THE Department of Environmental Affairs has quietly withdrawn its proposed amendments to SA's weather service legislation after they had drawn sharp criticism, especially that they were unconstitutional.

The South African Weather Service Amendment Bill in January joined several other pieces of legislation criticised for poor drafting.

"We're rather in the dark (over the bill's withdrawal) . (and) our bigger concern is the scrutiny, by members of Parliament, of draft law. It does not appear to be what it should be," Johan Kruger, director of the FW de Klerk Foundation's Centre for Constitutional Rights, said yesterday.

Notice of the bill's withdrawal was given, without reasons, in a June 15 parliamentary notice. There were no media or public announcements, but there is no obligation on a minister to make any public announcement when withdrawing a bill.

The bill sought to introduce penalties for issuing weather or air pollution-related information without the weather service's permission; the supply of false or misleading weather information; and the supply of information that "detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect the weather service".

Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Albi Modise did not respond to queries yesterday.

National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu in May expressed concern over the "poor quality" of legislation emerging from the parliamentary process, much of which had to be returned to the National Assembly.

"The poor quality of legislation is often the consequence of inadequate scrutiny... As the subject matter of legislation becomes more sophisticated and highly technical, our parliament and members must become more professional," Mr Sisulu said in his budget vote address.

Democratic Alliance water and environmental affairs spokesman Gareth Morgan said the weather service bill "was certainly a highly controversial and poorly drafted bill, but the committee had set about redrafting it into an acceptable form".

"The minister will now have to redraft the bill and resubmit it to Parliament. I trust she will take into account the submissions ."

Mr Kruger said if the withdrawal led to a better drafted bill, this would "certainly be welcomed".

This sentiment was echoed by Melissa Fourie, director of the Centre for Environmental Rights : " We . welcome any attempt to improve the bill to be better aligned with the Air Quality Act and to recognise the important supportive role civil society plays in monitoring air quality."

The FW de Klerk Foundation made a submission to the parliamentary committee on water and environmental affairs in which it called for the scrapping of the penalty-inducing clause, because the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression.

However, aspects of the bill, such as air quality and climate change reporting mechanisms, were important if SA was to meet its international undertakings on gas emissions linked to the overall rise in global temperatures, Mr Morgan said.

blaines@bdfm.co.za