Parliament, which is due to rise next week, is under pressure to deal urgently with constitutional concerns raised by President Jacob Zuma about a financial bill to fight corruption.
Returning the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (Fica) bill back to Parliament this week instead of signing it off, Zuma raised the red flag about the introduction of “warrantless searches”.
He said while the bill was “very important and pressing” it needed to pass constitutional muster.
In a seven-page letter to Speaker Baleka Mbete, Zuma said the right to privacy was enshrined in the Constitution.
“The limitation must be reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society,” he said.
The section that enabled warrantless searches “needs to be expressly and carefully circumscribed in order not to invade the right to privacy unreasonably and unjustifiably”.
Zuma said under the proposed section, the authority to conduct searches was “impermissibly overbroad”. It included private homes, “which are a person’s inner sanctum with respect to privacy”.
He said there was an absence of discretion of the inspector in conducting the search, and it could reach “innocent activity in private homes”.
Zuma has been “applying his mind to the bill” since Parliament submitted it to him in June. In September, the Council for the Advancement of South Africa (Casac) threatened him with legal action if he failed to act on the bill within 30 days. Thereafter, Casac approached the Constitutional Court.
Zuma was also petitioned by the Progressive Professionals Forum, led by former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi, to reject the bill on the grounds it was unconstitutional.
The legislation tightens up on financial monitoring and enables the bank accounts of prominent influential people – from the president to business executives – to be scrutinised in a bid to prevent illicit transactions and activity such as money laundering.
DA shadow finance minister David Maynier said that he had been in contact with the chairperson of the Standing Committee on Finance, Yunus Carrim, to amend the committee programme “to deal with the defect” before the end of this term.
“What we must not allow to happen is for President Jacob Zuma to be allowed to bury and delay this important corruption busting piece of legislation in Parliament,” said Maynier.
“The bill needs to be a priority and we need to find a way to deal with any constitutional defects before the end of the term. It can be done.”
He said if the bill was not signed into law, South Africa would be in breach of its international obligations to the Financial Action Task Force, which combats laundering and illicit funding. South Africa had to meet a February deadline.
“South Africa could potentially be put on an international watchlist,” said Maynier.
The matter was due to be discussed in the committee later today.
Parliament, which already extended its programme by a week, is due to close for the year at the end of next week.