Security snags and ‘excuses’ bedevil inquiry
Staff still don’t have access to classified information - now the president has been roped in
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene in a standoff between his State Capture Inquiry and the State Security Agency – which his office says is “unacceptably delaying” its work.In a last-ditch attempt to get the impasse resolved, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene, to ensure his commission staff obtain the security clearances needed to gain legal access to classified and confidential information and to avoid “unacceptable delays”.SSA spokesperson Brian Dube stressed that the Agency had put processes in place “to ensure that all members of the Commission discharge their responsibilities, notwithstanding the challenges, some of which have been beyond our control”.“From the 77 cases received, 98% requests for provisional clearances have been dealt with. We are currently busy with upgrades and recent cases.
“It should be noted that we are experiencing challenges from some of the people we are dealing with, with some not taking this exercise seriously and making lots of excuses, thereby hindering the pace at which we would have liked to accelerate this effort.”
Commission secretary Dr Khotso de Wee has confirmed that Zondo wrote to Ramaphosa earlier this month, asking for help.
“With regard to the security clearance process, to the best knowledge of the commission, the State Security Agency has not changed how it is dealing with the security clearance process since the chairperson wrote to the president at the beginning of August and asked for his intervention,” De Wee said in a written response.
“In fact, the secretary of the commission has not been contacted by the State Security Agency to give him any feedback since the last media briefing towards the end of July. The issue remains unresolved and is unacceptably delaying the work of the commission.”
De Wee, however, said the inquiry “is still on track for this month”, but warned that some delays may be “inevitable” because of the SSA problem.Zondo first flagged the security clearance when he went to court last month to seek an extension of his commission’s time from six months to two years.
In the court application, which has already come under fire from the Centre for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), Zondo revealed that his inquiry had been delayed in getting off the ground by, among other things, ongoing problems with staff obtaining security clearances.
“This process is managed by the State Security Agency. There have been delays in the completion of the process,” Zondo said.
“I am told this is because of staff changes in the State Security Agency as well as requirements of members of the investigation team, and possibly other members of the commission, to have top-secret clearance. There are still some security clearances that are outstanding from the State Security Agency.”
These delays appear at odds with State Security Minister Dipuo Lesatsi-Duba’s assurances that the SSA would “lend all the necessary support which would be required by the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture”.“As indicated by the president in the (State of the Nation address), the commission is critical in ensuring that the extent and nature of state capture is established, that confidence in public institutions is restored and that those responsible for any wrongdoing face the consequences thereof,” she said in her May budget speech before parliament.
In addition to security clearance problems, Zondo is facing opposition to his legal bid to have his inquiry extended.
Casac has filed a response to that application, in which it argues that Zondo “failed to make a proper case” for why he needed more than the six months, as recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela, to finalise his “urgent” investigation.
“The public protector found state capture to be so pervasive and perilous that she considered it to warrant immediate attention.”
In his responding papers, Casac’s Lawson Naidoo stated: “Unlike other commissions of inquiry, this project could not afford to drag on for years.”
Naidoo is arguing that the inquiry has thus far been defined by an “ineffectual use of time” and “cannot be allowed to fall into the rut of other commissions of inquiry that take years to complete their work with no foreseeable end date in sight”.De Wee says Casac’s view is “unfortunate”.
“If the commission had not made out a proper case for an extension, the court would not have granted the order that it granted. In any event, anybody who appreciates the enormity of the issues of state capture and corruption in our country and who appreciates how wide this commission’s terms of reference are and how big the work of this commission is, cannot reasonably think that the commission can finish everything before February 2020, which is the last month of the 24-month extension that the commission is seeking.”
Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko did not respond to questions by the the time publication.
*This article has been amended to clarify that Dube was not blaming SSA officials for the delay