Secrecy Bill committee vows to hear all concerns

The committee tasked with scrutinising the controversial Protection of State Information Bill pledged on Tuesday to ensure that all contributions to the Bill would be heard.

Raseriti Tau, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces’ ad hoc committee said that “everybody from the youth to the religious sector and the media” in rural and urban areas will have an opportunity to comment on it.

Tau said they initially wanted to focus on rural areas but had since had a rethink and would seek to balance rural and urban areas in their outreach.

“We are not going to leave out our urban areas just as we are not going to leave out the rural areas. We will look at rural districts and the metros or urban districts,” he said.

The Bill, which seeks to regulate the classification of state information, was passed by the National Assembly in November amid protests from the civil society, media and opposition parties, who are calling for, among other things, the inclusion of a public interest defence clause.

Strategic areas
Tau announced that the committee would hold public hearings in all nine provinces, with two hearings in six provinces and three in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo due to the distance between the districts.

According to the draft programme, the public hearings will begin in the West Coast and Southern Cape District Municipalities of the Western Cape on January 31 and are scheduled to end in the Northern Cape on March 1.

However, the programme may change, pending advice from provincial governments on what they think are more strategic and beneficial areas to go to.

Public hearings in Parliament will follow the provincial hearings. Organised groups will be given an opportunity to make presentations to the committee at public hearings in Parliament, once the provincial hearings are complete.

While Tuesday’s meeting aimed to deal with the programme and other logistics, opposition parties took the opportunity to raise political issues.

Constitutionality of the Bill
The Democratic Alliance’s Alf Lees said it would be interesting for the state law adviser to brief the committee on the constitutionality of the Bill, following the amendments made by the National Assembly ad hoc committee last year.

Lees also proposed that State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele be called in to explain his comments on the exclusion of the public interest defence clause but Lees was ruled out of order on the proposal.

Congress of the People’s Dennis Bloem warned against the playing of party politics in the process of public hearings.

“I don’t want to attend a rally at the public hearings; where a certain section of people will be invited and other people will be left out. I don’t want to see a ‘Viva 100 years … and all that’.”

The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.

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