as saying the ANC was “digging its heels in” on a public interest defense because the party could find no example of international best practice for such a provision.

In one modification, the ANC agreed to change the term “national interest” in the bill, replacing it with “national security.”

Despite earlier signals, the ANC declined to support limiting the bill’s application to security services rather than “all organs of state,” which opponents say could apply to more than 1 000 entities.

Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said the ruling party was “trying to take back the concessions they made now that the elections are over.”

The committee is expected to report  the bill to the house June 17 for debate June 24.

For other accounts, see the report on the May 26 meetings by The Mail & Guardian and The Independent Observer, and another, by Emsie Ferreira of SAPA on the May 24 session.

For great detail on the May 24 meeting see the notes of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group.

Protests Continue

The Right2Know Campaign led a March early in the week and said in a statement that it is “calling for a new period of action to stop the secrecy bill. We call on all those who are seriously concerned by this turn of events to make their collective voices heard now.”

Opposition party members said they will seek support from one-third of the members of the National Assembly to have the bill sent directly to the Constitutional Court for an order declaring parts of the Act unconstitutional, as provided for by section 80 of the Constitution.

Right2Know campaign national coordinator Murray Hunter was quoted as saying, “In the short term a political challenge is more likely, but legal or constitutional challenges are still very much on the table.” said national coordinator Murray Hunter.

For more about the protests see an article by Regina Graham in The Star.

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