Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Mkhuleko Hlengwa.
- Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the State Security Agency (SSA) indicated that it would not account to the committee.
- The SSA was supposed to brief Scopa on challenges in the vetting of state-owned entity officials, but the agency said they instead would brief the intelligence committee in a closed meeting.
- Committee members roundly condemned the SSA’s eleventh-hour spurning of Scopa’s invitation as the matter was already on public record.
- For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.
Members of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) were left seething after the State Security Agency (SAA) refused at the eleventh hour to brief it on the vetting of officials at organs of state, heightening suspicions about what was being kept secret.
The SSA was due to update Scopa on Wednesday morning on the progress made regarding the 2014 Cabinet directive to have officials in state organs, particularly supply chain management departments, vetted.
The SSA was relocated into the Presidency last year after intelligence weaknesses hindered the agency’s ability to detect or counter the events leading to the July unrest that rocked KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng last year.
As an example of the poor state of general background vetting in state organs, Scopa heard from an Eskom delegation in October that about 14% of the power utility’s staff had undeclared business interests with the corruption-rattled power utility.
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As the meeting began slightly behind schedule, Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa explained that on Tuesday he was notified by the SSA that they would only brief Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence in closed meetings regarding the vetting of state organ officials. The SSA told Hlengwa that they had a legal opinion to back this up.
Hlengwa said the SSA sent documents of Parliament legal and asked that SSA furnish Scopa with the legal opinion they use to refuse to come to Scopa.
“I want to really, really reiterate that we are not looking into their financials. I don’t think that they grasp what we are saying. But that is where we are. We were under the impression on the basis of the letter that the [deputy minister in the Presidency Zizi Kodwa] would be coming and the developments of the last 12 to 14 hours, letters were withdrawn, and we had these developments,” said Hlengwa.
Hlengwa said SSA’s level of “Stalingrad secrecy” will set “a very dangerous precedence” if it is allowed without consequences. He said the condemnation of the SSA’s actions must work parallel with a process to ensure that the information that Scopa wants is received.
“We can’t have people who are not vetted continuing in these spaces managing billions and billions of rands and they are not vetted,” Hlengwa said.
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DA MP Alf Lees said the Presidency should be condemned for allowing the SSA to avoid accounting to Scopa, including the office of Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele. Lees said there “appear to be other reasons for this refusal” to account to Scopa.
“I am not confident, given my history with parliamentary legal advice over the past nearly 14 years, that we are going to get a legal opinion in my favour. We have from time to time received what I believe are the correct opinions and they are opinions, not determinations,” said Lees.
Lees said this was not the first time that SSA has stonewalled Scopa and the agency showed no accountability in terms of their own finances and a matter already in the public domain.
AMP MP Sakhumzi Somyo said the entire meeting was necessitated by the reality that vetting processes were failing at the government’s entities and that this was a longstanding challenge for over a decade.
“[Former] Minister [of Intelligence Ayanda] Dlodlo sat in our meeting as the minister for that department specifically for the same matter of vetting. She gave an account of their challenges on such matters at the time. On the strength of that, I really don’t see this thing that says they don’t account to us,” said Somyo.
Hlengwa said Scopa would consult Parliamentary Legal Services for a legal opinion on SSA’s correspondence and the committee would consider the matter next week.
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