Cwele ‘welcomes’ constitutional challenge to secrecy bill
WHILE opposition parties and civil society ponder the easiest and cheapest way to get the "secrecy bill" sent to the Constitutional Court, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has said he would welcome the bill being tested by the country’s top court.
The African National Congress last (ANC) Thursday used its majority to push the bill through. It now needs only the National Assembly’s rubber stamp and President Jacob Zuma’s signature to become law.
Lobbyists have argued that the government could use the bill to classify sensitive information, including on controversial issues like Mr Zuma’s Nkandla home.
Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, chief whip Watty Watson and Alf Lees, a DA member of the National Council of Provinces, told a news conference on Friday they would lobby ANC members in the National Assembly to make further changes to the Protection of State Information Bill.
The party’s strategy would include petitioning Mr Zuma to refer the bill to the Constitutional Court and, failing that, to get 134 opposition MPs to sign a petition referring it to the court as provided for in the constitution. The Right2Know campaign has also vowed to fight the bill all the way to the Constitutional Court.
Mr Cwele said that since South Africa was a constitutional democracy, "we would welcome such an action as it is provided for by our constitution. There is nothing to fear in this regard."
Mr Lees said during deliberations on the bill in the ad hoc committee, the DA pushed for a series of amendments, including:
• A public interest defence;
A strengthened public interest override;
• The removal of clause 1(4) which would allow the bill to trump the Promotion of Access to Information Act;
• A sufficiently limited definition of "national security";
• A review of sections pertaining to almost all offences (such as the possession and disclosure of classified information);
• The removal of all minimum sentences.
The removal of Valuable information; and
• The removal of provincial archives."
Mr Lees acknowledged that some important changes were made in the National Council of Provinces, "but these proposals did not go far enough".
"The absence of a strengthened public interest defence clause in this bill will endanger whistle-blowers of corruption and wrongdoing.
"While it is important to have legislation that seeks to classify some state information, this bill will effectively enable government to hide corruption and other information it deems embarrassing," Mr Lees said.
Ms Mazibuko said: "The DA will lobby ANC MPs across the floor and urge them to make the necessary changes to ensure that Parliament is not undermined by passing unconstitutional legislation.
It is in these important negotiations that Cosatu must end its hypocrisy and instruct MPs aligned to it in Parliament to assist us in making these vital changes.
"If this does not happen and all mechanisms available to us in Parliament have been exhausted, the DA will petition the president under section 79 of the constitution to refer the bill — after it is passed in the National Assembly — to Parliament for reconsideration of its constitutionality.
"Should the president abdicate his constitutional responsibilities and sign this problematic bill into law, the DA will, through the Multi Party Forum, lobby MPs from other parties to join our petition to refer the law directly to the Constitutional Court as provided for in section 80 of the constitution."
Mr Cwele said the bill had been the subject of discussion on various platforms, and more than 800 amendments were made by the National Council of Provinces committee processing the bill.