Secrecy Bill: IFP filibustering a political stunt
After extensive rewriting of the Protection of State Information Bill, in which the Democratic Alliance (DA) achieved most of its goals, we still remain opposed to it in its current form. The offenses pertaining to, amongst others, possession and disclosure of information remain unsatisfactory and the Bill lacks any form of express public interest defence or an expanded public interest override in the declassification of information.
However, the reconstitution of the ad hoc committee is unlikely to offer any opportunity to further amend the Bill. The real reason for the reconstitution of the this committee is the fact that Dr Mario Ambrosini of the IFP placed 123 amendments on the Order Paper under Rule 254. The amendments are just a sack of filibustering fluff with no more substance than a goose down duvet.
Dr Ambrosini announced during the long deliberations on the Bill that he intended a filibuster to delay its passage. We do not practice filibustering in the South African Parliament. He has nevertheless and notwithstanding frequently wasted the now defunct ad hoc committee's time, and is set to do so again when it is reconstituted. It was (during the committee's previous life) not always possible to tell the difference between those occasions when he was expressly wasting our time and when he was simply enjoying the sound of his own arguments.
He lost track himself: there were a number of occasions when he argued, sometimes quite passionately, against positions he himself had introduced. He did have the grace to be embarrassed every time the Chairperson patiently pointed out when, where and how he himself had insisted on the provision he was now attacking.
The only lump in the duvet is no substance at all: he curries favour with civil society and the media, which is the whole point of his filibustering, by proposing the creation of a so-called Right to Know Commission. This creature of statute, in which only the Justice Portfolio committee has any role - that of "selecting " five members to be appointed, paid and dismissed by organs of civil society "on a no-objection basis" from Justice MPs, whatever that means - is to enjoy unprecedented powers until now unknown in any democracy.
The Famous Five can request, receive and consider any classified information withheld by an organ of state from a person requesting access to it, and order its declassification or make it public. They must moreover receive security clearance from the intelligence services. Just like the Courts in the Constitution, no-one may interfere with, hinder or obstruct the Five.
We cannot stop Mario Ambrosini interrupting the legislative process. But we can, and do, object to the fact that he is subjecting the South African Parliament to a political stunt. His actions demean the national legislative authority of the Republic of South Africa.
Statement issued by Dene Smuts MP, DA Shadow Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, November 15 2011
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