Corruption Watch

South Africa’s not so secure state security service

Minister Bongani Bongo
Bongo.jpg

Tightening applicable legislation, regulations, and procedures will only strengthen the fight against corruption and state capture if, and when law enforcers tighten-up their own processes.

One could hardly believe your eyes reading reports on how officials resist and even refuse to undergo security screening their job descriptions demand. However this was the story that unfolded when Minister of State Security and the Director General (DG) of the State Security Agency (SSA) appeared before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).  

Minister Bongani Bongo and DG Arthur Fraser had to explain why thousands of government officials and employees of state entities dealing with supply chain management, had not been vetted as a mechanism to tackle corruption. This despite a 2014 cabinet memo instructing SSA to vet all supply chain employees.

It was for example, revealed that only 7% of Transnet's 700 supply-chain management staff has been vetted.

And, DG Fraser confessed: ”We would find that even in the National Intelligence Agency and probably SSA‚ … people were not vetted in the first five years”.

It is inconceivable that people who are supposed to work with state secrets could do so for up to five years without being vetted. In fact, it makes the vetting process a farce. Any person working for state security should be vetted and cleared before being appointed in the first instance.

International practice

Vetting or security screening/clearance is a long-, and well-established international non-negotiable practice.  

National and/or state security is non-negotiable and the outcome for anyone resisting or refusing to undergo vetting should be straightforward – immediate dismissal.

IFP MP Mihalko Hlengwa and Scopa member, hailed it on the head when he said that the problems experienced with, and the backlog in the vetting procedures, explained by the Minister and the SSA DG is, in itself, a threat to national security.

Little wonder

Small wonder that SSA complains about government departments and individuals refusing to undergo the required vetting procedures. Discipline and accountability seems to have become an alien concept in the Zuma administration.

Many would argue, not without justification, that the rot started long before Mr. Zuma became president. However, there no denying that it became acute under his presidency, as state capture and corruption escalated to unheard of levels. 

If ministers, deputy ministers and now even government officials show scant respect for Parliamentary standing committees, the elected representatives of the people, by refusing to attend meetings or just do not turn up when scheduled, it is not surprising that something as “insignificant” as the vetting process, in their skewed view, could contemptuously be disregarded.

The SSA did not escape the same rot that engulfed the rest of government, as illustrated over the last couple of years by various media reports and startling revelations in several best-selling books

Jacques Pauw’s book, The President's Keepers, in particular, makes shocking disclosures implicating SSA DG Fraser himself, in widespread corruption between 2007 and 2009 during his term as deputy DG of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

Amongst many allegations, Paw wrote that Fraser established a rogue intelligence network, known as the Principle Agent Network (PAN), by allegedly copying the signature of then-minister of intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils.

He allegedly also used PAN to benefit several of his relatives. A network of undercover agents were employed – none of whom had apparently been vetted.

Millions of rand were squandered on this clandestine, parallel intelligence structure that produced nothing.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has threatened legal action if the police or the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) do not prosecute Fraser. The DA is also considering approaching the courts to rule Fraser’s appointment as DG illegal and irrational. If successful, the same that happened to Shaun Abrahams can happen to Fraser.

Fraser denied the accusations, and responded by indicating he will take legal action. However, fact remain that existing procedures were ignored, and it would constitute a gross dereliction of responsibility if these allegations remain uninvestigated and rather swept under the carpet.

Confidential and damning reports by the former Inspector-General of Intelligence, Faith Radebe, into the PAN operation have surfaced and, as Marianne Thamm explained in three articles in Daily Maverick, there are a lot of questions that require answers.  

Closing loopholes

There are, as explained by the Minister and DG of State Security, shortcomings in the current legislation and procedures regarding the security screening of officials. One ludicrous shortcoming mentioned refers to the fact that heads of state institutions can override a SSA recommendation and appoint an individual without a security clearance.

According to the Fraser SSA and Parliament's joint standing committee on intelligence are busy drafting new regulations around vetting procedures, that will include sanctions, including greater consequences for non-compliance.

Tightening the legislation is certainly a move in the right direction. However, confidence in the caliber of some of the individuals driving the initiative is not what it should be.  Better, and improved, legislation and regulations will only become effective when the disposition regarding discipline and accountability improves at all levels of government, starting at the highest level and those tasked with the responsibility to ensure it is effectively applied.

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by Gart Cilliers

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