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27 Nov 2012 10:41
The Bill has been met with sustained protest since it was introduced two-and-a-half years ago. (M&G)
The eight ruling party MPs on the ad hoc committee handling the draft official secrets law voted unanimously to adopt a report to the National Council of Provinces outlining changes made to it in the past year.
"It is done. We are very happy that we have come so far," said ANC lawmaker Sam Mazosiwe.
The report also contains the objecting views of other political parties, but the Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People refused to vote on the document because it was handed out only after the meeting began.
"We were told we would have the report at the weekend, not half-an-hour after the meeting began," said the DA's Alf Lees.
He said it was impossible to study the report in a short time to see whether it accurately reflected both amendments agreed to and dissenting minority reviews.
Committee chairperson Raseriti Tau accused the opposition of reneging on an agreement to adopt the report on Tuesday, but Lees said the undertaking could not stand given the delay in producing the document.
Last week, the ANC made eleventh hour changes to the bill after coming under renewed pressure from its ally, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, relenting on some of its most contested clauses.
The ANC notably went against the wishes of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele by proposing to reinsert a clause offering protection for those who reveal classified information to expose a crime.
It also agreed to scrap a clause that expressly stated that the new legislation would trump the progressive Promotion of Access to Information Act, which was passed in 2 000 to give citizens the right to access the information necessary to exercise their constitutional rights.
Thirdly, it moved to give explicit permission to the public protector, the auditor general and all other chapter nine institutions to be in possession of classified information.
The ruling party made plain that it would not consider further changes to the bill, which has been met with sustained protest since it was introduced two-and-a-half years ago and has been slated as a throwback to apartheid-era state secrecy.
Opposition parties have welcomed the changes, but like civil society groups they say these do not go far enough to promote transparency and protect whistle-blowers.
The report was expected to be put to the NCOP on Thursday, but the committee was considering delaying the debate in the council until next week.
After its likely adoption by the council, given the ANC's majority in the chamber, it has to be referred back to the National Assembly for approval of the amendments.
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