Opposition parties accused the ANC of manufacturing public support for the Protection of State Information Bill and ensuring that the public hearings in the Eastern Cape supported its agenda.
Opposition spokesmen also complained of poor preparations, delays, and of people being bused in for the hearings, which took place in three venues in the Eastern Cape on Thursday.
They alleged that the hearings had been manipulated in an attempt to mislead those who attended and to drum up support for the contentious bill.
DA MP Alf Lees said even though most of the speakers at the Nongoza Jebe Hall in Port Elizabeth had voiced opposition to the bill, the ANC had pushed its own agenda by silencing DA members and giving ANC MPs and members of the provincial legislature the floor.
“ANC speakers were also allowed to attack the DA while DA speakers maintained their discipline and adhered to the purpose of the hearing,” Lees said.
The DA spokesman accused committee chairman Raseriti Tau of turning off the microphone whenever the bill was referred to as the secrecy bill.
“He showed what the ANC thinks of freedom of expression,” said Lees.
“Shutting out feedback that embarrasses the ANC is in stark contrast to Mr Tau’s calls for broad public participation and inputs from ordinary citizens.”
Lees and Cope’s chief whip in the National Council of Provinces, Dennis Bloem, accused the ANC of busing in people for the hearings, with Lees saying this had effectively turned them into “an ANC rally”.
Bloem said he was concerned about the poor preparations at the hearings in Barkly East, which started more than 90 minutes late.
“We were also concerned that it seems that a certain section of the community were informed, while others are still in the dark about attending the hearings.”
Bloem said the delays in the start of the hearings seemed to have been designed to accommodate people who were bused in later.
“A similar situation occur-red in Gugulethu in the Western Cape,” he said, adding that the poor turn-outs, as had happened in Cape Town earlier this week, could lead to a bias in favour of the bill.
Tau denied claims that he had tried to gag the DA, accusing Lees of being mischievous.
“These are blatant lies to vilify us and to create the impression that we are not allowing people to have a fair say. It is just not true,” Tau said.
He ascribed the late start of the Port Elizabeth hearing to rain.
The DA and Cope said they would continue to monitor the public hearings as the committee travelled across the country.
“Should the ANC continue to find ways to undermine honest feedback from ordinary citizens, we will take all steps necessary,” Lees said.
Bloem called on community members to “come out in numbers” for the hearings. – Political Bureau