South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Pretty Vacant: Parliament Oversight’s oversight to filling key intelligence post

Pretty Vacant: Parliament Oversight’s oversight to filling key intelligence post

Thirteen months and counting. That’s how long the constitutionally-established post of civilian oversight over the intelligence services, the inspector-general of intelligence, has been vacant. Recently Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) took a second run at filling the post in a bizarre display of secrecy in the open. Six candidates were chosen from CVs in thick lever arch files, not made available to anyone but MPs, in a mechanistic process without any discussions. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

Filling the inspector-general of intelligence post has been mired in politicking: three times since mid-2015 the ANC tried to have approved its choice, Cecil Burgess — a former JSCI chairman, who also steered through Parliament the Protection of State Information Bill, dubbed the Secrecy Bill.

But as approval requires a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, the ANC could not muster the minimum of 17 opposition votes it needed to meet that threshold. The governing party would have needed more opposition support, if not all of its 249 MPs were in the House. But opposition parties pretty much united in their opposition to Burgess for a number of reasons, including his hardline securocrat line. Many in the opposition benches have called for a retired judge to be appointed as intelligence inspector-general.

In mid-March this year, acting ANC Chief Whip Doris Dlakude, in a brief statement towards the end of a long sitting, referred the inspector-general back to the JSCI. The committee re-advertised the job and by 13 April, 39 people had applied, compared to the 57 who applied last year. Applications were whittled down – apparently some forgot to complete the form in full – by the committee secretariat. And then last Friday a sub-committee of the JSCI met to determine a shortlist – by calling out the numbers of candidates.

Like last year, the shortlisting process was open to the public and the media although, again, there was no access to the candidates’ CVs and this time journalists could not even double-check the spelling of candidates’ names. It remains to be seen whether, unlike last year, the interviews will this time around be in an open committee. The Right2Kown Campaign (R2K) received a letter dated 19 April giving an undertaking that the interviews would be open by house chairperson (committees) Cedric Frolick. Of course, the possibility exists that the JSCI may still decide otherwise.

The intelligence inspector-general is established in Section 210(b) of the Constitution, and in terms of the 1994 Intelligence Services Oversight Act, which also created the JSCI as the only parliamentary committee established in law. The act only requires the intelligence inspector-general to be “a fit and proper person” and someone “who has knowledge of intelligence”. The intelligence inspector-general must monitor compliance with the Constitution and laws by the various intelligence services from state security, military intelligence and the SAPS crime intelligence, review intelligence and counter-intelligence actions and deal with complaints from the public on maladministration and abuse of power by intelligence services.

R2K has raised concerns that with the oversight post vacant, the office of the intelligence inspector-general has been reluctant to take on complaints – even as evidence was increasing that the intelligence services were targeting civil activists, trade unionists and investigative journalists.

The six candidates now in the running include civil servants, a former police deputy national commissioner, an information and communication technology (ICT) professor – and a unknown candidate said to be linked to defence intelligence, whose name does not pop up on various internet searches, required to get some information on the candidates (Great tradecraft, State Security Minister David Mahlobo might say).

Topping the shortlist is Advocate Unathi Bruce Bongco. Internet searches link him to South Africa’s structures for the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in the public service and administration portfolio as far back as 2003. More recently, he has been linked to the Open Government Partnership (OPG), a global initiative for accountability and transparency in government, also within public service and administration. His name appears on a list of delegates to a July 2013 OGP meeting in London.

In April 2012 Politicsweb carried a missive on ANC infighting by Bongco, “an advocate and a member of the ANCYL and the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity”.

Second on the shortlist is Seswantsho Godfrey Lebeya, an advocate and one-time deputy national SAPS commissioner, who was effectively ousted in a restructuring by SAPS national commissioner General Riah Phiyega, now suspended and facing a board of inquiry into her fitness to hold office following the recommendations of the Marikana commission of inquiry which found she had misled it.

The Labour Court in early 2014 ordered a halt to his sideways shuffle to head a still to be established police research institute. However, in July 2015 a parliamentary reply by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko indicated Lebeya had been paid out in terms of retrenchment proceedings under S189 of the Labour Relations Act.

Modesta Dianne Phillips, according to amaBhungane, is linked to defence intelligence. Internet searches reveal little about this shortlisted intelligence inspector-general candidate.

Dr Nyelisani Clarence Tshitereke last year won the University of Stellenbosch student representative council (SRC) award for outstanding alumni, according to the university website. In 2014 the University of Venda announced that Clarence Tshitereke, as he seems to be generally known, was appointed from August that year as director in the office of the vice-chancellor and principal. He appears to have moved easily between academia, the private sector (Old Mutual’s foundation for corporate social investment) and public service, where he worked in the presidency as international relations and trade director, a director in the human settlements department and as chief director for research in the defence ministry between 2009 and 2011.

In November 2011 he published his dismay at the then Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale on Politicsweb, signed off as “a senior researcher at the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans. He was previously Chief Director the Ministry of Human Settlements”. He has written in his capacity as military researcher and human settlements official in the Mail & Guardian.

Professor Bruce William Watson, holder of two PhDs, appears on the website of Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Knowledge Dynamics and Decision Making. His “most recent research, consulting and expertise areas” include predictive analytics, big data and data-science and peta-scale intelligence analysis and information security. “When he’s not doing research, Bruce enjoys spending time with his family, flying, motorcycling, travelling, tennis, and collecting wines,” the website entry says.

The sixth short-listed candidate is Brightboy Nhlakanipho Nkontwana, who briefly served in 2013 as acting director-general in the public service and administration. His name also appears on the Gauteng government website as head of the co-operative governance department. He is named in the 2011 Public Protector report, “In the Extreme”, the probe into luxury hotel stays and overseas flights by the then Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka, for whom Nkontwana served as special advisor.

The 2011/12 annual report of the Mvula Trust, providing water and sanitation services, lists him as a trustee and the website of South Africa’s Gospel Music Association (GMA), a not-for-profit organisation established for gospel artists in 2010, also lists Nkontwana.

It remains unclear when the JSCI, which only meets again the week after next, will set a date for the interviews. If held in the open, these could prove to be interesting. DM

Photo: Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984.

Gallery

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