Cape Town - Red flags were briefly raised on Thursday when a collection of parliamentary papers contained the controversial Protection of State Information draft law and described it as “Act 41, 2013”.
Parliament moved quickly to dismiss concerns that the draft legislation, also dubbed the Secrecy Bill, had been sneaked through the legislative process during a period of national mourning for Madiba, saying the circulated document was merely an “act form” with no legal status whatsoever.
But this happened not before a Twitter flurry because bills, or draft laws, are usually only described as acts once the president has signed them into law.
“Act forms, basically, have no status until and unless assented to by the president by publication in the Government Gazette and by submission of the signed copy to the Constitutional Court for safekeeping in terms of the Constitution,” explained Parliament spokesman Luzuko Jacobs adding act forms were the product of bills passed by the national legislature. “The term ‘act form’ is used since it is not assented to yet, and therefore even the act number on the cover page may eventually be changed, depending on what the president decides.”
The Cape Argus has confirmed at this stage that Parliament has not yet sent the draft law to the president for his signature, as it is still subject to internal processes at the national legislature. If the president signs a law on to the statute books, it is reflected in the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports” (ATC), a record of Parliament’s work.
This has not yet happened, although on Wednesday the ATC showed President Jacob Zuma, on Monday, assented to, among other, two merchant shipping-related laws, the Geomatics Profession Act and the Adjustment Appropriation Act.
A month ago the National Assembly passed the Protection of State Information Bill with 225 votes in favour and 88 against the technical changes.
These included correcting some typos, amending an incorrect cross-reference to another clause in Section 42 and introducing the phrase “liable to punishment” in Section 45 to allow the prosecution of those, who wrongly classify information to cover up breaches of the law, to prevent embarrassment or to give undue advantage in a competitive bidding process.
The technical changes were made after Zuma in September referred the draft law back to Parliament over concerns the two sections were unconstitutional. During parliamentary discussions the ANC used its majority to sweep off the table an opposition request for Zuma to clarify whether he really wanted only Sections 42 and 45 corrected, and a plea to reconsider other sections in the bill. It is widely acknowledged the current version is an improvement from the initial version produced several years ago. However, critics have maintained they would take the law to the Constitutional Court should Zuma sign it into law.