PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma has referred the contentious Protection of State Information Bill‚ also known as the "secrecy bill”‚ back to Parliament.
Addressing the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association on Thursday‚ Mr Zuma said: "It is my opinion that the bill would not pass constitutional muster.”
The bill had been in the making since 2010‚ with the National Assembly first passing it in November 2011. It spent the whole of last year being debated by the National Council of Provinces.
It was then passed again in April this year by the National Assembly following a fractious debate‚ with 189 MPs voting in favour‚ 74 against and one abstaining.
Numerous civil society organisations and prominent persons had opposed the bill during public hearings conducted by the National Council of Provinces and National Assembly committees over the previous two years.
Among those opposing it was the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)‚ civil society grouping the Right2Know Campaign and all opposition parties. Cosatu’s stance put it at odds with its ally‚ the ruling African National Congress.
Those groups stated they would oppose the bill in the Constitutional Court.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele said earlier this year that the bill was aimed at protecting sensitive state information and the information of ordinary people‚ such as marriage certificates and business registrations.
He said the bill‚ for the first time‚ specifically outlawed espionage and made provision for the mandatory registration of foreign intelligence agents who may be stationed in the country.
"(The bill) will make provision for classification‚ reclassification and declassification that would enable our people to access information through the declassification process that we are creating‚” Mr Cwele said.
Whistle-blowers would be protected and no one could use the bill to hide corruption‚ he said.
Mr Cwele also said that objections to the bill from the opposition parties were‚ in his view‚ a matter of policy preferences and of constitutionality.
At the time‚ Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko described the bill as deeply flawed and vowed to mobilise all opposition parties to take it to the Constitutional Court.
While admitting the final version was a great improvement on the original draft‚ Ms Mazibuko declared the fight to oppose it would continue as‚ in her party’s opinion‚ it did not allow for proper provincial government scrutiny‚ especially over archives.
In terms of the constitution‚ provincial governments are responsible for archiving.
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini has described the bill as bad law and warned that once a minister of state security has control over information classification‚ it is never returned. © BDlive 2013