President Cyril Ramaphosa has referred two proposed law changes back to Parliament for consideration.
One of these is the Protection of State Information Bill, which dates back to the tenure of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma and has been unsigned for the best past of a decade.
Contentious Bills referred back to Parliament
Also on the president’s desk is the Liquor Products Bills, which Ramaphosa addressed in a statement issued out this week.
While both could have a telling impact on the country’s future, one that has drawn more critics is the law governing the sharing of government documents deemed “classified”.
According to the statement, Ramaphosa is concerned that parts of the Bill could possibly violate the right to access of information, as per South Africa’s Constitution.
“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 statement reads.
“The President also has reservations about the broad nature of some of the definitions in the Bill that may fail to provide adequate guidance to officials tasked with taking decisions in terms of the legislation.”
Another concern for Ramaphosa is the curtailing of potential whistle-blowers, who “may be in possession of documents that may be wrongly classified to cover up corruption”.
“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.”
Concerns over lack of consultation
On the Liquor Products Amendment Bill, Ramaphosa has asked that Parliament reconsider the proposed change, specifically the part which deals with traditional beer and other fermented beverages.
“The President’s view is based on the fact that traditional beer is an intrinsic part of a number of cultural practices. Customary practices require that the production and consumption of such beverages be effected in a particular manner.
“The President believes the Bill will regulate how traditional beer is produced and such, the Bill will affect its production, distribution and consumption.”
According to the president, the proposed law was not referred to the National House of Traditional Leaders, as per State law adviser’s recommendation.
This is despite home-brewed beer’s role in traditional African customs.