14 November 2011

Secrecy bill heads to national assembly for 2nd reading debate

To the surprise of all who have been following the secrecy bill, the ANC announced last week that the second reading debate on the bill would be scheduled to take place in the National Assembly on Wednesday, 16 November 2011.

In September of this year, the ANC withdrew the bill from parliament on the basis of a need for further public consultation on the bill.

The ANC promised a transparent process of consultation that would seek the views of as many groups as possible, without regard to their political views. Provincial governments and regional groups were supposed to be at the centre of this consultative process. However, the consultation has not gone beyond the ANC's party borders to date.

Deputy President Motlanthe indicated last week that "the ANC will not use its numbers to ram through, willy-nilly, any piece of legislation that doesn't comply with the Constitution" and suggested that the bill could be amended to include a public interest defence clause. Despite these comments, the bill will be debated on Wednesday in its current form.

As it stands presently, the bill would trump the Promotion of Access to Information Act, impose harsh prison sentences on whistleblowers and persons who come into possession of state secrets, and prevent accountability of state security agencies.

Once debated in the National Assembly the bill will be referred to the National Council of Provinces.