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10 Jun 2015 16:35
Cecil Burgess was the second to last of 11 candidates to be interviewed for the position. (Liza van Deventer, Gallo)
Former ANC MP Cecil Burgess said he hoped to
run an impartial and independent office should he be elected as the new
inspector general of intelligence.
The second to last of 11 candidates to be interviewed for the
position, the former joint standing committee on intelligence chairperson sat
comfortably on the other side of the table on Wednesday while his former peers
grilled him on his management style, his understanding of the role of inspector
general and the principles of impartiality and independence.
Burgess is seen as the frontrunner for the position and rumours about a possible move to the State Security Agency (SSA) began circulating
as he was excluded from the list of MPs after the elections last year.
He was appointed
to the ad hoc committee that looked into the spending of taxpayers’ money on upgrading President Jacob Zuma’s home in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal and which
cleared the president of any wrongdoing. He also led the ad hoc parliamentary committee that adopted the controversial Protection of State Information Bill.
If appointed inspector general he will
be expected to protect South African citizens from any abuse of SSA powers.
Burgess said chairing the joint standing committee on intelligence and the
committee that dealt with the protection of information Bill had not been easy tasks because there were concerns about impartiality.
“So under those circumstances it might appear that the person is
not impartial and not independent, but you must understand that the role of a
chairperson is different from the position.
“People have got to respect you. There are certain things you
cannot do in this job, for example, making speeches that are political. Those
speeches will give the impression that you are not impartial.
“This is a different job to being a politician. I have been a
lawyer for many years and I have always been guided not by my politics but by the
law society, and this is an ethical code that all legal practitioners have to
abide by. It’s a code of being honest, and behaving in a manner that doesn’t
On the issue of national security and how it related to transparency
and openness, he said the tension that existed between the two sides of the
argument was a healthy one.
‘Healthy tension’Burgess said on the one hand there were organisations that were
persistent in their call for openness and on the other, communities that were
concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information.
“Very often it is the case that things that should be made open
are not made open and it creates the wrong impression – that everything is
being restricted. But there is nothing wrong with the tension that exists between
the disclosures and the non-disclosures. It is a healthy tension. It is up to
the legislation to determine how much should be made available.”
Other candidates interviewed included Clinton
Davids, Smanga Jele, Annelize Gerber, Desiree Fouche and Mahlubandile Radebe.
Lobby group Right2Know, which had campaigned for the interview
process to be conducted in an open and transparent way, staged a walkout during
Burgess’s interview after their concerns about his fitness to hold the post were
not tabled in the committee.
Murray Hunter, on behalf of the Right2Know campaign, wrote a
letter to chairperson Connie September, drawing the committee’s attention to
the fact that as former chair, Burgess had failed to table annual reports to
Parliament during his tenure, and some were tabled three and two years too
“These lapses do not inspire confidence in Mr Burgess’s capacity to
execute vital duties of the inspector general efficiently or effectively, nor
reflect well on the candidate’s appreciation for the importance of prompt
disclosure of information for effective oversight of the intelligence
services,” the letter read.
While the letter was circulated to the members of the committee by
the lobby group, September banned them from addressing any of the concerns
raised there during the interviews.
The committee will now deliberate in private, before
recommending a candidate to the National Assembly. President Jacob Zuma will make the final decision.
Read more from Thulani Gqirana
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