Parliament pushes through secrecy Bill changes

The ANC signed off on Thursday on limited changes to the secrecy Bill, pushing aside objections that the process had been thwarted by procedural error on the part of the president.

The majority party voted to amend technical errors to two sections of the Bill that were singled out by President Jacob Zuma when he sent the Bill back to Parliament last month.

All opposition parties abstained from the vote, arguing that although the changes were welcome, Zuma had fallen foul of the Constitution by failing to give MPs an exact brief.

"I think the changes are correct, but I have to abstain because the process is so flawed," Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts said.

At issue was whether Zuma had intended MPs to confine their review to sections 42 and 45, or whether he had intended them to interrogate other, unnamed sections of the Bill when he raised reservations of constitutionality and referred it back to the legislature.

​The question has clouded the review since it was announced last month, but the president has remained silent and the ANC leadership of the committee has rejected calls that he be asked in writing to provide clarity.

Instead, it fell to chief state law adviser Enver Daniels to settle the dispute.

He told MPs the review was to be confined to the two sections because they were the only ones explicitly mentioned by Zuma, thereby dashing cautious hopes on the part of the Bill's many critics for a complete rewrite.

On Daniels' advice on Thursday, the committee fixed an incorrect cross-reference in section 42 and a punctuation error in section 45 that in effect rendered meaningless a hard won safeguard on the state's powers to classify information.

Ironically, the two errors were pointed out by the opposition, which wrote to Zuma in April to warn him of their impact. – Sapa

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