Protection of State Information Bill: deliberations and tabling of Report on hearings

Ad Hoc Committee on Protection of State Information Bill (NCOP)

04 May 2012
Chairperson: Mr R Tau (NCOP, Northern Cape)
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Meeting Summary

At the outset, the Chairperson noted corrections to the agenda and informed the Committee that the purpose of this meeting was to receive copies of a draft Report, prepared by the Secretariat, summarising the points raised during the public hearings on the Protection of State Information Bill. He also tabled letters from the Right2Know Campaign and a DA member, noting their concerns that the programme seemed to reflect that only two meetings were to be held to finalise the Bill. It was agreed that whilst civil society may write to the Committee, its input did not necessarily have to be debated, and the Chairperson advised Members that in fact the Committee was intending to meet on other dates. During the meeting the dates of 8, 9 and 13 May, as well as 15 and 16 May, were mentioned, but at the end the Chairperson was mandated to arrange dates, as necessary, and communicate them to Members. It was also repeated that Members were free to address each other and the Chairperson on issues of concern, as this Committee’s task was to debate what would be in the best interest of South Africa.

The draft Report on the public hearings in the provinces, prepared by the Secretariat, was accepted as having been officially tabled, and it was also noted that another Report from the Research Unit was also given to Members, summarising the matters discussed at the public hearings in Parliament. The Members agreed that whilst there were some technical corrections needed, which would be attended to in due course, the Committee would, at its next meeting, decide upon the issues that needed to be discussed, grouped in categories, receive input from the Department of State Security where appropriate, and would then discuss the issues, and apply the results to reach a decision on each of the clauses of the Bill, at the end of the process. The Chairperson asked all Members to discuss the summary Report with their parties before 8 May, and be prepared to outline the main issues on that day.

Meeting report

Protection of State Information Bill: procedure and tabling of draft Report
The Chairperson noted that the Committee Secretariat was still copying a 60-page summary of all the matters debated during the public hearings.

He also corrected the agenda items, noting that the intention was not to receive a briefing from the Department of State Security (DSS) but to allow this Department to be present.

He also noted that Members had been given copies of the letters from Right2Know Campaign (R2K), and from Mr A Lees (DA), both requesting that the Committee needed more time to deliberate on the matters raised. In respect of the Right2Know, he noted that this entity had been part of the processes, from the provincial public hearings and hearings in Parliament. It had no right to dictate to the Committee how it should proceed and do its work. He proposed that this meeting need not consider the letter in detail; the R2K had had an opportunity to deal with the matter previously and its input was now completed, from an official stance.

Mr A Matila (ANC, Gauteng ) wanted to put on record that the R2K had misled the public, including publicising this Bill as the “Secrecy Bill”, and used logos of departments in their support, although Cabinet had taken decisions around a specific process.

Ms M Boroto (ANC, Mpumalanga) supported those comments, and said that this Committee should not be dictated to by any civil society organisation.

Mr D Bloem (COPE, Free State) said that he agreed with the official programmes and documents of Parliament, as presented to the Chief Whips, and these reflected that the committee would meet on  4, 8,15 and 16 May, with a debate set for 17 May. He questioned whether there was another document that reflected only two meetings, as referred to by the R2K.

Mr A Lees (DA) said that his party disassociated itself from the remarks about R2K. Any organ of society had the right to address the Committee, making remarks or recommendations, although it was correct that this Committee could choose to accept or reject what was said. He suggested that the letter be tabled and the Committee could decide whether or not it merited further discussion.

Mr Lees noted, in regard to the programme, that this was different from the notices sent to Members, and this was why he had written to the Chairperson, expressing his disquiet that too few meetings had been allocated for debate. If the Committee reverted to the original programme described by Mr Bloem, then this would change the position he had expressed.

Mr Matila wondered if the R2K had been misled by the DA, because there seemed to be a thread of commonality between the DA and R2K letters. He thought it was important to put this on record.

Mr Lees raised a point of order. If Mr Matila had evidence to support his criticism of the DA, he should table this now, or withdraw those remarks.

The Chairperson noted that the rules of Parliament were clear on how to process legislation and the Committee would be guided by that. The Committee had allowed public submissions, but now that this process was concluded, the Committee would proceed in terms of the rules of Parliament. No other organisation should attempt to dictate to the Committee how it should proceed. Whilst R2K had a Constitutional right to write to the Committee, he felt that the tone of the letter already was attempting to politicise the process, and he suggested that the letter should be disregarded. It was distasteful for R2K to insinuate that the process was in doubt. He proposed that the Committee should not discuss the matter further.

Mr Bloem wanted to make some input. He wondered why these letters were placed before the Committee. He reiterated that he considered himself bound by the programmes of Parliament, as agreed to at the meeting of Chief Whips.

The Chairperson referred to the discussions at an earlier meeting, in relation to letters addressed to him in his capacity as Chairperson, when he had noted that he would, for the sake of fairness, inform Members of what had been put to him, which was why he had tabled these two letters.

Ms Boroto felt that it did not assist the Committee if Members wrote letters, and thought that the issues that Mr Lees raised should have been raised during a meeting. She did not believe that more time would be needed past 17 May, as the Committee could finalise its work by then.

Mr Lees responded that he would continue to write to the Chairperson about his concerns, and his letter was polite, and did not make demands, but stated his point of view. He said that he had received notices of meetings on 4 and 11 May, with no notification of a meeting on 8 May, which was why he had raised the concerns. The Chairperson had now assured the meeting that the initial dates agreed upon would be followed, and he was happy to move on.

The Chairperson asked Mr Matila not to debate the issue further.

Mr Matila wanted to make a correction to what Mr Lees stated; there was no suggestion that this Committee would rubber-stamp, and all matters would be fully considered.

The Chairperson said that everyone was agreed on the principle that they could contact each other, and he urged Members not to raise political points during these discussions, which were essentially geared to looking at what was in the best interests of South Africa. There would be room for politicking at a later stage.

Mr Bloem said that the failure to have the document summarising the submissions circulated well in advance placed Members in a difficult position. He thought that the Committee could not do justice to it today, and suggested that that another decision was needed on how to deal with it.

The Chairperson did not think that another decision was needed. It had already been agreed that Members would, at the first meeting this term, be presented with a summary of issues raised, and it was on record that this document would be presented officially on 4 May. Even if Members had received it prior to this date, this would not have made a difference.

Mr T Chaane (ANC, North West) thought that the meeting could now move on. Only two items were tabled on the agenda, and nobody had amended that yet.

The Chairperson indicated that the draft report by the Secretariat, summarising the public hearings, (the Report) was now available and was being circulated. He asked Members to move to the second item on the agenda.

Mr Bloem thought that the agenda should be withdrawn or corrected, as it stated “deliberations on the Bill”.

The Chairperson noted that semantics were not of assistance. He had explained the issues already, noting that there was no intention of hearing a presentation from the DSS, and also noting that there would not be deliberations, but the Report would be presented to the meeting, and the Committee would agree on how to proceed.

The Chairperson then officially tabled the draft Report, and asked Members to note that a number of generic issues were set out, and common substantive issues were highlighted. The report also mentioned the names of people making submissions to the provincial public hearings, although it had deliberately not detailed each and every statement made in the provinces, instead focusing on critical and substantive areas. This report also spoke to the oral submissions made in Parliament. He thought that this brought the Committee closer to what it needed to do. The Committee should get responses from the Department in the next week. Although volumes of submissions had been received; however, the Committee should concentrate on the common issues, and note what was technical and what was substantive. On the last day on which the Committee was to meet, the clauses in the Bill would be debated in depth.

Mr Bloem said that this was not a complete report, as it reflected the public hearings in the provinces, but not the public hearings in Parliament.

Mr Lees also noted that this should be titled “Report to the Committee” and not “Report of the Committee.” because it had not yet been approved. He wondered if the Committee intended to spend time deliberating the content of the Report (as Members had picked up some errors) or the content of the Bill.

Mr Matila accepted that this Report had been received, and he agreed that not too much time be spent on the technical issues. However, he also asked that the full Report, including the portions dealing with the public hearings in Parliament, be given to Members, prior to Tuesday 8 May.

Mr Bloem thought it was also necessary to hear why the Report was not ready, and also urged that the missing portions be provided to the Committee in good time.

The Chairperson expressed his disappointment and embarrassment at how this had been handled by the Secretariat, despite the consistent follow-up that he had done.

Ms Boroto thought the Report should confirm who was present, noting that there were presently some errors.

The Chairperson said that these issues were important, as the Report would be archived, but he asked that any technical issues should merely be raised and corrected, and not debated in depth. When the Committee met on 8 May, he suggested that the parties should detail what issues they felt needed to be discussed, in order to make the process easier, then debate those issues in categories, and then apply the results of those debates to the clauses, at a later stage.

Mr Chaane asked for clarity.

Mr Matila thought that the first part of the meeting should be to deal with the accuracy of the report. The Committee should then decide upon the issues to be debated. If the Committee felt that more time was needed, then the Committee could debate that and decide upon what to do about the final reporting date, at the appropriate time.

The Chairperson clarified that this Report, together with a further report on the public hearings in Parliament, would be accepted formally. Between now and 8 May, Members should consider, and discuss with their parties, what areas needed to be discussed or clarified by the Department of State Security. Having sifted through those issues, the Committee would then discuss each in turn, and focus on areas of non-agreement or departure. Finally, the Committee would then deliberate on the Bill, clause by clause, taking into account the parties' positions on the issues. It may be, by the time it came to adoption of the Bill, that very few issues were left for discussion.

Mr Chaane noted that volumes of submissions had been received. Those would serve as reference points to the discussion on the Bill. If submissions on a point were accepted, they would then find expression in the Bill.

Mr Bloem and Mr Matila reiterated said that it was necessary for the Committee also to debate the content of this Report, and correct it where necessary, before it was adopted as a Committee Report.

The Chairperson agreed, but said that this was a technical administrative issue. The Committee must concentrate on concluding the legislation. The Report was a reflection of the processes undertaken, and it was an important reference point.

Members agreed and accepted the tabling of the provincial hearings summary, prepared by the Secretariat, and a second report on the public hearings in Parliament, prepared by the Research Unit, was noted as having been received a few minutes earlier. Both would be adopted formally later.

Mr Bloem noted that it was not desirable to have two letterheads on the two reports; he asked the Chairperson to address that issue.

Ms Boroto requested that the Secretariat try to find another venue, as this was very cramped.

The Chairperson noted, in answer to questions from Members, that the Committee was intending to meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in the following week.

Mr S Masoziwe (ANC, Eastern Cape) suggested that although it was not necessary to discuss dates now, there was also no harm in meeting in the evenings. He suggested that there should not be further discussion, but the Chairperson should be instructed to finalise the dates.

Mr Bloem reiterated that the Chief Whips and Programming Committee had already agreed a programme.

The Chairperson asked, and received confirmation, that Members should now agree that they would be informed of the venues, dates and times of future meetings. Members might have to prioritise this Committee rather than other committee work. He ruled that no more discussion would be allowed on the programme.

The meeting was adjourned.


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