President Kgalema Motlanthe has for the first time used his power to refuse to sign bills passed by Parliament, referring the con-tentious Film and Publications Amendment Bill and the Competition Amendment Bill back to the legislature because of concerns about constitutionality,  writes Linda Ensor in Business Day.

The president has also dismayed leading members of the African National Congress (ANC) and its alliance partners by not acting swiftly to sign other controversial bills into law. These would scrap the Scorpions and permit the summary removal of the SABC board.

The ANC is concerned that his delay in signing the Broadcasting Amendment Bill will prevent it from removing the SABC directors during the current session of Parliament. This would mean the board picked by former president Thabo Mbeki would rule over the national broadcaster during the elections.

The bill is expected to be sent back to Parliament because of its failure to include a provision for a due process of inquiry before the dismissal of the board.

The two bills abolishing the Scorpions have also been with the Presidency since November.

Motlanthe’s refusal to sign the Film and Publications Amendment Bill into law was welcomed by the South African National Editors’ Forum and the Freedom of Expression Institute.

They made strong submissions to the Presidency that the bill’s provisions for pre-publication approval of material infringed the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Business also lobbied hard against the Competition Amendment Bill being signed into law.

The Presidency did not disclose details of Motlanthe’s concerns about constitutionality, simply saying that “the president has expressed reservation on the unconstitutionality of certain sections of the bills after careful consideration.” Those opposed to the Film and Publications Amendment Bill warned that it was unconstitutional because it discriminated between different categories of publishers and infringed the right to freedom of expression.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.