Ronnie Kasrils blasts ‘idiotic’ levels of secrecy

2014-08-17 15:00

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Former minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils believes there is reason for concern about the “idiotic” levels of secrecy in South Africa’s department of state security.

In the past two weeks, State Security Minister David Mahlobo has classified at least two answers to parliamentary questions:

» How much money his department spent on flowers since 2009; and

»?Whether he and his colleagues attended the Soccer World Cup in Brazil and how much this cost the department.

As is customary, he did not table his replies in Parliament, but referred them directly to the joint standing committee on intelligence.

This means that the information is classified and will remain unknown to ordinary South Africans.

Kasrils spoke out about what he called this “ridiculous” secrecy and said it was “absolutely wrong and stupid”.

“This is the world of [the dictator] Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984. For heaven’s sake, we are living in the 21st century.

“It is terribly wrong and unhelpful to reply to questions in this way and it is, in fact, not the case that everything to do with safety and security should be confidential,” said Kasrils.

Last week, City Press reported on the existence of a unit for special operations in the State Security Agency (SSA). Staffed by rogue spies, it allegedly set up campaigns to discredit civil servants and is involved in cigarette smuggling.

After these reports, Mahlobo announced this week that the inspector general of intelligence would investigate allegations of improper conduct by SSA members.

He said his department remained accountable and would do its work in the spirit of the Constitution.

Kasrils said a good start for accountability and transparency would be for the minister to answer simple parliamentary questions and make the replies public.

“What is secret about the flowers they ordered? It is so ridiculous that it is actually laughable, except for the fact that it is dangerous because it promotes paranoia and secrecy.”

Kasrils said extreme secrecy was not just bad for the country and its people who had the right to know, but was also extremely damaging to the credibility of the minister and the country’s security institutions.

Kasrils said a review of the country’s intelligence institutions was essential to prevent corruption and the abuse of power.

“This is a disease that is spreading and must be stopped,” he said.

This did not mean that everything must be made public, said Kasrils.

Mahlobo’s spokesperson Brian Dube said the question was fully answered.

But because of its “nature”, it was referred to the standing committee, which would review it, he added.

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