Tinker, tailor, inspector general?

Cecil Burgess. (David Harrison, M&G)

Cecil Burgess. (David Harrison, M&G)

With all discussions of “national security” banned from interviews for the position of inspector general of intelligence, candidates had to sell themselves to members of Parliament on Tuesday without mentioning any classified work history or divulging what made them suitable for the post.

The joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) conducted a round of interviews for the position in Parliament on Tuesday, with questions and answers ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. This was the second set of interviews, after numerous appeals for transparency from lobby groups, when a round of secret interviews was held in March.

The inspector general investigates complaints of alleged maladministration or abuse of power by the country’s spies, and the five candidates were grilled on how they would remain non-partisan as well as their views on transparency and why they had applied for the position.

Advocate Andile Kilifele, one of the candidates, had MPs laughing and befuddled when he quoted John le Carre’s fictional character George Smiley in answering a question.
He was asked to detail his understanding of the injunction in the Services Act, which stipulates, “among other things, that the inspector general must receive and investigate complaints from members of the public and members of the services, without jeopardising the mandates of the services. And linked to that, if, in your current position, you were required to act impartially and independently, how would you have conducted yourself?”

Kilifele said the inspector general dealt with issues of interception and surveillance.

” ... My job is to ensure that, if for argument’s sake they are intercepting, I must ensure that whatever they are doing is in line with the Interception Act. Secondly, I need to ensure ... that must be ratified by a designated judge, including the duration of the interception. Secondly ... there have been members of the public who have been complaining about surveillance. I’m afraid surveillance is part and parcel of the community.”

‘For as long as the hungry look for food, we shall spy’

Kilifele then quoted from The Secret Pilgrim by Le Carre

“There is a fellow called George Smiley, I’m sorry to quote this, but he once said, ‘As long as there are rogues who become leaders, we shall spy. For as long as there are politicians who deceive, we shall spy. For as long as the nations compete, we shall spy. For as long as there are bullies and liars in the world, we shall spy. For as long as the hungry look for food, we shall spy.’ In a nutshell, they can do anything really, as long as whatever they do is in line with the Constitution, the Interception Act and also section 52 A of the criminal procedure.”

Asked if he believed the quote, he insisted that spying was necessary, as long as it was in line with the various acts.

“Almost everybody can be intercepted and surveyed, provided it is in line with the Act. It is applicable to this matter, because nations compete, and we do spy on them. And there are bullies and liars in the world, we do spy on them. And that’s an adage that all intelligence officers are aware of.”

Kilifele was one of five candidates interviewed on Tuesday, a list which included Jayashree Govender, Mathe Diseko, Imtiaz Fazel and Mampogoane Nchabeleng.

Six more candidates are still to be interviewed on Wednesday, including Clinton Davids, Smanga Jele, and former ANC MP Cecil Burgess, who is seen as the most likely candidate to get the job.

Committee chairperson Connie September said once the interviews were completed, the JSCI would recommend a candidate to the National Assembly, but President Jacob Zuma would have the final say.

With lobby groups calling for the interview process to be conducted in an open and transparent way and the Democratic Alliance walking out of the secret interviews in March, the normally secretive committee opened its meeting to the public and shortlisted three extra candidates, Mahlubandile Radebe, Desiree Fouche and Annelize Gerber, which it added to a list of eight it had already interviewed before reopening the process.

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