BILL WATCH 29/2023
[27th July 2023]
The PVO Amendment Bill : Progress Report
Parliament’s Status of Bills report, issued yesterday, announced that Act proofs of the Private Voluntary Organisations Bill have been sent to Printflow [the Government Printer] for production of the yellow copies which will be sent to the President for assent and signature.
Normally this would mean that the Bill will be published as an Act within the next few days, but there is a chance that may not happen in this case. To explain why, we need to look at the procedure that is followed to promulgate Acts, i.e. to turn Bills into Acts of Parliament.
Turning Bills Into Acts
After a Bill has been passed by the National Assembly and the Senate, the staff of Parliament is responsible for sending copies of the Bill to the Government Printer with instructions for them to be reprinted as an Act. In preparing these copies, the staff of Parliament can make corrections to the Bill but, to quote Standing Order 155(1) of the National Assembly, corrections must be limited to:
“corrections of a verbal or formal nature (i.e. spelling or obvious grammatical mistakes, typographical errors or the renumbering of clauses or paragraphs and minor amendments in consequence)”.
Parliament works with drafters in the Attorney-General’s Office in preparing copies of Bills to be sent to the Government Printer and for correcting the printer’s proofs, but the principle is the same: only minor corrections can be made to a Bill.
When the printer’s proofs of a Bill have been checked and corrected they are sent back to the Government Printer who prints several thousand copies of the Act, plus special copies on yellow paper. It is these special yellow copies which Parliament sends to the President for his signature and assent, together with a certificate from the Attorney-General stating that the President is at liberty to assent to the Bill. The Speaker is required by section 131(5)(b) of the Constitution to give public notice of the date when copies of a Bill are sent to the President, but in practice he seldom does so.
What Happens Next?
It does not take long for the Government Printer to print the necessary copies of a Bill, so as we have said we would normally expect the PVO Amendment Bill to be published as an Act within the next few days. This may not happen, however.
In the first place, the Bill is quite clearly unconstitutional. See our Bill Watches 74/2021 of the 15th November 2021 [link], 26/2022 of the 16th June 2022 [link] and 37/2022 of the 16th August 2022 [link]. The Attorney-General may find it difficult to issue a certificate saying that the President is at liberty to sign such an obviously defective Bill. The President himself may have had doubts about it, because it has been reported that he has already sought the Attorney-General’s advice on the Bill.
The second point is that the amendments made to the Bill during its passage through Parliament were disjointed and confusing. It will not have been easy, to say the least, to prepare coherent copies of the Bill for printing as an Act without making extensive changes beyond those permitted by Standing Order 155.
For either or both those reasons, the President may not feel able to sign the Bill.
Can the President Refuse to Assent to the Bill?
According to section 131(6) of the Constitution, the President must assent to a Bill and sign it within 21 days after Parliament has sent it to him, unless he considers it unconstitutional or has any other reservations about it. In either of those events he must send the Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration, giving written reasons for his reservations. The Speaker will then have to convene a sitting of the National Assembly without delay to reconsider the Bill [section 131(7) of the Constitution], and if the Assembly insists on passing the Bill in its original form, and the President persists in his reservations about it, the Bill has to be referred to the Constitutional Court for a decision (section 131(8)).
Veritas does not know what advice has been given to the President by the Attorney-General or anyone else about the PVO Amendment Bill, but we profoundly hope that for the good of the country and our civil society the President will refer the Bill back to Parliament.