Minister Ayanda Dlodlo. Picture: GCIS/ KOPANO TLAPE
Minister Ayanda Dlodlo. Picture: GCIS/ KOPANO TLAPE

Steps are being taken to establish the State Security Agency (SSA) as an ethical, non-politicised and professional institution and to restore its damaged reputation, state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo promised on Thursday.

The agency became a tool of political factionalism and corruption in the era of former president Jacob Zuma. 

Dlodlo said in her budget vote speech in the National Assembly that the agency has suffered “considerable damage in the recent past” and its credibility in the eyes of the public has suffered.

She stressed that state security agents had to conduct themselves in a professional manner “devoid of political and institutional factionalism and manipulation”. The minister gave the undertaking that the governance and integrity of the agency’s administrative systems would be strengthened.

“We are repositioning and rebuilding. I have no appetite for bringing politics into state security. We will deal with issues that relate to our mandate in an impartial fashion. We will make sure that whatever we do is devoid of any adverse politicisation,” Dlodlo stressed.

The failings and weaknesses of the agency were identified in the high-level panel’s review report on state security.  President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed the panel in June 2018 under the chairmanship of ANC stalwart Sydney Mufamadi. It found that several rogue intelligence operations were enacted in the political interests of Zuma and his faction.

The panel also found widespread abuse of state resources, particularly by the Principal Agent Network (PAN), a covert parallel structure established by former director-general Arthur Fraser. The panel said there had been serious criminal behaviour by PAN, including theft, forgery, fraud and corruption.

Fraser, who was identified by the Mail & Guardian as the intelligence operative who leaked the so-called “spy tapes” that saw all corruption charges against Zuma being dropped in 2009, has rubbished the findings. “This obsession with aligning its findings with a popular grand narrative against one faction of the ruling party is not only irrelevant but an unpardonable breach,” Fraser said in a 78-page response to the panel’s findings.

The panel recommended the separation of the currently merged domestic and foreign security agencies. Dlodlo clarified on Thursday that this unbundling would require that the agency have two directors-general.

The minister said at a media briefing ahead of her speech that the pace of implementation of the recommendations of the report will depend on the agency’s budget, which is far lower than those of comparable agencies globally. It will  also depend on the availability of skills. The recommendations will be implemented in a staggered way with short-, medium- and long-term measures being implemented.

The long-outstanding backlog of disciplinary cases is being addressed and a dedicated person with labour-relations expertise will be appointed in the next month to deal with them, Dlodlo said.

A skills audit of staff will be completed in four months, and an ethics and integrity framework will be developed and ethics officers appointed. 

“In the next eight months we will be reviewing and updating some of our policy and legislative instruments to strengthen our capacity to carry out our mandate,” Dlodlo told MPs, adding that a new national security strategy will be developed in consultation with the presidency and other key departments.

Uniform vetting standards will be introduced across the government within the next three months to eliminate inconsistency and duplication. Particular attention will be given to vetting executives and top management, including government employees involved in supply chain management. The agency will also work with the Public Service Commission to begin lifestyle audits of government employees this financial year.

“We will also review and update the anti-gangsterism strategy and maximise the utilisation of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act leading to the increased prosecution of individuals and groups involved in gangsterism,” Dlodlo told journalists.

The implementation of the National Cyber-security Policy Framework would be improved in an effort to fight cyber-crime.