National

'Altered' secrecy Bill passed in Parliament

Sarah Evans

The Protection of State Information Bill has been passed in the National Assembly by an overwhelming majority.

The Protection of State Information Bill has been passed in the National Assembly by an overwhelming majority. (David Harrison, M&G)

The Bill was adopted by Parliamentarians on Thursday with 189 votes in favour, 74 against and one abstention.

Earlier on Thursday, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele told MPs the legislation had been significantly altered. "Today, as we debate to adopt the Protection of State Information Bill during the week of Freedom Day, we are confident that it has addressed concerns of our people."

Section 79 of the Constitution allows the president to refer the Bill back to the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces for reconsideration. If Zuma is still unsatisfied with it at the end of that process, he can refer it to the Constitutional Court.

The presidency declined to comment on whether or not President Jacob Zuma will refer the Protection of State Information Bill back to the National Assembly before he signs it.

But the Bill is probably heading for a Constitutional Court review regardless of the president's decision.

If the court justices were to decide that the Bill is constitutional, Zuma would have to sign it. It is a decision that civil society and opposition parties think would be unlikely. Despite wide-reaching reforms to the Bill, there is consensus amongst civil society and opposition parties that the reforms have not gone far enough to ensure the Bill's constitutionality.

'Moral obligation'
​Murray Hunter, national coordinator of the Right2Know campaign, said while there was no guarantee of a win in the courts, he felt the civil society organisation had a "moral obligation" to try.

The South African National Editor's Forum (Sanef) and Print and Digital Media South Africa agreed.

Nic Dawes, Sanef's chairperson, said the Bill affects the basic rights of South Africans, and the country would only benefit from "rigorously ensuring the Bill complies with constitutional precepts".

"If the president refers the Bill back to the National Assembly, we will support that process and object to the remaining problematic areas. If he does not, Sanef, with Print and Digital Media South Africa, will make a high court application to have the Bill reviewed on constitutional grounds," Dawes said.  

Earlier on Thursday, ANC MP Ben Turok, who opposed the Bill "in protest" during its first vote in 2010 indicated he would vote for adoption this time around.

"A protest is just that, it is not more than that. An individual action has limited effect," he said. He added that he was not satisfied that the Bill will land up in the Constitutional Court.

"It is clear that the parliamentary process has run its full course and that the relevant committees are exhausted. I therefore feel it is time for others to take up the debate, and rely on the good judgment of our top lawyers to decide," he said.


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