Security vetting is ‘scaring’ Parliament staff

2015-11-29 15:00

Parliament staff have complained about an “intrusive” security vetting process, during which, among other things, they have been asked about their views on homosexuality and their fidelity.

Parliament announced the security vetting earlier this year, claiming it was a regular process, but those who have been vetted have complained to City Press that the process has left them feeling intimidated.

Public sector union Nehawu, which represents most workers in Parliament, has claimed staff were unnecessarily subjected to the highest form of security clearance.

Parliament said the State Security Agency (SSA) set the required security vetting – ranging from confidential to top secret – but the agency denied this was the case, insisting its clients set out what security level they wanted.

Parliament’s employees have been visited at home, at night, for one-on-one interviews and have been asked, among other things, for their views on homosexuality and if they “have concubines”.

According to the Bill of Rights, the state may not unfairly discriminate against anyone on grounds including race, gender, sex, ethnic or social origin, age or sexual orientation.

Some of the questions Parliament’s staff members said were being asked by the spooks included whether they had any friends or family members working in the media, and whether they communicated with friends or associates in foreign countries.

Family members have also been subjected to a grilling.

One male employee told City Press that after answering questions about the details around his late parents’ death, personal questions about his divorce and his girlfriend, the security agent proceeded to ask if he had concubines.

“It was uncomfortable. It was really intrusive and I don’t know how these questions are relevant to state security. I was interrogated under apartheid – but those questions were not as stupid as these,” he said.

Reduced to tears

Another employee, who was interviewed with his family at home, said his wife was reduced to tears after security agents kept asking the same question about how they could afford their lifestyle “and a fancy house”.

“This, after I submitted four months’ worth of banking statements, which show exactly what I earn and what I spend money on.”

The man said his wife was also employed.

One staff member broke down and cried when talking about the experience: “They ask deeply personal questions; it is like they are pursuing a vendetta,” said the staff member.

Parliamentary spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs said Parliament had not received any complaints from staff members who had undergone the process about the “tactics employed”.

Jacobs said the SSA determined the technical aspects of the process based on its assessments.

But SSA spokesperson Brian Dube said the decision about who received what form of security clearance rested with the requesting agency.

“We are requested to provide a service: come and screen our people in this environment and we will be told these are the people who must be screened. The requisite level of responsibility of those people is not determined by ourselves but by the person who is requesting the service of us,” said Dube.

Nehawu, however, insisted that it had raised the matter and had called for suspension of the vetting process, but the request was ignored.

Murray Hunter of the Right2Know Campaign said the role of parliamentary staff was being misconstrued and that the intrusive questions asked by security agents may be trampling on workers’ constitutional rights to privacy and dignity, and could deter them from whistle-blowing in the future.

Hunter said the vetting process and the manner in which it was being conducted was a clear indication of how Parliament had shifted in the past 18 months, with securocrats taking over.

“They are dealing with a political problem by intimidating Parliament’s staff. They don’t see whistle-blowers, they see informants; they don’t see journalists, they see spies; and they don’t see civil society, they see criminals,” said Hunter.

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