NCOP won't rush through secrecy Bill hearings

The April 8 deadline to finalise work on the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, including the position of the ANC, are not cast in stone and will be changed should the need arise, the chairperson for the committee scrutinising the Bill said this week.

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

The Bill has since been referred to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for the concurrence.

Raseriti Tau told the Mail & Guardian that if they have not concluded their work by April 8, they will apply for an extension.

He said that while some Bills had clearly defined rules required for a Bill to be processed by an NCOP committee within a six week period, this was not the case with the secrecy Bill.

The committee announced that it would hold public hearings in all nine provinces to inform citizens and ensure that those wanting to make comments had the opportunity to do so.

Tau said the committee would cover both rural and urban areas extensively during the hearings.

The detailed Bill will be simplified for communities during the hearings. A two-page flyer will be produced outlining the Bill’s objectives, areas of contestation and why there are contestations, said Tau.

“There’s no way the NCOP can simply rubber stamp this Bill.
Both Houses [of Parliament] are equally important.

“Of course we have realised the impact or effect of the Bill and how it’s going to affect South Africans; it has also attracted international attention, so it will be of importance that all South Africans have a say in it.”

While Tau acknowledged the amount of interest in the Bill, he added that “how it has evolved in the National Assembly was very elitist”.

It was in a manner where people with access to Parliament and other means like the internet were given all the space to have their say, he said.

“Yet the poor people whom we hear will be disadvantaged by the Bill have not had a say ... and we now have a survey that says 40% of them don’t even know about the Bill”.

He said this could be remedied by the NCOP process.

‘Disciplinary processes’
“I wouldn’t say the National Assembly has failed; they’ve done what they could do as the National Assembly’s job is defined but the NCOP’s approach is different as we have a direct link with the provinces and municipalities.”

Tau said he had not been officially engaged by the ANC on the Bill but had repeatedly heard ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe talk about allowing the NCOP space to do its work.

“I don’t think I’m going to go in there, with this thing ... that I’m going to face disciplinary processes if I have own views or proposals on the Bill. We have progressive thinkers in the committee.

“We can’t have a situation where you are stuck and not able to express yourself because you are waiting for an instruction to come from somewhere.”

Preparing for work on the Bill has “been quite hectic”, said Tau.

“It’s something unusual, but in my affirmation, I said that I will serve the people. After a few months, I will go back to my cocoon.”

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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