South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has begun poring over the controversial national security bill that was passed by lawmakers last month, a presidential spokesman said Wednesday.
Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told a news conference in Juba that Mr. Kiir only received the bill on Nov. 21 -- six weeks after it was passed by lawmakers. The president is going over the bill with his legal team, which will "... advise on whether to assent and sign or return the bill to the National Legislative Assembly," Ateny said.
President Kiir and his legal adivsers are studying the concerns raised by some lawmakers about the bill. Members of parliament from the Equatoria region sent Mr. Kiir a three-page letter earlier this month, urging him not to sign the bill into law. They said in the letter that they fear it could deepen divisions in the country and would give the security forces excessive powers.
The National Security Bill was controversially passed in October by the National Assembly. Lawmakers from the Equatorias were among scores of legislators who walked out of the parliamentary session to protest the draft law.
The lawmakers who walked out did not vote on the bill. Some members of parliament have said that not enough lawmakers were present for the vote to constitute a quorum – which is the minimum number of lawmakers required under South Sudan’s constitution for a bill to pass.
Assembly Speaker Manasse Magok Rundial said there were enough lawmakers present at the start of the debate on the bill, which he said is what is required by the constitution. He said that even though many walked out of the session, the vote on the bill is valid.
There have been numerous calls for Mr. Kiir to return the bill to parliament for amendments and further deliberation. Ateny said that after thoroughly studying the bill, Mr Kiir will take the right decision for South Sudan.
"The Office of the President would like to appeal to the worried stakeholders as well as the international community to settle down," said the speaker of the National Assembly.
"Like it has happened before with the Media, Broadcasting Corporation and the Access to Information Bills 2013 when the president acted in the best interest of the people of South Sudan, it is imperative to note that his excellency the president may do the same in National Security Service Act 2014," Ateny said.
Opponents of the bill object to the fact that it gives security officials unbridled powers, including the power to arrest without a warrant anyone suspected of criminal activity. They also say the bill violates certain articles in South Sudan’s transitional constitution and international law.
Civil society organizations in South Sudan and observers from abroad -- including the United States, United Kingdom and Norway - have also complained about some of the bill's content.