R2K: The problem with State Security’s secret budget

April 29, 2016 (3 years, 3 months ago)

Today the Minister of State Security David Mahlobo delivered the State Security Agency (SSA) budget vote. It’s a long speech, with lots of things worth mentioning, but what does it actually tell us about the budget?

The SSA budget has grown from about R3 Billion in 2010/11 to R4.3 Billion for 2015/16. The budget for SSA is transferred as an annual payment from Treasury to a line item ‘secret services’ in Treasury’s budget.

The public and Parliament have almost no information on what the money is spent on. Except when there is a scandal: for example, in 2014 the media revealed that hundred of millions of rands that were meant for a covert project to strengthen South Africa’s intelligence capabilities was spent on luxury items instead.

The SSA does not submit annual reports to Parliament, nor provide any information to the public on financial statements. This practice is contrary to how other government departments are expected conduct their business. It is also seriously out of step with governance in a constitutional democracy.

As a result, Parliament and the public are left in the dark on how the annual budget is truly allocated and spent. The public has no way of monitoring spending and ensuring there is not irregular and wasteful expenditure. With this kind of secrecy, the risk of misuse of state funds to further political agendas is high.

We can accept the need for some secrecy. The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, which has security clearance to conduct oversight on sensitive intelligence information, only has access to very limited ‘administrative’ budget information. A slightly higher level of budget information is made available to the Auditor-General and the Inspector-General of Intelligence. The highest level of budget information is only accessible for scrutiny by the Inspector-General.

In 2008, a Ministerial Commission on the South African intelligence services under Ronnie Kasrils – the Matthews Commission – made some basic but urgent recommendations for budget transparency of the SSA. (Download the Matthews Commission Report here.)

The Department of State Security should have its own separate budget. Full annual reports and financial statements of the services should be presented to Parliament as public documents. Only details which, if published, would do demonstrable harm to legitimate national security operations, may be excluded. However, such information should be disclosed to the JSCI.

These are not radical demands. But just like most if not all of the recommendations of the Matthews Commission, they have never been implemented. Why not?

This article was first published online on 26 April 2016.



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