THE approval of the "secrecy bill" by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Thursday does not signify the end of the battle for further changes to the bill, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) vowing to continue the fight when the bill returns to the National Assembly.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, DA chief whip Watty Watson and DA member of the NCOP Alf Lees MP told a news conference on Friday that they would lobby African National Congress (ANC) members in the National Assembly to make further changes to the Protection of State Information Bill.
The party’s strategy would also include petitioning President Jacob 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.
Mr Lees told the conference that during the deliberations on the bill in the ad hoc committee, the DA had pushed for the inclusion of 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.
He acknowledged that some important changes were made in the NCOP. "However, 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," Mr Lees said.
"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".
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 the Congress of South African Trade Unions 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."