/ 12 September 2013

Zuma sends ‘unconstitutional’ secrecy Bill back for reconsideration

From left
From left

President Jacob Zuma has referred the controversial Protection of State Information Bill – or secrecy Bill – back to the National Assembly, he said on Thursday.

Hosting a lunch for members of the parliamentary Press Gallery Association, he said he did not think the Bill would pass constitutional muster and had therefore sent it back to the Assembly for consideration. He also added that some sections of it are irrational and unconstitutional.

In April, the Protection of State Information Bill was passed in the National Assembly by an overwhelming majority.

The Bill was adopted by Parliamentarians on April 25 with 189 votes in favour, 74 against and one abstention.

Earlier that day, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele told MPs the legislation had been significantly altered.

"Today, as we debate to adopt the Protection of State Information Bill during the week of Freedom Day, we are confident that it has addressed concerns of our people."

Section 79 of the Constitution allows the president to refer the Bill back to the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces for reconsideration. 

This would allow the president to ensure the Bill is fully constitutional before he signs it into law.

The aim of the Bill
The Bill seeks to regulate the classification of state information but has come under unprecedented opposition from the media, civil society, and opposition parties for provisions that undermine the right to access information and the rights of whistleblowers and journalists.

Its critics claim that the Bill is unconstitutional as it lacks a public interest defence clause to protect those who publish information which they deem to be in the public interest. 

They also call for a strengthened public interest override, a limited definition of national security, a review of sections pertaining to almost all offence and the removal of provincial archives. – Additional reporting by Sapa