2014 Cabinet directive on the vetting of SOE Officials: SSA Update
Public Accounts (SCOPA)
09 November 2022
Chairperson: Mr M Hlengwa (IFP)
In a virtual meeting, the Committee was supposed to receive a briefing from the Deputy Minister for State Security on the vetting of officials at state-owned enterprises by the State Security Agency (SSA). The Deputy Minister was supposed to brief the Committee on behalf of the SSA, and this was confirmed by the Agency. The Deputy Minister and the Agency withdrew their attendance yesterday. They informed the Committee they had two legal opinions, which gave them immunity and protected them from appearing in front of the Committee.
Committee Members were disappointed and asked the Chairperson to condemn this. Members felt this had happened before and stopped the oversight work of the Committee.
One Member considered that condemnation should not be the first step, and the Committee should want to make people see the cause of accountability. The Committee’s follow-through should be an approach asking the Agency why this is the case and explaining to them that this is not how to deal with these matters. He said condemnation is very confrontational and will elicit another kind of response from the Agency.
Another Member contested and said that this is the second time the Agency has stonewalled the Committee. The Committee can no longer talk nicely about the matter.
Members felt strongly that the Committee must be robust in its response, and informed the Agency that the Committee does not accept this and condemns it.
The Chairperson said that he would write to the Deputy President, and the Deputy Minister for State Security and would also advise the Speaker on this matter. This sets a dangerous precedent if the Committee allows this. The Committee needs to draw a line. As soon as Parliament’s legal unit gets back with an opinion, he will inform Committee Members.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone present at the meeting. He explained there is a 2014 Cabinet directive that said Senior Executives, Executives and SEMs must be vetted at all state owned-enterprises (SOE) by the State Security Agency (SSA). The Standing Committee on Public Accounts received a briefing in December 2017 on this very same issue, and the State Security Director-General (DG) and Minister at the time came to inform the Committee of what was going on regarding this issue. He said this matter had resurfaced again, and there was correspondence between former Minister Ayanda Dlodlo and the reconfiguration of the Department, and SSA was taken into the Presidency.
SCOPA wrote to SSA as usual for this meeting, and confirmation was received from SSA stating that the Deputy Minister will brief SCOPA today on behalf of the SSA. However, the Deputy Minister’s attendance had been withdrawn. The Chairperson received a letter from SSA yesterday informing him that SSA will report on this matter to the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and will not be briefing SCOPA anymore. The Chairperson said that he tried to explain to SSA that SCOPA is not looking at SSA financials but will focus on the process of vetting all officials at SOEs, as the lack of vetting has contributed to material miss-findings at SOEs and compliance of Departments and entities when it comes to vetting officials. He said that the SSA still refused and advised that they have two legal opinions that give them immunity from appearing in front of the Committee. The Chairperson sent them all previous correspondence, minutes and Parliament documents. He also asked SSA to provide those two legal opinions to the Committee. He said that this is why SSA did not appear today, and he reiterated that SSA was not asked to appear for their finances but the Agency did not understand that. Before all this, there was an impression that the Deputy Minister would appear today, but these new developments happened over the last ten to twelve hours.
Mr R Lees (DA) was at a loss for words. Based on his history with Parliament's legal services, he is not confident SCOPA will receive a legal opinion in its favour. He said that the Committee should adopt a position of condemning the Office of the President and Minister Gungubele in particular for blocking the SSA's appearance to account for what progress has been made with vetting and to give reasons why it has not been completed. SSA was not asked to appear to discuss private information. It is clear that there are other reasons for this refusal, given that the Chairperson has made it clear to SSA what today's meeting is about. He urged the Committee not to accept this irrespective of what legal opinion gets back to SCOPA. SSA must report to the Committee on this.
Mr S Somyo (ANC) said that it is unfortunate in the sense that Minister Dlodlo sat in SCOPA’s meeting for this matter and accounted for what was happening regarding vetting and what challenges SSA faced. Based on this, Mr Somyo did not understand SSA saying that it does need to report back to SCOPA. The Committee deals with several departments and public entities with financial expenditure issues, and the vetting of officials was identified as a contributing factor to this. He said Parliament has been in the news recently on the matter of the appointment of the SABC board, which is being delayed due to a lack of vetting. He said that committees had raised the lack of vetting for some time, and this matter is serious. This is not a new matter for SSA to report on. He does not support condemnation, as it will not solve anything. SCOPA must appeal both to the Office of the Speaker and Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Deputy President Mabuza. SSA has to be accountable for whatever loss to the state based on their failure to do the vetting. Eskom particularly raised the lack of vetting as a challenge and a contributing factor to financial mismanagement. He said SCOPA must appeal to the Deputy President, and condemnation will not be necessary.
The Chairperson said that SCOPA would have to write a response on this matter. SCOPA understands the value of secrecy and confidentiality around SSA’s work. SCOPA understands all the nuances, but SSA is stretching it too far when they refuse to cooperate on basic matters that will enable the state’s machinery to work better in combatting corruption and ensuring all officials are compliant. Both former [former] Ministers Dlodlo and Bongo have appeared at SCOPA on this matter. This is not without precedent and this “Stalingrad” approach anchored in secrecy is very dangerous and irresponsible. Condemnation is relevant but has to run parallel with a concerted effort to ensure the information required by SCOPA is received from SSA. South Africa cannot continue to have officials within departments and entities handling contracts worth billions of rands. If SSA is no longer fighting the fight against corruption then why do they even exist? He said SCOPA is working within the parameters of the law.
The Chairperson said that he would write to the Deputy President, and the Deputy Minister for State Security and advise the Speaker on this matter. This sets a dangerous precedent if SCOPA allows this. SCOPA needs to draw a line. As soon as Parliament’s legal unit gets back with an opinion, he will inform Committee Members. This is very frustrating. SSA wants to operate within the shadows and will not provide information on such basic things. This is worrying. The vetting of officials becomes public anyway, so he does not understand SSA’s reasoning. He lamented that SCOPA could not do its oversight work when SSA does not want to cooperate. What SSA is doing today is in direct collision with public trust, public scrutiny and public accountability; it does not inspire confidence. He said that he would forward everything that was raised. He thought that SSA may have gotten the wrong advice, since the Deputy Minister confirmed his appearance but decided to withdraw at the last moment. This makes it increasingly suspicious as to what the problem is. He said he would inform Committee once there is new information on this matter of SSA.
Mr Somyo said that condemnation should not be the first step, and the Committee should want to make people see the cause of accountability. Parliament has adopted a model of accountability, which relates to these kinds of matters. He believes that nothing much has happened in that space, and he wanted SSA to account for what challenges they have experienced, since this is a Cabinet directive. The Committee’s follow-through should be an approach of asking SSA why this is the case and explaining to them that this is not how to deal with these matters. He said condemnation is very confrontational and will elicit another kind of response from SSA.
Mr Lees heard what Mr Somyo was saying but this is the second time SSA has stonewalled the Committee. The Committee can no longer talk nicely about the matter. He said there is no accountability at SSA in terms of their finances. SCOPA was stonewalled on that matter, and now SSA is doing the same thing on a matter that is in the public domain and is relevant because of a Cabinet resolution. He feels strongly that SCOPA must be robust in its response, and inform the Agency that the Committee does not accept this and condemns it. He said that Mr Somyo must understand where the Committee is coming from regarding the lack of accountability and arrogance displayed by SSA.
The Chairperson said both arguments are valid, and SSA must supply the Committee with the legal opinions on which their decision is based. The Committee will take it from there. Condemnation is still on the table, since SSA did not give enough reasons why they do not want to appear. They have two legal opinions and one is from the State Law Advisor. He said that the Committee would focus on this at the start of next week. This matter must be discussed at 09:00 and not 09:30. By then, SSA would have made more submissions, and SCOPA would have consolidated its information, allowing Members to make an informed view on this matter. This is a repeat offence, and SSA must explain to the Committee it made why this decision, since it has appeared before the Committee before.
In the interim, he said he would inform the Speaker of Parliament and the Deputy President about this matter.
Mr Lees agreed with the Chairperson and said that, if possible, the Chairperson must copy Members in on correspondence.
The Chairperson said this would be done, and Members would be informed as soon as SSA responds.
The meeting was adjourned.
No related documents
Hlengwa, Mr M
Lees, Mr RA
Lubengo, Ms ML
Somyo, Mr SS
Tolashe, Ms N G
Van Minnen, Ms BM
Zibula, Ms BT
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