Alf Lees MP
DA Member of the NCOP for KwaZulu-Natal
The Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill meeting yesterday was both a win and a loss for opposition parties and the public. The ANC has finally agreed to remove the clause which would allow the Secrecy Bill to trump the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), but has refused to make the remaining amendments to the Bill that would make the Bill constitutional.
The removal of controversial clause 1(4), which would allow the Secrecy Bill to override PAIA, was a win for the DA, which has been pushing for this since the deliberations first began. PAIA enshrines the constitutional right to access to information.
The ANC has, however, dug in its heels and said that it was not necessary to make any further amendments to the Bill. This is a great loss for both the public and opposition parties that wished to continue deliberations until the Bill was brought in line with the Constitution.
The DA believes that the following issues must still be addressed:
* A strengthened public interest defence override;
* the exclusion of provincial archives;
* the exclusion of valuable information;
* the removal of all minimum sentences; and
* ensuring that the espionage sections cannot be used to prosecute those not involved in espionage.
It is unlikely that the ANC will backtrack on their decision not to make any further amendments, which means that the Bill will be debated in the National Council of Provinces in its current amended form. The DA will therefore have no option but to oppose it.
Under enormous pressure from the DA, other political parties and civil society over many months, the ANC has capitulated and made some important amendments that have gone a long way towards making the Bill a world-class bill. It is most distressing that by rejecting the remaining amendments sought by the DA and the majority of South Africans who have made submissions on the Bill, the ANC has missed a golden opportunity to bring the Bill in line with the Constitution and to make the Bill one that all South Africans could be proud of.