/ 15 March 2019

Time running out for Parliament to deal with abuses at spy agency

Hot seat: Arthur Fraser was the director general of the state’s spy agency at the time alleged abuses occurred.
Arthur Fraser, as director general of the State Security Agency (SSA), personally signed off on payments of R20-million to the African News Agency (ANA) as part of a covert operation code-named “Project Wave” to co-opt the media during the last years of the Zuma era. (Jaco Marais/Netwerk24/Gallo)

With mere days left on the parliamentary calendar, Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence has kicked the high-level panel report into abuses at the State Security Agency (SSA) into touch.

The 100-page report, commissioned by President Cyril Ramaphosa, details “serious breaches of the Constitution, policy, law, regulations and directives” by former president Jacob Zuma and some members of the SSA.

The report recommends an overhaul of the scope and mandate of the intelligence community, something Ramaphosa already committed to during his State of the Nation address in February, saying he would take “urgent steps” to reconstitute “a professional national intelligence capability for South Africa”.

But time has all but run out for Parliament’s intelligence committee to address the findings in the report. Members of the National Assembly will be relieved of their duties from Wednesday March 20 to campaign for their political parties ahead of the general election on May 8.

Committee chairperson Amos Masondo said the issue is still on the agenda of the last week of the parliamentary term. “We are optimistic that all the complexities and challenges raised in the report will be addressed. So the committee will do its utmost to make our own contribution,” Masondo said.

But it will probably be up to the committee formed by MPs of the next legislature to do the work of launching a parliamentary probe into alleged malfeasance at the spy agency.

Masondo could only say “with confidence” that the current committee “will be handing over a legacy report. And the report will be used as the basis to engage the matters further. The report … details the issues and matters that require urgent attention,” Masondo said.

According to the report, compiled by a panel chaired by Sydney Mufamadi, the SSA targeted Ramaphosa in the run-up to his election as president of the ANC in 2017, and then as president of South Africa in February 2018 after Zuma was pushed to resign.

The report also confirms details from the book The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and Out of Prison by Jacques Pauw, corroborating the existence of a slush fund involving the SSA’s Principal Agent Network (PAN).

The report found that recommendations by the inspector general of intelligence to rein in rogue spies were ignored by the SSA and that the auditor general was not allowed to scrutinise its financial records.

On the findings that the intelligence committee had failed to perform proper oversight on the SSA, Masondo, who became its chairperson only in September, said deficiencies would have to be addressed.

“The report broadly outlines some of the key issues. But my view is that there’s scope for improvement. And I’m confident that in the coming period a lot of good work will be done,” he said.

Although the names of wrongdoers in the report have been redacted, it is clear on certain intelligence operations (including PAN) and timeframes. These timeframes overlap with the tenure of former SSA director general Arthur Fraser, who is now the national commissioner of correctional services. Media reports quote correctional services officials as saying Fraser is studying the document.

There has also been no word from Parliament’s correctional services committee on whether it will call Fraser to explain his conduct during his tenure at the spy agency. Committee chairperson Madipoane Mothapo did not respond to requests for comment.