Friday, June 21, 2013

Nkandla upgrade report is ‘top secret’

The report on the R206 million security upgrade to President Jacob Zuma’s private home at Nkandla has been classified “top secret”.

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi told Parliament this week that State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele had classified the report, drawn up by a presidential task team, in terms of the Minimum Information Security Standards.

This means not even Auditor-General Terence Nombembe or Public Protector Thuli Madonsela will be able to lay their hands on the report.

The creation of the “top secret” classification was approved by the cabinet in December 1996 as part of the government’s information security policy document.

The policy offers guidelines which must be observed by all government institutions which handle “sensitive and classified” material.

In a letter to National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu, dated June 19, Nxesi said he would submit the report - on Cwele’s behalf - to the chairman of the joint standing committee on intelligence, Cecil Burgess.

“The report on the security upgrades at Nkandla has been classified as ‘top secret’ in terms of the Minimum Information Security Standards, rendering it exempt from disclosure, and its classification can only be adjusted by the task team itself.”

Nxesi said the minister had been unable to provide the auditor-general and the public protector with copies of the report “owing to its classification as ‘top secret’” but was “attending to the challenge that it presented”. On Thursday night, it was unclear what, if anything, the two state institutions would do to get a copy of the report.

After getting legal opinion, Sisulu said he would allow the Nkandla report to be considered behind closed doors by the intelligence committee only.

On Thursday night, advocate Paul Hoffman of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa said he did not believe Cwele’s actions could be deemed legal.

“Any action, taken on the part of a minister, in classifying documents has to be rationally carried out in accordance with the tenets of the law. Cwele’s actions could be described as irrational and part of a cover-up,” he said.

“A decision could be taken to review his actions and test them in the courts.”

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said the Minimum Information Security Standards had been created by the cabinet, but “never passed through Parliament and as such cannot be considered law”.

“This confirms the DA’s position that the report has not been ‘classified’ in terms of law and that the referral of the report to the joint standing committee of intelligence is invalid,” said Mazibuko.

She said given this “invalid classification”, the DA would table a motion in the joint standing committee of intelligence for the report to be sent back to Nxesi.

“The minister must thereafter submit to Parliament a redacted report, which must be made public before the relevant, open portfolio committees. The minister must also submit copies of the report to the public protector and the auditor-general, which he has admitted have not been given a copy because of the ‘top secret’ status of the report,” said Mazibuko.

The DA would also submit parliamentary questions to ascertain whether the Department of State Security had “intervened to conceal this report”, or whether Nxesi “voluntarily” sent the report to Cwele’s department, she said.

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