Media, Politics

ANC MPs to rethink Secrecy Bill

By Carien Du Plessis 19 September 2011

The ANC has kind of confirmed that the Protection of Information Bill will be delayed to ensure that all its MPs (and probably its alliance partners too) are happy to pass it. CARIEN DU PLESSIS watched Gwede Mantashe do an egg-dance about this on Monday morning.

Obviously ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe couldn’t tell journalists at the ANC’s briefing in Johannesburg this morning that the party’s national executive committee (NEC) over the weekend decided that MPs should be convinced to hold off with the contentious Protection of Information Bill a little bit longer.

The Bill – which deals with the disclosure of “classified information” – is due to be tabled for debate in the national assembly on Tuesday, but the ANC has, in an unusual step, called its MPs to Parliament on a Monday afternoon to caucus about the matter.

Mantashe, who amid questions from the media about the matter must have had second thoughts about whether holding a Luthuli House briefing on the NEC meeting before the afternoon caucus briefing was such a wise idea after all, said the safest thing would be to follow the media briefing that is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

But he gave strong hints that something’s up and that the bill would be delayed. When asked whether the decision to rethink the bill was an indication that the ANC has yielded to public pressure from organisations like the Right2Know campaign, or even internal pressure (such as from Cosatu), Mantashe had this to say: “It is not pressure, but internal realignment so that nobody feels they have no clue what’s in this bill. It’s quite a difficult bill and when it’s a difficult bill you don’t just run it through.”

It’s interesting that he should say this, because the bill had been discussed, and debated and then discussed again, line by line, in Parliament and even outside. There were extensive public hearings on it, the ANC took some of the concerns onboard, and some not (one of the more contentious issues is that journalists can’t argue a public interest defence if they disclose information that the government deems to be classified, thus risking 10 years in jail).

Cosatu has, however, indicated that they’re still not happy with the bill as it stands, and there are surely a few individual MPs who think the same.

It’s been reported that the ANC’s political committee in Parliament, headed by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, proposed the rethink on the bill.

Head of the ad hoc committee on the bill, Cecil Burgess, and one of the more outspoken members of the committee, Lluwellyn Landers, are, however, probably not among those wanting a re-think. They’ve been fiercely advocating the swift passing of the bill as it stands.

Mantashe on Monday morning scolded the terminology used in reports around the bill’s rethink, adding that it would only amount to a “delay”, if anything. “A delay and putting on ice is different(sic). When you put it on ice you’re freezing it. But we all agree that the bill is necessary and that it should be promulgated into law.”

Still, the ANC’s convinced that the bill is the right thing to do. “Our view is that there is nothing unconstitutional about that thing and that’s it. Once it’s promulgated they can take it to the Constitutional Court. Our view is that the latest version of the act has addressed all the complaints raised in the public hearings.”

We’ll soon know whether MPs agree. Or not. DM



Photo: Reuters.


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