October deadline for secrecy bill review

Parliament has set a six-week deadline for MPs to review the Protection of State Information Bill after President Jacob Zuma referred it back to the legislature.

“The ad hoc committee must report to the National Assembly by October 31,” Parliament said in a statement.

The 12-member committee will work in terms of rule 138, which means that it can invite submissions and call hearings.

The contentious official secrets bill had a fractious three-year passage through Parliament before it was adopted by the National Assembly in April.

Zuma opted not to sign it and yesterday sent it back to Parliament for reconsideration.

The president singled out sections 42 and 45 of the bill as instances of poor drafting that, he said, rendered it incoherent and irrational, and therefore unconstitutional.

Zuma’s letter of referral, published in Parliament’s list of announcements and tablings today, suggest however that the committee has the power to look beyond these sections and make wider changes.

His decision was applauded by a wide front of opponents of the legislation who have said they were poised to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said today Zuma’s decision to refer the Protection of State Information Bill back to Parliament was a wise move.

“We had always indicated that there were still problems with the bill and that the best way forward would have been to send it to the Constitutional Court for advice,” Madonsela told an Association of Independent Publishers conference in Johannesburg.

The decision was “progressive”, and hopefully the remaining problems with the bill would be sorted out, she said.

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