OPPOSITION parties at the provincial legislature cried foul yesterday after they were excluded from a delegation to attend public hearings on the Protection of State Information Bill, to be held in three districts today.
The delegation was later rejigged to accommodate their protests by legislature speaker Fikile Xasa.
DA MPL Bobby Stevenson complained the ANC had made a “manipulative and indecent attempt to engineer a particular outcome for a rotten piece of legislation”.
This was vehemently denied by legislature media liaison officer Bulelwa Ganyaza.
Public hearings on the secrecy bill are to be held today in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and the OR Tambo and Joe Gqabi regions. Eastern Cape MPLS were supposed to accompany the ad hoc committee of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to the different areas.
Stevenson said the move was a “huge deviation” from normal procedures, where all official delegations that embarked on public hearings were supposed to be of a multiparty nature. “This undemocratic move betrays the ruling party’s paranoia that the public at large is vehemently opposed to these bills. Why else would they engage in this underhand charade to try and whitewash the proceedings.”
Stevenson said a dangerous precedent for the legislature had been set as it undermined democracy. “These public hearings are of critical importance to the future of our constitutional democracy,” he said.
“The secrecy bill is a danger to freedom of information in South Africa. This bill criminalises the possession and disclosure of classified documents even when they reveal wrongdoing.”
Max Mhlathi of the UDM said the party should not have been excluded from the delegation. “We were not even told at the time that the NCOP would come here to conduct public hearings.”
COPE also condemned the decision to exclude opposition party members. “The explanation given to us by the speaker was that they had decided to send only committee chairpersons but obviously all chairpersons belong to the ANC,” said MPL Mbulelo Ntenjwa. “It was a blatant decision to exclude opposition parties.”
But after a number of inquiries and letters of complaint, opposition parties were included in the delegation.
The only portfolio committee chaired by an opposition party member is the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) which is chaired by the UDM’S Mhlathi.
The public hearings will be held at Nangoza Jebe Hall in Port Elizabeth; OR Tambo Hall in Mthatha and the town hall in Barkly East. They all start at 9am. — firstname.lastname@example.org