Date Set for Committee Action on SA Secrecy Bill

16 November 2012

Nov. 21 could be the date for a South African parliamentary committee to vote on the controversial secrecy bill, which has been revised again with the removal of several previous concessions.

The reversals, which have drawn objections from the bill’s critics, would retain certain stiff penalties and drop language guaranteeing that the protection of state information bill would not override the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

Both changes were among those recently advocated by the State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele. (See previous report.)

Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird Nov. 14 said the ruling African National Congress’s continued plan to have the bill take precedence over PAIA would lead to confusion and is unconstitutional. “Trumping Paia would not only be a violation of South Africa’s own Constitution, but would also show utter disregard for our continental treaties and obligations,” he was quoted as saying by the South Africa Press Association (SAPA).

The National Council of Provinces ad hoc committee handling the bill also adopted Cwele’s proposal to re-introduce a maximum five-year prison sentence for the disclosure of classified information.

“African National Congress MP Sam Mozisiwe indicated the party would water down the protection afforded to whistleblowers and the media in section 43, more or less along the lines proposed by the minister a fortnight ago,” SAPA reported.

“But the party would not bow to Cwele’s argument that the threshold for liability be lowered by re-inserting the term “ought reasonably to have known” in the offences clauses in the contentious law,” according to SAPA.

A committee meeting on Nov. 14 was adjourned when minority parties failed to attend, but the Nov. 21 session is being described as the time for a final vote on the bill. For more on the meeting and the changes see the Parliamentary Monitoring Service report.

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