NIA 'not above the law', says Mbeki
No stone will be left unturned in the search for the truth behind alleged abuses in the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), President Thabo Mbeki said on Thursday.
“Regardless of the obstacles deliberately put in their way, the state organs involved in the inquiry will indeed unearth the truth they seek to discover,” he said.
Mbeki urged members of the country’s intelligence services to aid inquiries, led by the inspector general and minister of intelligence, into these “disturbing matters”.
“It is critically important that both the minister and the inspector general should pursue their inquiries with all necessary vigour and a sense of urgency to enable us to correct whatever might have gone wrong.”
Mbeki was addressing a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the country’s new civilian intelligence services, which saw tributes being paid to serving and fallen members.
NIA director general Billy Masetlha and two other senior officials were suspended last month pending an ongoing probe into claims of “serious misconduct” allegedly related to the unauthorised surveillance of African National Congress member and businessman Saki Macozoma.
Stressing the importance of accountability, professionalism and impartiality, Mbeki said members of the intelligence services must put aside their personal views in the interests of the country as a whole.
“They must ... be politically non-partisan and may not carry out operations that are intended to undermine, promote or influence any political party, faction or organisation at the expense of another.
“However they vote, nobody within the intelligence services should entertain the false belief that he or she will be allowed to play politics in the workplace to support whoever they might have voted for.”
It was written into the Constitution that members of the services should disobey manifestly illegal orders. Nobody could, therefore, engage in illegal actions and claim they were merely following orders, Mbeki said.
Any action taken by the intelligence services designed to interfere with the normal political processes of parties or organisations engaged in lawful activities is “expressly forbidden”, he added.
The suspension of Masetlha; his deputy, Gibson Njenje; and NIA general manager Bob Mhlanga followed an initial probe by the inspector general of intelligence at the instruction of Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils.
This was based on a complaint from a member of the public, believed to be Macozoma.
The matter has been linked in the media to a succession battle in the ANC between Mbeki and his corruption-accused deputy, Jacob Zuma.
Macozoma is said by some observers to be a “Mbeki loyalist”.
The ministry has denied that the suspensions were politically motivated.
Intelligence ‘not above the law’
Mbeki said the intelligence services are not above the law, nor beyond its reach.
“I would ... like to assure the nation that our intelligence services will continue to work for the greater good, loyally serving the people of South Africa.
“Elected to protect and advance the interests of all our people, our government will ensure that all times and at all costs, this objective is achieved.”
He said he has been concerned “for many years now” about the quality of a significant proportion of the intelligence information provided to him.
“We have to continue to pay particular attention to this matter.
“Our intelligence family must understand that the only way in which its members will continue to retain their jobs is by providing reliable and timely, quality intelligence products that help our government continuously to improve the safety and security of our country and people.”
Mbeki cut a golden ribbon at the entrance to a garden of remembrance housing a newly completed memorial wall displaying the names of those who have died in the service of the intelligence services since 1995. He also laid a wreath at the wall.
Mbeki and Kasrils were then whisked off to a closed ceremony where they presented loyal and distinguished service awards to intelligence staff.
In a prepared speech, Kasrils urged intelligence members to dedicate themselves to working within the confines of the laws and codes governing their profession.
“We must show no favouritism and ensure equal treatment,” he said. “The higher the post, the greater the responsibility for professional behaviour.”
Despite “some recent problems”, the intelligence services are on the road to improving professionalism and raising standards and capabilities, the minister said.
A review of internal policies governing the conduct of operations is under way to ensure they are in line with constitutional and legal imperatives.
There will also be a civic education programme to entrench a culture of political non-partisanship and constitutionalism, Kasrils said.—Sapa