Par­lia­ment seeks perks for top of­fi­cial, se­cu­rity vet­ting of staff

Sunday Times - - News General - By ANDISIWE MAKINANA

Par­lia­ment wants to give its sec­re­tary and his en­tourage free rein to fly busi­ness class and sleep in five-star ho­tels at tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense.

In ad­di­tion, it wants all staff to ob­tain toplevel se­cu­rity clear­ances and take oaths of se­crecy.

The pro­pos­als are spelt out in a draft pol­icy doc­u­ment, seen by the Sun­day Times, that was dis­cussed at work­shops in par­lia­ment this week.

In a sec­tion on travel, the doc­u­ment states: “The Sec­re­tary may travel in busi­ness class.”

Par­lia­ment has never di­vulged what its pol­icy is on travel, but Gengezi Mgid­lana, who now holds the top post of sec­re­tary, is on sus­pen­sion while he faces charges that in­clude wast­ing tax­pay­ers’ money dur­ing do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional travel with his wife. He spent R4-mil­lion in two years on such trips.

He is also al­leged to have awarded him­self a bur­sary, and an au­dit com­mit­tee of par­lia­ment last year found that Mgid­lana was “wast­ing money” by stay­ing at five-star ho­tels de­spite calls for belt-tight­en­ing.

Mgid­lana is un­der­go­ing a dis­ci­plinary process re­lated to al­leged breaches of the Fi­nan­cial Man­age­ment of Par­lia­ment and Pro­vin­cial Leg­is­la­tures Act, par­lia­men­tary poli­cies and the Na­tional Road Traf­fic Act.

But it is the se­cu­rity man­age­ment pro­pos­als in the pol­icy doc­u­ments that are likely to have many staff up in arms.

Lobby group Right2Know Cam­paign con­demned them as con­trary to the prin­ci­ples of open democ­racy and warned they could be repli­cated in other arms of state if adopted for par­lia­ment.

Among other things, par­lia­ment wants the State Se­cu­rity Agency to vet all the leg­is­la­ture’s ser­vice providers, and pro­poses that staff should sign an oath of se­crecy.

“All ap­pli­cants and em­ploy­ees must be vet­ted to the level of top se­cret by the SSA,” reads the doc­u­ment.

The Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion, Health and Al­lied Work­ers Union, which rep­re­sents pub­lic ser­vants, vowed to fight the pro­posal.

Sthem­biso Tembe, chair­man of the union’s branch in par­lia­ment, said it was never con­sulted about the pro­pos­als.

“If the in­sti­tu­tion is to take an ac­tion that

has the po­ten­tial to in­ter­fere with the con­di­tions of ser­vice of work­ers, they have to con­sult the union. They con­sulted us on the HRre­lated poli­cies but not on this pol­icy . . . we don’t agree with it.”

Tembe said it also did not make sense for ev­ery­one to have top-se­cret vet­ting as the ma­jor­ity of par­lia­men­tary staff dealt with pub­lic doc­u­ments.

“They can­not jus­tify why ev­ery­one must be vet­ted top se­cret or sign an oath of se­crecy. There could be a cer­tain cat­e­gory of em­ploy­ees with top-se­cu­rity clear­ance and that would be for those of­fi­cials who han­dle sen­si­tive and se­cret in­for­ma­tion. There can’t be a blan­ket ap­proach,” he said.

Moloto Mothapo, the spokesman for par­lia­ment, said the doc­u­ment was not fi­nal.

“The chief whips fo­rum has been con­sulted and cur­rently the views of staff of par­lia­ment are be­ing can­vassed on it,” he said.

Mothapo said top-level se­cu­rity clear­ance was nec­es­sary to en­sure that po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees had not been in­volved in crimes such as es­pi­onage, ter­ror­ism, sab­o­tage or ac­tions in­tended to over­throw or un­der­mine democ­racy.

“It also as­sures the or­gan­i­sa­tion that an in­di­vid­ual has not been a mem­ber of, or as­so­ci­ated with, any or­gan­i­sa­tion which has ad­vo­cated such ac­tiv­i­ties or has demon­strated a lack of re­li­a­bil­ity through dis­hon­esty, lack of in­tegrity or be­hav­iour.

“Given the stand­ing of par­lia­ment, which is the only state in­sti­tu­tion which of­ten sees the con­ver­gence of heads of the three arms of the state at the same time . . . nec­es­sary mea­sures ought to be ap­plied to en­sure safety and se­cu­rity.”

Mothapo said the travel pol­icy was also be­ing can­vassed with the en­tire staff.

The pro­posed poli­cies would have to be ap­proved by Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of the Na­tional Assem­bly, and Thandi Modise, chair­woman of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Prov­inces, be­fore they could be im­ple­mented.Right2Know’s Mur­ray Hunter said height­ened

Par­lia­ment and Ne­hawu clashed in 2015 when the SSA vet­ted staff and sub­jected them to poly­graph test­ing in some cases. se­cu­rity at par­lia­ment would be bad for democ­racy.

“The sig­nal-jam­ming, the SSA vet­ting, the bounc­ers, the ac­cess con­trol; many peo­ple hoped that the se­cu­rity ramp-up in par­lia­ment was a symp­tom of the Zuma era. Ap­par­ently not,” he said.

Mce­bisi Ndletyana, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, said it was im­por­tant to make clear what pub­lic of­fi­cials were en­ti­tled to, and one should al­ways err on the side of fru­gal­ity.

“That’s just a moral is­sue, espe­cially for a lib­er­a­tion move­ment like the ANC, which pur­ports to care for the poor,” he said.

“You would want to em­pha­sise that a lot more now, in light of the wastage and loot­ing that has been hap­pen­ing.”

Gengezi Mgid­lana

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