SPEECH BY HON. CECIL BURGESS DURING THE DEBATE ON THE PROTECTION OF STATE INFORMATION BILL; NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, PARLIAMENT, CAPE TOWN, November 16 2011
Honourable Deputy Speaker,
Hon. Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Hon. Members and Guests
THE NEED FOR THE BILL
Debating in the apartheid Parliament of the Republic of South Africa in 1982, the then Minister Justice had the following to say, (AND I QUOTE) "... this gives the State President the power to declare organisations outside the Republic to be "hostile organisations" for the purposes of the Act. The reason for this is that organisations may be established abroad which, like the ANC, may make onslaughts on the Republic," UNQUOTE
Hon. Deputy Speaker, these are some of the circumstances that brought into operation the 1982 Protection of Information Act which today remains a law in our country. The Hon. Minister is correct, the time is long overdue for this law to be repealed, and the ANC looks forward to finally burying the Protection of Information Act 84 of 1982.
THE BILL THROUGH PARLIAMENT
1. The first version of the Protection of Information Bill [B28-2008] was introduced to Parliament on 5 May 2008 and was referred to an Ad Hoc Committee on Intelligence Legislation on 13 May 2008. The Committee met on 4 June 2008 for the first time.
2. However, following a resolution taken on 15 October 2008, the Ad Hoc Committee requested that the Minister of Intelligence withdraw the Bill. The motivation for the withdrawal came from the ANC Study Group. It was discovered that the former Minister of Intelligence had not presented the Bill and other intelligence legislation to the necessary structures.
3. The new version of the Protection of Information Bill [B6-2010] was re-introduced to Parliament on 09 March 2010 by the Minister of State Security, The Hon. Cwele.
4. After a few meetings the Committee had to adjourn because of World Cup 2010. Nonetheless, public hearings were held on 21 - 22 July 2010. And here it should be noted that all those organisations that had shown an interest or applied were invited to participate in the public hearings. No one was excluded.
5. Hon. Deputy Speaker, I might add here, that many entities such as BUSA, SA Council of Churches and SANEF, insisted to meet me, and sent high level delegations in order to register their concerns regarding the Bill in the form that it was then. However, all acknowledged the need for such legislation. I advised them that their concerns would be given the necessary attention and to a large extent this was done and is reflected in the Bill.
6. As an ANC we were concerned about aspects of the Bill and therefore obtained a number of legal opinions to guide us and so that we were informed on all aspects of the Bill including the constitutionality of certain clauses of the Bill.
7. In addition the Committee was also confronted with legal opinions on various aspects of the Bill, coming from other interested organisations and also the DA. Some of the latter legal opinions were considered and led to meaningful amendments to the Bill.
8. The Ad-Hoc Committee received presentations from the Ministry of State Security on the international best practices pertaining to the protection of state information, particularly sensitive state information (state secrets). This exercise also led to a number of amendments to the Bill.
9. The Ad Hoc Committee itself met 68 times since the re-introduction of the Bill to consider and deliberate on the Bill, accordingly,
10. On Monday 05 September 2011 the Ad Hoc Committee finally completed its work on the Bill. I repeat here Hon. Deputy Speaker, that it should be noted that while opposition parties worked very well within the Committee to finalise the Bill, the DA, IFP and ACDP all voted against the Bill at the committee meeting. The Ad Hoc Committee Report accordingly appeared in the Parliament ATC on Tuesday 13 Septe11. The original Bill has been substantially amended to the extent that the finalized Bill has been presented to the National Assembly as a redrafted Bill.
12. Hon. Deputy Speaker, I have recently travelled throughout the country briefing South Africans and others on aspects of the Bill. I was shocked by the amount of misunderstanding that exists amongst our people on what the Bill is all about. All without, exception, have blamed the media for their misunderstanding and all have confessed that it was through the media that they had developed incorrect and false perceptions and opinions about the Bill.
13. Hon. Deputy Speaker, I speak from experience. I have had many media interviews while the Ad Hoc Committee was processing the Bill. I do not remember one occasion when I was quoted correctly or my version of the committee proceedings was actually reported.
14. This is not a media Bill. Nowhere in the Bill is the media mentioned or the object of focus of the Bill. Yes, the Bill criminalises certain behaviour and unlawful actions, but these provisions apply, Hon. Deputy Speaker, apply to everybody.
15. It was extremely disappointing when we were faced with these continuous negative reports. It is in fact the media institutions which at the public hearings called for drastic changes to the Bill. For example, one of their major concerns was the broad application of the Bill. They complained that the Bill applied to all organs of states. We were told that there were thousands of organs of state. This would lead to wide-spread corruption.
16. Then we changed the Bill to limit the application to just SAPS, Defence and the Civilian Intelligence entity (SSA - State Security Agency). What did the media report, these were "cosmetic changes", and this has been their attitude, no matter what amendments the committee made.
17. Hon. Deputy Speaker, I found a most useful statement in the judgment of the matter of Midi Television (Pty) Ltd v Director of Public Prosecutions 2007 (5) SA 540 in which our Supreme Court of Appeal said the following about the press: AND I QUOTE:
"It is important to bear in mind that the constitutional promise of a free press is not one that is made for the protection of the special interests of the press...
The Court then proceeds and states that: "Press exceptionalism - the idea that journalism has a different and superior status in the Constitution - is not only an unconvincing but a dangerous doctrine."
18. Hon. Deputy Speaker, as I have said earlier the Bill before the House as undergone vast changes to accommodate the concerns raised by all and to make it workable and consistent with the Constitution of the RSA. The ANC supports this Bill.
Many of those who served on the Ad Hoc Committee worked extremely hard and most times under very difficult circumstances, in order to complete the Bill. On many occasions the Committee was forced to work till late at night. It therefore appropriate that I say:
- Thanks to the Minister of State Security and his staff for the briefings and the assistance they rendered when called upon by the Committee for assistance and,
- The Chief State Law Advisor, Mr. Enver Daniels and his staff,
- The parliamentary legal services
- Staff assigned to assist the Ad Hoc Committee
- Hon comrades from the ANC who served on the Committee
- Members of the Opposition who assisted in making many valuable contributions and a special word of thanks to the DA members Hon. Dene Smuts, Maynier, Stubbe and Coetzee, also The Hon. Swartz of the ACDP
- All these honourable Members made valuable contributions to the finalization of the Bill
Issued by the Office of the ANC Chief Whip, November 16 2011
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