/ 9 October 2013

Committee to probe Zuma’s issues with secrecy Bill

President Jacob Zuma sent the Bill back to Parliament for amendments instead of signing it into law.
President Jacob Zuma sent the Bill back to Parliament for amendments instead of signing it into law. (Gallo)

The ad hoc committee appointed to review the Protection of State Information Bill will start considering on Wednesday the issues President Jacob Zuma has with the Bill.

The committee is due to adopt its report on the Bill on October 10. The report will then go to the National Assembly for consideration.

The so-called secrecy Bill was approved by the National Assembly in April amid warnings by lawyers that it was unconstitutional and threats by rights groups to take it on legal review.

Last month, Zuma sent it back to Parliament for amendments instead of signing it into law, saying he believed it was unconstitutional and singling out two clauses as problematic.

Speaking at a Parliamentary Press Gallery Association lunch on September 12, Zuma said the Bill as it stands would not pass constitutional muster as some sections were unconstitutional.

He said at the time that he had given consideration to the Bill in its entirety and the various opinions and commentaries regarding the constitutionality and tagging of the Bill, popularly known as the secrecy Bill.

"After consideration of the Bill and having applied my mind thereto, I am of the view that the Bill as it stands does not pass constitutional muster," he said.

'Lack meaning and coherence'
The Constitution requires the president to agree to and sign Bills referred to him by the National Assembly. In terms of section 79(1) of the Constitution, if the president has reservations about the constitutionality of a Bill, he may refer it back to the National Assembly.

"In this regard, I have referred the Bill to the National Assembly for reconsideration insofar as sections of the Bill, in particular sections 42 and 45, lack meaning and coherence, consequently are irrational and accordingly are unconstitutional," he said.

But the wording of Zuma's brief to Parliament has prompted debate as to how wide a mandate to redraft he has given MPs, and hope among lobby groups that it would open at least a backdoor for substantive changes.

A fortnight ago Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko wrote to Zuma demanding he stipulate whether MPs were meant to confine their deliberations to sections 42 and 45.

The Bill's many opponents have made plain that they would not be satisfied with merely correcting parts of it.

They said despite the ANC's staged retreat from the draft law's most regressive provisions during the drafting process, it still raises the spectre of excessive state secrecy reminiscent of the apartheid era. – Sapa; additional reporting by Andisiwe Makinana