Protesters gathered outside Parliament ahead of the National Assemblys vote on the proposed Secrecy Bill. Photo: Kim Kay

The department of state security on Wednesday dug in its heels on criticism of the Protection of State Information Bill and ignored amendments proposed by the ruling party.

The acting director general of state security, Dennis Dlomo, rejected calls to rewrite section 1(4) of the bill, to limit the power of the ministry to delegate classification powers, reduce penalties and limit the heavy onus placed on the accused in the draft law.

Dlomo also stood firm on pleas, made again during public hearings on the bill in March, to include a public interest defence in the draft act to shield whistle-blowers and journalists who publish classified documents to reveal state wrongdoing.

“They want a post-disclosure test of public interest. We want a pre-disclosure test,” Dlomo told the ad hoc committee of the National Council of Provinces processing the bill.

“The last point on this is really simple. What if a whistle-blower gives away top secret, legitimately classified information?”

The briefing showed a widening gap between lawmakers and the powerful ministry, which is in the process of overhauling the state security machinery, and has always maintained that such a defence would amount to tearing up the legislation before it was passed.

At the same meeting the ANC majority on the committee finally tabled in writing a set of amendments first mooted last month, and cautiously welcomed by critics of the bill.

Dlomo said the department would respond to the proposals in detail later, but would not stray from the spirit of its presentation on Wednesday.

“We don't expect you to agree with us necessarily,” he said.

“We will respond line by line, but informed by the position we have taken.” - Sapa