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R2K Campaign Objects to Shortened Schedule

Source: freedominfo.org

Date: 7 May 2012

The South African Right2Know coalition May 3 objected to plans by a parliamentary committee to consider the controversial Protection of State Information Bill in two sessions rather than the planned seven.

Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer, who has opposed the bill before, recently argued that  it sh0ud be “rejected in its entirety” in an article, “South Africa: The New Threat to Freedom,” on the New York Review of Books website.

“In the new South Africa that was reborn in the early 1990s, with its freedom hard-won from apartheid, we now have the imminent threat of updated versions of the suppression of freedom of expression that gagged us under apartheid.

“The right to know must continue to accompany the right to vote that black, white, and any other colour of our South African population could all experience for the first time in 1994.”

She offers detailed criticisms of the bill.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill of the National Council of Provinces, changed its schedule and now plans to meet on May 4 to consider amendments, allow the state law advisor a week to draft amendments, and then meet again on May 11 to consider adopting the bill.

In the previous schedule, meetings were set for April 24, 25 and 26, and May 2, 8, 15 and 16.

“In light of the wide-ranging issues raised during the hearings, even that schedule seemed completely inadequate,” wrote Murray Hunter, National Coordinator of the Right2Know campaign. “We point out that the planned seven days of deliberation have been compressed into two. We would like to ask what circumstances have changes to motivate the Committee to attempt to deal with all the proposed amendments in all the submissions made, and consider the drafts proposed by the State Law Advisors, and vote on them, in just two days?”

The letter continued:

It is the usual practice 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 Law Advisors flag the major policy issues, and they are discussed with the opposition, so that consensus can be established where possible.

Is it the Committee’s intention to dispose of this part of the process? Is a schedule of amendments already prepared without public discussion, or has a decision been taken in caucus that no amendments will be allowed, without that debate taking place in the committee?

This sudden development, on the back of extraordinary public and civil society opposition to the Bill in its current form, undermines the committee’s pledge, through the Chairperson’s public comments in recent months, that its work would not be rushed.

We therefore call on the committee to request an extension of its deadline, and reschedule its work with ample time for deliberations.