Secrecy Bill: This Fight Is Not Over

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Hon Deputy Speaker:

This fight is not over.

Just over one year ago, this House was faced with a piece of legislation that threatened our democracy’s foundational values of freedom and openness.

In response to this threat, Parliament sprung into life. With unprecedented opposition co-operation, the government was forced into a series of U-turns.

In the National Assembly and the NCOP, we refused to back down because we knew the dangers that the Bill presented. 
  
I wish to pay tribute to the DA members who have worked tirelessly ever since to improve this Bill: the Honourable Dene Smuts, the Honourable David Maynier; and in the NCOP, the Honourable Alf Lees and Darryl Worth.

Working with members of other opposition parties, we were unflagging in our determination to fight this unconstitutional Bill.

Outside parliament too, a well-organised campaign demonstrated the determination of all of our citizens to defend South Africa’s hard won democracy.  

Our independent media and civic organisations are strong.

Hon Deputy Speaker:

There are two foundational principles which I believe are widely accepted in this House across party political boundaries.

The first is that democracy cannot work when security exceeds its proper limits.

The second is that the media cannot function when important information is suppressed. Bad governments thrive under the cloak of darkness. Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. 

The danger of this Bill was that its provisions could have shielded those who engage in corruption and shady acts.

It was also tabled within the context of a revived securocrat state.

The cover up of the Presidential Handbook;

The secrecy behind the spending of R206million of public money on the President’s Nkandla homestead;

The circumstances surrounding the Marikana tragedy;

And the continued failure to appoint a head of the SIU;

All of these related events point to how the government has attempted to close down the democratic state.

The Bill could have been used to keep the lid on embarrassing information about the government. And it could have been deployed to prevent new information emerging in the future.

So we held the line and the outcome was a greatly improved Bill. But we cannot stop here because, Hon Deputy Speaker, this fight is not over.

The fact remains that this Bill is still flawed because Parliament does not have the power to legislate on matters which are exclusive provincial competences.

From the beginning, the Bill ought to have been tagged as a Section 76 bill to allow for proper provincial scrutiny.

Honourable members will know that the Constitutional Court has in the past declared Acts of Parliament ‘null and void’ because they were not correctly processed as Section 76 bills.

This is exactly what happened with the passage of CLARA, the Communal Land Rights Act.

In our view, this Bill equally does not pass constitutional muster.

Hon Deputy Speaker,

I sense that there are honourable members in the government benches who know in their hearts that this Bill, as it stands, is unconstitutional.

The question is, will they stand up and be counted?

Will members of COSATU continue the fight after their leaders’ valiant presentation to the Ad Hoc committee on this Bill?

Will you stand on principle and take up the fight with us?

Last year, we know that 35 members of COSATU voted for the Secrecy Bill even though  publically, their organisation opposed it.

Today, their legacy is at stake. I hope those honourable members will do the right thing.

Hon Deputy Speaker,

The fight is not over.

This House has a grave responsibility to ensure that every piece of legislation we pass is aligned to the Constitution. 

We will therefore be seeking a legal opinion from senior council on the constitutionality of the entire Bill.

And if the majority party passes this Bill today, we will petition the Honourable President to send the Bill back to the National Assembly under Section 79 of the constitution.

This is an opportunity for President Jacob Zuma to provide real leadership. Let him demonstrate to South Africa that he will stand by and stand up for the constitution. 

In the event that this should fail, I have already begun to lobby the leaders of other political parties in Parliament, to refer the law directly to the constitutional court in terms of section 80 of the constitution.

Hon Deputy Speaker,

We have a historic opportunity to stand up, across party lines, for our constitution today.

Let us do the right thing. Let us get this Bill right. 

I thank you.