President Cyril Ramaphosa File photo
President Cyril Ramaphosa File photo

Ramaphosa sends Protection of State Information Bill back to Parliament

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Jun 12, 2020

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Johannesburg - After seven years of uncertainty about whether the Protection of State Information Bill would be signed into law, President Cyril Ramaphosa has referred the bill back to Parliament citing constitutional reservations about its contents.  

Ramaphosa's office said on Friday that he had sent the Protection of State Information Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration. 

The bill was passed by Parliament in 2013 and had remained unsigned at the presidency's office. It was expected that former president Jacob Zuma would sign it into law, but he did not.

The bill was controversial from the movement it was introduced. It was seen as a possible end to free media and access to information by the public. The bill would give the state the powers to classify information keeping it out of the public's access. Anyone who would be found to have this classified information could face a possible prison sentence of up to 25 years. The bill would have also made defunct the defence of public interest, as anyone who had such information could not use that as a defence.

These are some of the issues Ramaphosa has raised as concerns and warranting a referral back to Parliament. He said he feared that sections of the bill go against sections of the constitution which deal with freedom of speech.

Ramaphosa has also received legal advice on the matter, the presidency said.

"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 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," the presidency said.

Ramaphosa was also concerned that the bill could have a damaging effect on freedom of expression and that the bill could see corruption being covered up through the classification of documents.

"The president is 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 said. 

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