Parliament Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE African National Congress (ANC) in Parliament has once again placed itself on a potential collision course with the country’s highest courts by using its majority to force the "secrecy bill" through — while there are still outstanding contested issues.

The ANC in the National Council of Provinces ad hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill voted for a report that effectively adopts the bill, and agreed that it would be debated in the council on Thursday.

Opposition parties were only given the report shortly before Tuesday’s committee meeting. In protest, they walked out of the committee and did not participate in the vote on the report.

Once the council has approved the bill it will have to return to the National Assembly for the council amendments to be endorsed by the assembly, which has already approved it.

Opposition parties and the Right2Know campaign have vowed to continue to fight the bill all the way to the Constitutional Court if necessary.

Committee chairman Raseriti Tau (ANC) told a news conference after the meeting that "as the committee we believe we did everything we could to ensure that we build on the work of the National Assembly and ensure that we have a constitutionally sound piece of legislation that is informed by the views of our people and bears resonance to the principles of our democracy".

He also launched a stinging attack on opponents of the bill, saying that "the processing of the Info Bill was characterised by half-truths, distorted conflations and mischievous political deportment, especially by those who remain fiercely opposed to the bill".

Democratic Alliance MP Alf Lees complained about the late tabling of the committee report. "It was agreed that the committee would meet on Wednesday to table this report; however, the report was only handed to members half an hour after the meeting was due to begin. There is no possible way that committee members would have had sufficient time to examine this report and check that it was in line with rule 211."

The Right2Know campaign said despite the changes, the bill still did not fully pass the body’s seven-point freedom test. It said the call for the power to classify to be limited to security departments had largely been met, but that limiting secrecy to strictly defined national security matters had only been partly met.

The call for penalties to not be applied to society at large for disclosure of state secrets had not been addressed by amendments.

The call for a public interest defence to be included in the bill had been partly met, which was a significant victory, it added.