03 May 2012

NCOP to give little consideration to public submissions on the secrecy bill

The Ad Hoc Committee of the National Council of Provinces considering the Protection of State Information Bill (commonly known as the secrecy bill) has released a revised meeting schedule which will allow the committee to undertake only a cursory consideration of amendments to the bill.

The committee will meet just once, on 4 May, to consider amendments to the bill. The State Law Advisors will then have one week to prepare any requested amendments before the committee meets again on 11 May to adopt the bill and pass it to the house for vote, and likely passage.

No explanation has been provided by the committee for the reduction from the previously scheduled seven days for deliberation of the bill down to the two days reflected in the revised schedule.

The secrecy bill is arguably the most controversial bill introduced since democracy, and has been the subject of widespread attention and criticism from various civil society actors for the restrictions it will place on the constitutional rights of access to information and freedom of expression.

Opposition to the bill is evident in the 263 submissions received by the committee in response to its call for public comment on the bill, which included submissions from the Public Protector and the South African Human Rights Commission.

It is evident that the time allowed by the committee for deliberations on the bill is insufficient to allow a consideration of the issues raised in the public submissions.

Alison Tilley, member of the Right 2 Know Campaign, has commented that "it is the usual practice [of parliamentary committees] to give the submissions of the public at least some cursory attention. For example, it is often the practice to request a summary of the issues in submissions prepared by the State Law Advisors, and then discuss them in committee. Alternatively, the State Law Advisors flag the major policy issues, and they are discussed with the opposition, so that consensus can be established where possible."

The decision to reduce the days available for consideration of the bill suggests that the committee do not intend to entertain any substantive amendments to the bill and represents a continuation of the government's strategy of pushing the bill through in the face of public opposition.

For more information about the bill contact the Freedom of Information Programme.