THE DA has vowed to continue to fight the Protection of State Information Bill all the way to the Constitutional Court, saying it is still inconsistent with the constitution in its current form.
The ANC pushed the contentious bill, with proposed amendments, through the National Council of Provinces on Thursday, bringing it two steps from becoming law.
It will now be referred to the National Assembly, which may accept, amend or reject the changes proposed by the NCOP.
Addressing a media briefing yesterday, DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said while the “tireless efforts” of opposition parties and civil society had led to some important changes to the bill, they did not go far enough.
Flanked by DA chief whip Watty Watson and DA member of the NCOP Alf Lees, Mazibuko said it was still possible to successfully fight the so-called secrecy bill.
If it was passed by the National Assembly, the DA would petition the president, in terms of the constitution, to refer it back to Parliament for reconsideration, failing which the DA would call on other opposition MPs and ANC members to join a petition to send it to the Constitutional Court.
To succeed, such a petition must be supported by one-third of MPs, or 134 out of the total of 400.
Mazibuko said the multiparty opposition forum set up with a view to contesting the legislation comprised 134 parliamentarians, a figure which excluded the MPs from the Minority Front, which is not part of the forum.
“In addition there are members like [ANC MPs] Ben Turok and Gloria Borman who clearly had a problem with this legislation when it first came to the National Assembly, and of course there are the Cosatu deployees who must be lobbied, given their leadership’s vehement opposition to this legislation in public, which they haven’t translated into parliamentary opposition,” Mazibuko said.
The DA would be lobbying civil society groups to encourage Cosatu to “put its money where its mouth is” and take a stand against the bill.
Responding to Mazibuko’s suggestion that the DA would lobby ANC MPs to make the necessary changes, ANC parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo said such a thought “could only be a product of a very wild imagination”.
It was “nonsense” that the bill would not pass constitutional muster, Mothapo said. It was a “complete redraft” of what had been introduced to Parliament in 2008.
“So far there have been close to 100 meetings - public meetings and committee meetings - on this bill, making it one of the most consulted bills since 1994.
“There have been close to 1 000 changes to the bill. It is not true to say [it] does not satisfy constitutional imperatives,” he added.
The DA, along with other opposition parties and civil society groups such as the Right2Know campaign, has been pushing for the inclusion of a range of amendments, including a public interest defence and a strengthened public interest override.
The party also pushed for a more limited definition of “national security” as the grounds for classification of information.
Watson said absence of a strengthened public interest defence clause would endanger whistleblowers.
“While it is important to have legislation that seeks to classify some state information, this bill will effectively enable government to hide corruption and other information it deems embarrassing,” Watson added.
Mazibuko said the DA would push hard for more changes to be made when the bill returns to the National Assembly next year.
Pretoria News Weekend