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Tue Jul 29 10:43:27 SAST 2014

ANC backs down on Secrecy Bill

DENISE WILLIAMS | 14 November, 2012 08:27

THE ANC yesterday bowed to pressure in its bid to allow the Secrecy Bill to trump other laws.

In an about-turn, the National Council of Provinces' ad-hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill heard the ANC withdraw an earlier amendment that would see more protection for whistleblowers and journalists.

If it were to remain, it would allow the Secrecy Bill to trump the Promotion of Access to Information Act in terms of what state information could be accessed.

The ANC had earlier proposed that the clause be deleted.

However, following a presentation to the committee by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, the party has since changed its tune.

Last month, Cwele told the committee that if the bill was not given supremacy in a court of law, then it would render it "ineffective" in a court of law and "unmanageable".

"We didn't say this bill should supercede the Promotion of Access to Information Bill. We said in terms of classified information, to avoid conflict in terms of the interpretation of the bill, this bill must supercede [any legislation] in terms of only classified information," said Cwele.

ANC MP Sam Mazosiwe said the reversal was merely a result of "continued consultation".

"On an ongoing basis we do some consultations, some interpretations and we were persuaded by the input that was made by the department and other people we have consulted around that very specific clause," Mazosiwe said.

He said the Promotion of Access to Information Act dealt with access to information in general terms but did not specifically address classified information.

"Generally, we strongly believe that PAIA is not trumped by this [proposed bill] and we can still apply it so far as access to information is concerned. But when it comes to classified information this act is supreme. The two in a way can co-exist because you go a certain distance with PAIA and then after that there is a Protection of State Information Bill," he said.

COPE MP Dennis Bloem said he was not surprised the ANC had backed down.

DA MP Alf Lees said the last-minute change of heart was an attempt to steamroll the bill through the National Council of Provinces as deliberations were set to be finalised yesterday ahead of the debate tomorrow.

"To do this at the 11th hour undermines and delegitimises the deliberative process as well as parliament itself."

ANC acting chairman Teboho Chaane said deliberations would continue today.

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