Vetting of parliamentary officials is common practice

The article in the Mail & Guardian by Moira Levy, headlined Daggers in the cloakroom of power, conjures up frightening images about the current re-vetting of parliamentary officials, and projects Parliament in an extremely unfavourable light.

It questions why Parliament has decided to re-vet officials whose security clearances have expired or soon will. Levy creates the impression that our state and its institutions are moving towards a situation at odds with the democracy enshrined in our Constitution.

Vetting is necessary but can be tedious. A lot of information is required: documents, personal information, qualifications, bank statements and so on. But organisations and state institutions worldwide use vetting to promote good governance and to protect their integrity and that of their employees.

Levy is one of Parliament’s own, a senior manager in the communication department. Ethical concerns arise from her decision to write and publish an article voicing concerns before seeking clarity or registering an objection through one of the many internal channels.

Levy claims, boldly but incorrectly, that Parliament has been untruthful in saying no complaints were received before the article was written. “For the record, there are complaints from staff,” she says. But only one complaint was received – Levy’s. It was submitted after the article was written and submitted for publication. It was received on October 20. The rest of the complaints referred to in the article have not materialised.

No permission was requested or granted for publication of the article. Parliament’s code of ethics states that employees may only communicate with the media if authorised to do so by the secretary to Parliament. Levy violated policy.

The appointment contracts of parliamentary officials state that appointments are subject to a positive security clearance by the State Security Agency (SSA) or the South African Police Service.

Parliament’s security policy states that, in the security vetting, the degree of security clearance granted to an employee is determined by the content of classified information required for the employee’s job. In terms of the policy, all employees will undergo security vetting and records of vetting and re-vetting must be kept.

Is it incorrect to suggest that Parliament’s re-vetting of its officials is violating the very human rights for which many struggled and sacrificed? The great thing about our democracy – which the publication of the article demonstrates – is that it allows people to express their views, and suppositions. But views, even if backed by experience, are not necessarily factually sound or an accurate reflection of a situation.

Bearing the above in mind, here are some facts about Parliament’s re-vetting of its officials.

The Z204 form to which the article refers has been in use since the first democratic government, under Nelson Mandela, and has been applicable to all officials employed in government, so it is difficult to understand why it is now “alarming” to have to provide four months’ bank statements, a passport-size photograph, the names and details of five friends (not relatives), and names, identity numbers of a partner, children and immediate living relatives.

Parliament’s annual report of 2008-2009 states: “Facilitating screening and vetting of all officials and contractors by our service providers (SAPS and NIA) … Up to 1018 parliamentary officials were vetted and screened during the year and the submissions were sent to the NIA for security clearance.”

The National Intelligence Agency preceded the SSA.

The vetting of parliamentary officials is not peculiar to our Parliament. The British Parliament has similar processes for its officials, and so do many other organisations and institutions around the world.

The National Health and Allied Workers’ Union at Parliament met management last week and pledged their support for the re-vetting of officials to promote good governance.

Luzuko Jacobs is a spokesperson for Parliament. 

A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the author’s name as Luzeka, when in fact it is Luzuko. The article also incorrectly stated that Luzuko was the a parliamentarian communications officer, when in fact he is a spokesperson for Parliament. We apologise for the errors.

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