A demonstrator wearing a gag displays a placard in protest against the Protection of Information Bill. Photo: Believe Nyakudjara

Parliament has re-established the special committee processing the controversial Protection of Information Bill after an almost two-month impasse over its status.

The legitimacy of the ad hoc committee appointed by Parliament to work on the proposed law to classify state information has been in question since the end of January, when the opposition parties claimed it had reached its expiry date and that the extension granted by the Speaker’s office was invalid.

On Thursday, the legislature adopted a motion by the ANC chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, to re-appoint the committee with the same membership and mandate as its predecessor and for the committee to take account of all the work of the previous committee.

It set a new deadline, June 24, by which the committee should report to Parliament.

Motshekga’s motion stated that the lifespan of the committee had ended on January 28.

It agreed with opposition parties that an ad hoc committee ceased to exist if it had not completed its task by the date set for it to do so.

In November, Parliament took a resolution that the committee should report back on its work by January 28, but it has not finished its work, with huge chunks of the bill still being redrafted.

The bone of contention was the unilateral decision by Parliament’s Deputy Speaker, Nomaindia Mfeketo, while acting as Speaker, to extend the deadline

The opposition parties have been arguing for a sitting of Parliament to appoint another ad hoc committee before work can continue.

For months before its work was halted, the committee was trying to align the proposed law with the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The Right2Know, an umbrella campaign representing a broad front of civil society groups, said it was surprised by yesterday’s developments.

“We can expect three more months of nothing as the problems with the bill are too deep,” said national co-ordinator Murray Hunter.

He called for Parliament to withdraw the bill and resubmit it to a fresh process of public consultation. - Political Bureau