President Cyril Ramaphosa has requested Parliament to reconsider the Protection of State Information Bill and the Liquor Products Amendment Bill, because he has reservations about the constitutional validity of provisions in the draft legislation.
In the instance of the Protection of State Information Bill, which was first submitted to the Presidency in November 2013, the President has requested the National Assembly to reconsider the Bill.
The Presidency said in a statement that Ramaphosa’s request comes in the wake of several legal opinions and public submissions that were sent to the Presidency about the legislation.
Parliament first passed the bill on 25 April with a vote of 189 to 74, with opposition parties objecting to several of its provisions.
According to the Presidency, the bill provides for the protection of sensitive state information. It includes a system of classification, reclassification, and declassification of state information and the protection of certain valuable state information against alteration, destruction, or loss or unlawful disclosure.
It also aims to regulate the way in which state information may be protected.
“The President is concerned that certain provisions in the Bill are in conflict with Sections 16 and 32 of the Constitution which respectively address the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media, and the right of access to any information held by the state and is required for the exercise,” the Presidency stated.
“The President believes the Bill as it stands limits the freedom of the media and everyone else to access or receive and impart information and prohibits people from accessing certain information held by the state.”
Ramaphosa also has reservations about the broad nature of some of the definitions in the Bill that may fail to provide adequate guidance to officials tasked with making decisions in terms of the legislation.
He is also concerned about deficiencies in the public-interest defence provisions in the Bill, including criminal liability on the part of whistle-blowers who may be in possession of documents that may be wrongly classified to cover up corruption or hide illegalities or maladministration.
“The President is of the view that the lack of a public interest defence will create an unjustifiable, chilling effect on the freedom of expression and limitations in this regard could be open to legal challenge on the basis that the limitations are arbitrary and irrational,” the Presidency stated.
Rampaphosa also expressed reservations regarding the fact that the National Council of Provinces had not processed the draft bill, even though it contains provisions that have an impact on the interests of provinces, including the management of provincial archives.