State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba. Picture: SUPPLIED
State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba. Picture: SUPPLIED

The State Security Agency (SSA) is wracked by systemic structural and governance weaknesses that require "urgent intervention", State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba admitted in her speech in Parliament on Friday.

These weaknesses had been identified in a probe conducted by the minister after she took over the department a few months ago.

She attributed the problem to the fact that the agency had been in a "perpetual state of transition".

The SSA has been criticised for its failures in governance and operational capacity, Letsatsi-Duba told MPs, and stronger controls over its financial management and the management of operational funds was necessary.

There was no place for "rogue elements" in the intelligence services, she said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has decided to appoint a review panel to assess the structure of the SSA and inquire into its systems and capacity.

The minister said the panel would be established swiftly and would consist of a team of no more than 10 experts in the field of intelligence restructuring, security governance, ICT development and organisational change management. It would include strategic thinkers.

The minister also said it was time for a review of the White Paper on Intelligence of 1995.

One of the most significant threats to national security, Letsatsi-Duba said, was the scourge of corruption, which ranged from individual petty theft and small-time bribery of officials in departments, municipalities, or ports of entry, to large-scale organised corruption in the form of state capture.

"The state security structures unfortunately seem not to have been spared from this scourge either, with recent allegations of irregular and unlawful conduct. We will have to confront these allegations head on, and hold the guilty parties responsible to the letter of the law, and take steps to recover monies not accounted for.

"We are clear that a prerequisite in the fight against corruption and state capture is for those structures charged with the responsibility of fighting corruption to be cleansed first in order for them to fulfil their responsibilities, without fear, favour or prejudice."

The minister said the SSA had begun proactive risk assessments of government institutions, including state-owned enterprises, to assess the extent of actual corruption and to put mitigation measures in place to reduce potential risks.

Border security was another area of vulnerability, due to insufficient monitoring and control, which was exploited by illegal migrants and criminals.

The cyber security risk level remained high in both the public and private spheres, she said.

"We remain concerned that the inadequate state of security at government departments, state-owned entities and national key points, combined with generally inadequate security awareness among government officials, remains one of the most serious security threats facing government systems and processes at present.

"In order to address these challenges we shall be employing measures to enhance our vetting capacity to respond to these challenges.

"We will also complete the drafting of new vetting regulations for state institutions that will include sanctions for noncompliance, both for the individual, as well as for heads of the institutions who fail to ensure that staff under their supervision have the requisite security clearances which are commensurate with their responsibilities.

"Vetting must assist with the question of ‘fit for purpose’ which lies at the heart of some of some dubious appointments that ultimately lead to poor governance in institutions."