File picture: Matthew Jordaan/Independent Media
Parliament – Opposition MPs on Tuesday urged President Jacob Zuma to sign the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill without delay after the National Assembly adopted minor changes to it aimed at answering his concerns that it may be unconstitutional.

African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart noted that years after Parliament revised the bitterly contested Protection of State Information Bill after Zuma sent it back to legislature, it was still waiting for his signature. Regardless of whether one agreed with the so-called "Secrecy Bill", Swart said, the same situation could not repeat itself with the FICA bill, which will enchance scrutiny of the banking transactions of politically influential people.

Swart noted that the standing committee on finance completed a thorough review process of section 45 of the FICA bill, which Zuma flagged, and brought the bill back to Parliament in time for it to be signed and the country to pass review when the international Financial Action Task Force met.

National Treasury has warned that failure to comply with the body's standards would cost the local financial regulatory system credibility and risk an increase in transacting costs.

During the review process, prominent lawyers Ishmael Semenya and Jeremy Gauntlett, argued that the bill was constitutional as was, because warrantless searches were narrowly prescribed in section 45. Gauntlett however suggested ways of fine-tuning the wording to make it more explicit still, and these were written into the draft act by the committee.

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Floyd Shivambu said it was plain that the process had been needless, and Zuma's objections motivated by protecting his personal interests. "It is because the Guptas had said that the bill must not be signed into law," he said, referring to the family whose business empire is at the centre of allegations that public money is being funnelled to well-connected businessmen. Shivambu said a timeframe should be set for Zuma to sign the amended bill.

The United Democratic Movement's Nqabayomzi Kwankwa went further still, saying the process had been unnecessary and suggesting Zuma had let the bill sit on his desk for six months before sending it back to Parliament on spurious grounds because he was "trying to move all that money that he was keeping in his bank account".

"It is absolute nonsense even if it is done by the president. You are a leader who is trying to facilitate the looting of public resources."

Zuma now has two choices. He can either sign the bill in the form in which the National Assembly approved it on Tuesday, or take it to the Constitutional Court.

The president had raised concerns that the way in which the bill makes provision for warrantless searches was not in line with the Constitution.

He did not attach a legal opinion when he referred the measure back to lawmakers.