Johannesburg - Cosatu says it will take legal advice on whether to refer the Protection of State Information Bill to the Constitutional Court after the controversial legislation was passed, with proposed amendments, in the National Council of Provinces last week.
ANC MPs voted 34 in favour to the opposition parties’ 16 against the bill, which will now be referred to the National Assembly for the proposed changes to be accepted, rejected or amended, after which it will be sent to President Jacob Zuma for his signature.
The trade union federation and ANC alliance partner, a staunch opponent of the bill, said it had had “an intensive engagement” with the ANC on the matter and was studying the latest version to see whether its concerns had been addressed.
It would refer the bill to its lawyers for “advice on whether to refer the legislation to the Constitutional Court if it is passed by the National Assembly and signed by the president”, Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said.
While the NCOP’s proposed amendments meant the bill was an improvement on previous drafts, Cosatu’s “initial reading” was that some of its concerns had not been addressed satisfactorily.
But it rejected the suggestion by the DA last week that it would lobby “Cosatu deployees” to oppose the bill in the National Assembly, “given their leadership’s vehement opposition to this legislation in public, which they haven’t translated into parliamentary opposition”.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko told a media briefing on Friday the party would lobby civil society groups to encourage Cosatu to “put its money where its mouth is” and take a stand against the bill.
Craven said on Monday Cosatu did not “deploy” its members to Parliament.
“The former Cosatu leaders in Parliament were elected as ANC candidates and are subject to the discipline of the ANC.”
It also did not need civil society groups to prod it into taking a stand.
“Cosatu has taken a principled stand to oppose all earlier versions of this bill in the interests of its members and the public, and will continue to oppose any version of the bill which, among others, does not protect whistleblowers who want to expose crime and corruption,” said Craven.
It would also oppose any version that undermined the public’s constitutional right to information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act.
Critics of the bill have said that while the hundreds of amendments proposed by the NCOP ad hoc committee that processed it had resulted in significant improvements, the lack of a full public-interest defence remained a concern.
The bill contains a public-interest override, which would allow someone seeking to have information released to apply to have it declassified.
It also protects those who release information that exposes wrongdoing in certain circumstances.
But critics say it doesn’t explicitly protect whistleblowers who wish to expose an imminent public safety or environmental risk, for example.