11 February 2009

South Africa: Parliament Will 'Have Enough Time' to Discuss Bill

Cape Town — Parliament would have enough time to deal with the Broadcasting Amendment Bill before it shut down at the end of next week, communications committee chairman Ismail Vadi said yesterday.

President Kgalema Motlanthe returned the bill to the National Assembly for reconsideration on Monday, but Vadi disputed that this was on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, as reported.

Vadi said Motlanthe's letter to Parliament expressly stated the bill was constitutional but that the president was concerned about the process stipulated for the removal of the board of directors of the SABC.

However, spokesman for the Presidency Thabo Masebe said the only legal basis on which the president could send a bill back to Parliament was on the grounds of constitutionality. While Motlanthe might have said that generally the bill was constitutional, he did have reservations about the constitutionality of the clause relating to the removal of board members. Representation was made to the Presidency that the bill did not provide for a fair and due process of inquiry by the committee before it reached a finding.

The bill simply stated that SABC board members could be removed after a finding by a committee and the adoption of a resolution to that effect by the National Assembly.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Inkatha Freedom Party, together with organisations which champion media freedom, complained that no provision was made for a due process of inquiry before the committee reached its decision.

Vadi said the committee had two choices: it could either amend the bill and submit this to the National Assembly for a vote, or it could decide to leave it as it is. The latter was the route taken last week by the trade and industry committee, which decided to disagree with the presidency over the constitutionality of a clause in the Competition Amendment Bill.

Communications spokeswoman for the DA Dene Smuts said her party had petitioned Motlanthe to send the bill back to Parliament and was "delighted" that he had done so.

"The amending bill intentionally omits any requirement for fair procedure before the wholesale sacking of the board by parliamentary resolution," she said.

"The requirement for due inquiry was removed after the South African Communist Party's communications head, Malesela Maleka, in a public submission to the communications committee described due process as the counter-revolutionary use of legal concepts to protect bourgeois space," Smuts said.

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