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The Protection of State Information Bill needs a complete overhaul, according to the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (CASAC).
“The bill must be scrapped in its entirety because it is fatally flawed. The process must be started afresh to develop a piece of legislation that legitimately protects state secrets, (and does not)... unnecessarily infringe on rights of access to information that are protected by the Constitution,” chairman Sipho Pityana
said in a statement on Friday.
CASAC believed other problems posed by the bill would not be placed under the microscope, as Zuma only highlighted two sections that needed serious attention.
“Parliament will be limited to a review of the two clauses that the president has highlighted, clauses 45 and 1/842 3/8. The rules of Parliament prevent a consideration of any other parts of the bill,” Pityana said.
CASAC said Zuma's silence on why he singled out the two clauses raised questions on whether he intended to weaken the limited protections offered by these clauses.
“Even if the intention is to strengthen these clauses, tinkering with them will not render the bill constitutionally compliant.”
Zuma referred the bill back to the national assembly on Thursday.
He said he would not sign it into law because it was incoherently drafted and therefore unconstitutional.
Zuma mentioned section 45, which in its current form criminalises the improper classification of state information and provides for prison sentences of five to 15 years, depending on the level of wrongful classification. It notably makes it a crime to classify information to conceal corruption or influence a tender process.
Section 42 purports to deal with failure to report possession of a classified document but refers back to an earlier section that sets out the maximum classification period, as stipulated in the National Archives Act. - Sapa