Public Protector quizzed over her staff's secret service training
Busisiwe Mkhwebane gets a tongue-lashing in parliament
MPs have issued yet another stern rebuke to Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane after it emerged that one of her senior managers is receiving training at the State Security Agency.
Lawmakers from both the ANC and the DA lashed out at Mkhwebane after she told them that a security manager at the Public Protector's office was undergoing training at the spy agency and there was a possibility that the SSA could take over the information management system of the body set up in terms of chapter nine of the constitution.
But Mkhwebane has rejected the criticism, saying the SSA was also a constitutional body with the mandate to protect national security and that it was a cost-saving measure for it to train her employees because there were no fees involved.
Mkhwebane was in parliament to present her annual performance plan for the 2018/2019 financial year to the justice portfolio committee but legislators were more concerned with governance issues in her office following earlier reports of a staff exodus.DA MP Werner Horn said the “involvement of the SSA in the operations” of the Public Protector was concerning, especially after it emerged an acting CFO had previously been seconded from the spooks.
He said this was detrimental to the independence of the critical chapter nine body.
“I think we must now, as parliament and the oversight committee, start to get worried about the over-involvement of SSA in the operations of the office of the Public Protector, is not potentially impacting on the ability of the office to perform in an impartial manner, subject to the law,” said Horn.
“Independence must be eroded some way if another arm of government and the state is involved to this extent in the office … it must be questioned as to why each time there’s some assistance needed why this office goes to the SSA.
“The SSA by its very nature intercepts information. There's no rational basis on which it can be argued that the SAA doubles up as service provider to other public entities.”
Mkhwebane is a former SSA employee and this has become a source of mistrust between her and MPs.
Senior ANC MP and chairperson of the justice committee Mathole Motshekga said he was “tired” of hearing about the involvement of government spies in the affairs of the public protector.
“I’m tired of this question on SSA. I think you must come clean on your relationship with SSA. Why the over-reliance on that department? … This matter keeps on coming (up) and it’s not good for your integrity and the integrity of your office … tell why the over-reliance,” said Motshekga.
Mkhwebane said having spent three months at the SSA prior to her appointment as public protector, she knew the spies were better placed to assist her.
“Working for SSA for three months, I knew that there was additional capacity that can be availed,” she said.
“I wrote to national Treasury requesting a CFO. They responded to say that they don’t have the capacity to assist. So that process is not only approaching SSA for the CFO, Treasury were the first ones to be approached.
“The security manager … he needs to implement the MISS, what we call (Management of Information Security System), therefore that institution (SSA) is their core mandate to do that, to ensure that all systems which are utilised in government are secured. And as well as being trained on what information is critical, whether do we need to classify our information or we don’t need to classify the information.”
Asked about the removal of Cleo Mosana as her spokesperson, Mkhwebane said she had not been fired but has been moved to another role in her communication department following a breakdown in their trust relationship.
Mkhwebane was also criticised for appointing a special advisor while she complained about her inadequate budget of just over R300-million.
Motshekga suggested that some of the functions to be performed by the special advisor who started the job at the beginning of the month could be done by Mkhwebane's deputy Kevin Malunga, who was now training staff to write reports.
Motshekga said Malungas skills could be better utilised in a more strategic role instead of reducing him to “a training officer”.