ANC Postpones POIB Vote to Seek Additional Input

19 September 2011

The ruling African National Congress in South Africa has postponed a planned Sept. 20 vote on the controversial Protection of Information Bill.

The bill will be finalized by the end of the year, according to ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga, who said the decision was made in order to get more input on the bill.

“If we have sections of society saying they still need to be heard… we have to listen to them. Even over this weekend, people were marching. Our view is that the door of this Parliament, of the ANC, is open. We are ready to listen to the people at all times,” he told reporters after an ANC caucus meeting, referring to a protest against the bill on Saturday, reported the South African Press Association. “We are not debating this bill tomorrow because we genuinely want the people to have their further say.”

The bill was expected to be passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday considering the ANC’s overwhelming majority and despite threats from the opposition, media and rights groups to take it on constitutional review.

 “Motshekga strenuously denied media reports that the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) was split over the bill, which critics see as an infringement of freedom of expression,” SAPA reported.  

The bill is opposed by the allied Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), the opposition Democratic Alliance and the Right 2 Know Campaign.

“ANC MP Luwellyn Landers conceded on Monday that the issue of increased protection for whistle-blowers, who reveal secret information to expose wrongdoing by the state, had not been settled between the alliance partners,” according to SAPA. “He said Cosatu wanted the ANC to write a so-called public interest defence into the bill, but that the ANC remained convinced that this flew in the face of international practice.”

The Right2Know Campaign applauded the decision, saying, “This represents a victory for the campaign and for ordinary people across South Africa, in the ongoing struggle against secrecy and for access to information.”

The coalition also said:

“Our optimism is similarly tempered by a concern that today’s apparent retreat on the Bill may used by securocrats within the ruling party to reclaim their dominance over ANC democrats that clearly at last are speaking out. The divisions emerging within the alliance over the draconian provisions of this Bill are evidence of this struggle.

However, the simple fact that the ANC has undertaken to consult with its constituencies, other political parties and to “engage views from the broader society” has the potential — if fully implemented — to meet the key Right2Know demand that the Bill in its current form be scrapped and referred back to the people.

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