South Africa

Reporter’s Parliamentary Notebook: Security budget vote cloaked in a veil of secrecy

By Marianne Merten 17 May 2017

State Security Minister David Mahlobo declined to say what his overall budget is during a media briefing ahead of his budget vote debate on Tuesday. Yet the R4.7-billion allocated to “secret services” is publicly accessible – p122 of the budget’s Estimated National Expenditure document, which indicates that the allocation stood at R3.9-billion in the 2013/14 financial year. Drawing a veil of secrecy even over what is easily accessible from public sources seems to be standing operating procedure. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

The State Security budget allocation, listed as part of the National Treasury Programme 10, does not give any details of how the rands and cents are spent and where, but shows that R4.3-billion of the total R4.7-billion is earmarked “operations”.

Other than that, the budget document gives away little: “Secret services facilitates the transfer to the South African Secret Services account, which provides government with accurate, topical, policy-relevant and timeous foreign intelligence to promote, enhance and protect national security and the interests of South Africa and its citizens”. With foreign intelligence being just one part of the State Security Agency (SSA), it remains unclear what goes where.

We do not reveal how much money we have and we do not reveal how many people we have. We’d like to say we have 54-million people working for us,” Mahlobo told reporters ahead of his budget vote debate.

And so in the State Security minister’s world, “unconstitutional regime change” is driven by certain sections of the mainstream media and non-governmental organisations alongside the funding of opposition activities. No details were given, not at the briefing nor the subsequent ministerial contribution to the budget vote debate.

But, opening the parliamentary debate, Mahlobo made references to challenges such as protests – for basic services, housing or demarcation – that left communities open for exploitation by those with regime-change ulterior motives. “We should always be careful not to knowingly or unknowingly yielding to those who exploit genuine concerns to drive a wedge (between people) to ultimately changing the government of the people elected by the people,” he said in what was essentially a political address in tabling his budget vote.

Present was his Director-General Arthur Fraser and newly appointed Inspector-General for Intelligence Dr Isaac Dintwe. But Mahlobo also welcomed leaders of the ANC Youth League, representatives of the uMkhonto we Sizwe Veterans Association (MKVA) and members of the ANC national executive committee present. At one point Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa popped in to listen.

Our freedom is incomplete. The ANC has decided on radical socio-economic transformation agenda,” said Mahlobo, arguing that there were many challenges testing the country. He cited racism, tribalism, poverty and unemployment and concerns that national key points are guarded by foreign-owned private security companies, but also violent industrial action, student protests and service delivery protests, while the “introduction of Uber has further exacerbated” instability in the transport sector and “unsuspecting children are targeted by cyber criminals… and hacktivists”.

It was left to his deputy Ellen Molekane to expand enthusiastically on SSA’s responsibilities. “We are in full support of our government’s call for radical socio-economic transformation,” she said, pledging that SSA would move its focus in support of government’s radical transformation pursuit. That meant turning SSA into “the risk agency of government” and expanding the traditional intelligence services threat outlook to include inadequate economic and political development, “inappropriate demographic management” and climate change. It also included the grooming of “future intelligence officers” in schools.

And Molekane took a dig, albeit indirectly, at the courts and judicial overreach, which has recently emerged in some circles of the ANC as the government it leads and President Jacob Zuma find themselves respondents in a slew of court cases. The Deputy State Security Minister cited an academic arguing that in recent years contestation had turned the judiciary into the site of political damage and it remained to be seen whether the damage done could be repaired.

The point made, Molekane moved on, but it was picked up again by ANC MP Dumisani Gamede, who expanded on judicial overreach as courts were a terrain for political struggle and the role of information peddlers, some of whom were in Parliament. ANC MP JJ Skosana dismissed opposition MPs’ criticism of President Jacob Zuma’s use of a so-called intelligence report in his recent midnight Cabinet reshuffle. In the firmest indication yet that the ANC in Parliament has closed ranks around Zuma, he said: “It is not proper for anyone to lament on the matter… the president has used the rules and the Constitution to do his work and we can’t just come here to grandstand on the intelligence report all the time.”

While the DA has gone to court over the Cabinet reshuffle and “intelligence” report, the South African Communist Party (SACP) on Monday met the Inspector-General for Intelligence over its complaint on that same document.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mahlobo told journalists: “It is a funny way to look at the dismissal of a person. The Constitution allows us to hire and fire.”

Overall it was a lukewarm affair, despite EFF MP Phillip Mhlongo’s passionate statement, “The country is gone… We have Gupta land.”

At the end of it Mahlobo expressed his disappointment that party-political fault lines emerged during his budget vote debate: “The security of our country is everybody’s business and we had an agreement (in the committee) to put political differences aside.” It was a reference to the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI), the only parliamentary committee which as a rule meets behind closed doors.

Much of the focus of Mahlobo and ANC speakers was on cybercrime. Perhaps this is not surprising as the anti-cybercrime draft law has finally arrived in Parliament this year, after the 2015 version drafted by the justice department was transferred by a Cabinet decision to State Security. The Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill proposes harsh jail terms and fines for a range of issues and casts the net of what is a protected information installation wide. Whether this becomes a tool to extend the reach of state security, as hinted at by both Molekane and ANC speakers, will be up to MPs in the weeks and months to come. DM

Photo: State Security Minister David Mahlobo (GCIS)


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