HSF response: President's statement on POSIB

The Helen Suzman Foundation welcomes the President's decision to send the Protection of State Information Bill back to the National Assembly on the grounds that it would not pass constitutional muster. The Foundation remains concerned that the Bill contains many sections that are incoherent and impermissibly vague, and that there are sections in the Bill more devastating in their effect than those the President has drawn attention to.
The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) welcomes the decision by President Jacob Zuma to refer the Protection of State Information Bill (POSIB) back to the National Assembly.

President Zuma has stated that sections 42 and 45 of the Bill are incoherent and irrational and that, consequently, the Bill does not pass constitutional muster in its current form. The HSF agrees.

The HSF fully supports the President’s belief that the Bill must provide a “coherent justifiable system of regulating classification, reclassification and declassification of sensitive government information.”

The HSF notes that while the President did not assent to this Bill in its current form, the President, equally, did not find the Bill to be constitutionally objectionable as a whole. Thus, while we congratulate the President for his decision, we remain concerned that this dubious Bill could still be assented to if these sections are rectified by Parliament.

The HSF maintains that the Bill comprises of many sections that are more devastating in their effect and which are also incoherent and impermissibly vague. The HSF urges Parliament to use the President’s decision to send the Bill back as an opportunity to address the other issues that the HSF and many other members of civil society have raised.

In light of this, we believe that any aspect of the Bill that is imprecise, ambiguous, overly broad or incoherent should be excised.

Further, over and above issues of legislative construction, we believe that the following substantive issues require greater parliamentary attention and scrutiny:

  • the conditions that determine which individuals or bodies are authorised to categorise information;  
  • the classification criteria; and
  • the process for accessing information.

The HSF urges the National Assembly to give effect to its constitutional obligation of legislating in the national interest. It cannot be that in a free and democratic society such as South Africa, premised on openness, accountability and transparency, that this draconian piece of legislation can, in good faith, be adopted. It goes without saying that the HSF will continue to monitor this process and provide critical comment where we can. 
For more information, please contact Wim Louw (011 482 2872), or our Director, Francis Antonie (083 408 7943).