MPs adopt revised report of secrecy Bill

MPs have adopted a revised report about recent, minor amendments to the secrecy Bill, bringing it a step closer to becoming law.

They added a summary of minority views in which opposition parties stated their concerns that the amendment process was legally flawed, and a further 30 typographical corrections to the Bill, to which the opposition also objected on a point of law.

Their argument is that constitutionally the committee had to confine itself to correcting only those parts of the Bill pinpointed by President Jacob Zuma when he sent it back to Parliament, and that he failed to provide clarity on what could be changed.

Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts reiterated that the ad hoc committee did not have the right to address anything in the Bill apart from the constitutional flaws cited by the president, saying: "For obvious reasons we have to oppose.

Grammar cannot be corrected under a section 79 referral.

"We did not conclude that the committee has the plenary powers to amend as it wishes."

Minority report
The meeting, the last before the Bill goes back to the National Assembly next week, dissolved into a bitter row over the views the Inkatha Freedom Party wanted to include in the minority report.

Other parties objected to IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini's insistence on recording that the committee "wrongly refused to consider" a legal opinion from advocate Anton Katz on the Bill.

Smuts said this was factually incorrect as the committee was not asked to consider Katz's opinion.

"There is no way that I will condone what is essentially a misrepresentation," she said.

The matter was finally settled after State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele proposed recording Oriani-Ambrosini's request and the reason for rejecting it.

Pushed through
The Bill was sent back to the committee by the National Assembly earlier this month because Oriani-Ambrosini complained to the Speaker that it failed to observe procedural rules when it amended sections 42 and 45.

The amendments were pushed through by the ANC majority on the committee, which adopted the view that Zuma had mandated MPs to rewrite those sections and nothing else when he referred the Bill back to its drafters in September.

It involved correcting a 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.

Critics of the contentious Bill had hoped that the process would result in far-reaching changes to other sections.

They argue that the Bill raises the spectre of excessive state secrecy and have vowed to challenge it in the Constitutional Court. – Sapa

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Sapa
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