Cwele hails work on Protection of State Information Bill

State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has welcomed the work being done by the Adhoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill in efforts to improve the Bill.

Cwele appeared before the Committee in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) this week to respond to the proposed amendments made by the committee.

The minister was responding to a request by the committee to appear before it and offer the department’s input on the work that the committee has been busy with, given the department’s central role in the implementation of this crucial piece of legislation, the Ministry of State Security said.

In welcoming the work done by the committee, the minister emphasised that the department wanted a bill that was constitutionally sound and one that allowed it to discharge its duties in terms of its mandate.

Cwele also indicated that there were unintended consequences that arose from certain proposed amendments to the bill which require attention, given that they will make the bill unworkable.

One such amendment dealt with changes to the definition of “head of organ of state”.

“Whilst the department welcomed the exclusion of municipalities from being given the power to classify, reclassify and declassify, the department was concerned that the resultant amendments would effectively exclude municipalities from their responsibility of protecting valuable information. This was never the intention of the NCOP,” it added.

The other such amendment dealt with the unintended definition of “valuable information” which would have transformed it into the category of classified information, which is protected from unlawful disclosure.

This protection from disclosure would have made the use of this category of information impossible whilst it is, by its nature, required for daily interaction in the economy, trade and commerce, the ministry pointed out.

“Furthermore, the minister brought to the attention of the NCOP that in the change made to the opt-in clause, an unintended constitutional error was committed in that the proposed amendment would have fettered parliament’s power to approve organs of state that opt-in by providing that if it does not approve such requests within 30 days, the requests would be deemed to have been approved. Such a provision would have been unconstitutional even if approved by parliament,” it added.

In every instance, the feedback from the department dealt with constitutional, legal or administrative implications of proposed amendments.

Cwele also dealt with the need to provide legal certainty on the need for the Bill to prevail in terms of any conflict with any other legislation when it came to the treatment of classified information, as this Bill was the only one that dealt with classified information.

The ministry said its input was made in the spirit of ensuring that the legislators emerged with a piece of legislation that was constitutionally and legally sound and above all workable.

“We would be failing in our duty if we don’t point out certain issues that require the attention of those who are responsible for writing our laws. It is in the public interest that we do so and we will continue to contribute towards the strengthening the constitutionality of this bill and making sure it can be implemented,” it added.

The ministry said it remained convinced that the committee would use its collective wisdom to emerge with a piece of legislation that reflected the tenets of the country’s constitutional democracy, the need to protect national security, as well as helped heal the nation from undue divisions and controversy. –