South Africa

PARLIAMENTARY BUDGET VOTE

State Security a ‘patriotic duty’, says Gungubele, staying mum on rands and cents

Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele. (Photo: Gallo Images / Victoria O'Regan)

South Africa spends just north of R10.8-billion on intelligence. But no one would know that from Tuesday’s parliamentary budget vote debate.

Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele on Tuesday pledged a move away from excessive secrecy in order to “demystify” State Security and to ensure a civilian intelligence service would play its role in the “vital rapport between people and state”.

“We are guided by the firm principle that national security is the patriotic duty and responsibility of the State and the citizens of the Republic,” he said.

This comes at a time when scathing testimony on State Security Agency (SSA) rot was heard at the State Capture Commission as recently as May 2021. It wasn’t anything new. When the High-Level Review Panel Report on the SSA was published in March 2019, it was clear about the politicisation, malfeasance and excessive secrecy at the agency.

The South African intelligence community has erred on the side of excessive secrecy and this can largely explain the various forms of malfeasance that this report (and others before it) have identified,” said the December 2018 report of the High-Level Panel chaired by Sydney Mufamadi, who is today President Cyril Ramaphosa’s security adviser (High-Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency).

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But in Parliament on Tuesday, the first test of this officially proclaimed move towards constitutional values of transparency and accountability went MIA. Not a word was said about financial allocations from the national coffers, or planned spending on the SSA’s “fully fledged public awareness and liaison capacity” and public outreach campaign. 

Overall, R10.8-billion was spent this year on State Security, police crime intelligence and defence intelligence. The rands and cents, as they are, come from the Estimates of National Expenditure. 

State Security gets some R5.07-billion from the national purse – R4.7-billion for what’s called Secret Services: Operations, in the Estimates of National Expenditure for 2022, and another R376.8-million for gadgets, or, officially, “equipment”. That allocation is up from the 2021 financial year’s R4.99-billion. The number of personnel is not stated.

It’s all listed under Programme 9 Financial Intelligence and State Security in the National Treasury Budget vote, which on page 110 also outlines a R316.8-million allocation to the Financial Intelligence Centre that ensures action, among others, against terrorism funding or financial malfeasance by politically exposed persons.

Defence intelligence gets R1.15-billion in the 2022/23 financial year for just over 900 staff, including 18 senior managers who each earn R1.1-million a year, according to the average unit cost in the Estimates of National Expenditure, page 420.

R584-million is paid into the Special Defence Account for operations. R567.3-million is for “operational services”, including R1.7-million for stationery and R6.4-million for food and fuel supplies.

Police crime intelligence is allocated R4.36-billion, with R1.8-billion reflected against “operations”. Of the R2.55-billion earmarked for intelligence and information management, R128.4-million is stated for “fleet services”, R16.8-million for office supplies and R63.7-million for travel and subsistence.

But regardless of operations or support, salaries seem to take up most of the allocations. R3.9-billion goes to pay salaries for 8,190 staff, including 36 senior officers who on average each get R1.3-million a year, according to the Estimates of National Expenditure, page 486.

Whether South Africa is getting value for money must be assessed against not only the State Capture commission testimony and the 2018 High Level Panel report, but also the report into the July 2021 riots by the panel chaired by Prof Sandy Africa.

“There was a significant intelligence failure to anticipate, prevent or disrupt the planned and orchestrated violence…” says that report on the eight days of public disorder in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng (report of the expert panel into the July 2021 civil unrest).

“The executive authorities (ministers of police, defence and state security) moreover failed to coordinate their own efforts in the period leading up to the violence, in order to give coherent guidance to the structures for which they were responsible…”

In Tuesday’s State Security budget vote debate, Gungubele and his deputy, Zizi Kodwa, pledged more transparency and better financial and performance management. A “bigger turnaround plan” and a “comprehensive programme for public outreach” would be presented to the House.

But Parliament’s oversight structure, the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI), doesn’t exactly seem to push for less “excessive secrecy” and more accountability and transparency.

As a rule, it sits behind closed doors, no matter what – even in a briefing on the country’s position on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

That JSCI session emerged in Gungubele’s response to EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s speech on “imperialist Nato” aggression against Russia, and “imperialist propaganda” for proxy wars and to pull in other countries.

“While we accept a number of points made by Honourable Ndlozi, the presentation was done on Thursday… (I’m wondering) if he was exposed to that, if he would still have the same views,” said the minister. “From our geo-location, we always tactically position ourselves that will make us influential across the globe…”

In his earlier opening speech, Gungubele said, “The war in Ukraine is a global crisis that should be stopped from any further escalation. All efforts should be directed at commencing or escalating contacts to negotiations directed at urgently securing a ceasefire and all its concomitant elements…” 

Globally, intelligence services maintain a careful balance between what they make public and what takes place behind closed doors. The United States Senate Committee on Intelligence holds closed and public hearings on, for example, countering China’s “economic and technological plan dominance” (11 May). The UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee regularly issues public reports and statements on its work, as do various European Union countries. 

In South Africa, regardless of transparency talk, secrecy at every level seems the default position right now.

“Would the SAPS be late or present an indifferent APP (annual performance plan) and Budget to the police portfolio committee? Never. Yet the section of SAPS that answers to the JSCI, Crime Intelligence, would. 

“If the presentations of the State Security Agency were held before television cameras, I’ve no doubt they would arrive on time and present along specific, determined Treasury guidelines,” said DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, lifting the lid for a sliver of a glance on Tuesday.

“More dangerously, one has to ask if there is the possibility they deliberately hide information from the JSCI. Certainly, no reference is ever made to the Zondo Commission revelations.”

The JSCI has not quite kept up with its statutory responsibility to publish its annual reports, which are the only oversight glimpses into the dominant smoke-and-mirrors intelligence.

“The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, having considered Budget Vote 8: National Treasury (State Security), and the Annual Performance Plan of the State Security Agency and its spending entities on 19 May 2021, reports that the Committee has concluded its deliberations thereon. 

“Report to be considered,” says the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (ATC), or Parliament’s record of work.

The same bland non-statements were published on police crime intelligence and defence intelligence. Anyone reading the Estimates of National Expenditure would find more details than the parliamentary and statutory oversight body over intelligence services. 

The annual JSCI reports that include (redacted) inputs from the Auditor-General and the bugging judge – the judge who approves interceptions – are again late. It’s an echo of what bedevilled intelligence oversight more than a decade ago, coinciding with the start of the State Capture years.

The latest available report is for the financial year ending 31 March 2020, which was extended to December 2020. Published in September 2021, it shows parliamentarians knew of dodgy phone taps and SSA finances.

The Intelligence Oversight Act is clear on what’s required,

“The Committee shall, within five months after its first appointment, and thereafter within two months after 31 March in each year, table in Parliament a report on the activities of the Committee during the preceding year, together with the findings made by it and the recommendations it deems appropriate…”

By this statutory provision, the 2020/21 JSCI annual report should have been available. Unless the thinking is that, as the previous one covered some 19 months to 31 December 2020, the first quarter of 2021 could be included in the next one. The deadline for the 2021/22 annual JSCI report is in five working days.

It’s crucial for Parliament to step up its oversight – and turn to accountability and transparency. Not only over the new technology for the Office for Interceptions to better deal with the over-the-top services like encrypted messaging, but also over Gungubele linking “a solid, state-led programme” with social partners and the citizens to eliminate poverty and inequality with national security measures.

As security responses seldom, if ever, lead to sustainable solutions for socioeconomic problems, this requires a watching brief. DM

 

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