Government last week gazetted the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill that will replace the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) in line with its commitment to open up democratic space and align laws with the Constitution as part of the reform agenda of the Second Republic.
The Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill (HB3:2019) was gazetted last Friday, in a major lift for civil and political rights in the country.
The Bill provides mechanisms to ensure maintenance of peace and order during demonstrations or any public gatherings, among other provisions.
Government's critics have often cited Posa as a draconian law meant to curtail citizens' freedoms.
Removal of provisions of Section 27 of the old Posa that required people to move around with ID documents or risk arrest and detention will provide relief to citizens.
Clause 14 of the Bill states that if a person cannot produce his or her identity document immediately upon being asked for it by a police officer, he or she must be given up to seven days within which to produce it at a police station, failing which he or she is guilty of an offence. The clause is intended to bring the law into line with a Supreme Court judgment delivered in 1997.
In a departure from Posa, whose Section 27 provided for temporary bans of demos, the new Bill has omitted those in line with a previous Constitutional Court ruling which deemed the bans unconstitutional.
Under Clause 8 of the Bill, police have to notify organisers of processions or demonstration within three days of receiving the convenor's notice that the demo or procession can go ahead if the regulatory authorities have no problem with it. Previously under Section 26 of Posa there was no time-frame thereby keeping conveners in suspense.
According to the memorandum of the Bill, Clause 5; "provides for the appointment of conveners and authorised officers in the case of processions and public demonstrations and matters incidental thereto.
"It also provides for the regulating authority to authorise suitably qualified and experienced police officers to represent the regulating authority at consultations or negotiations as contemplated in section 8 and to perform such other functions as are conferred or imposed upon an authorised officer."
Under Clause 6, the Bill provides for the appointment of a person to be responsible for the arrangements for a public meeting for an organisation and for that person to give notice in terms of section 7 and to act on behalf of that organisation at any consultations or negotiations as contemplated in section 8 or in connection with any other procedure contemplated in the Act at which his or her presence is required.
"Clause 7 provides for the timelines within which a convener of public meetings, public demonstrations and processions has to give notice to the regulating authority before proposed date of the public meeting, public demonstration or procession.
"This section also outlines the specific details that must be contained in this notice. It further provides for the liability for failure to comply with this section," further reads the memorandum.
Clause 8 provides for instances when consultations, negotiations and amendment of notices can be made prior to holding of processions, public demonstrations and public meetings so as to avoid public disorder.
The officer commanding a police district is also empowered under Clause 4 to; "prohibit the carrying in public or public display of weapons such as catapults, machetes, knives or any traditional weapons within their police district for a period not exceeding three months. "This notice shall only be effective only after it is published in a newspaper circulating in the area to which it applies, distributed among the public or affixed upon public building in the area to which the prohibition applies or through announcement of a police officer broadcast or made orally. Any person aggrieved by the issued prohibition may appeal against it to the Minister and any person who fails to comply with such prohibition shall be guilty of an offence."
In clause 18, the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, has power to authorise the deployment of the Defence Forces for the purpose of suppressing any civil commotion or disturbance in any police district.
Following its gazetting, the Bill is now set be tabled in Parliament for debate.