Bold leadership is required at a time when abuse of state resources is ubiquitous in all government
US President Donald Trump and his administrative officials recently abused the information classification system to suppress damning information that would have exposed his unlawful conduct, and thus threatened his presidency.
Similarly, over a decade, senior officials of the SA Police Service (SAPS) crime intelligence division, including at least four past and current national police commissioners, abused the information classification system to stymie lawful investigations of corruption within their ranks.
But as the adage goes, the truth is like a mole – you trample it on one side and it emerges on the other.
The minimum information security system is a commonly used mechanism to manage access to, and dissemination of, critical information within institutions.
It applies to sensitive information that has been classified as restricted, confidential, secret or top secret.
Heads of institutions bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance with the provisions of the system.
Compliance is not only limited to classification of documents, it also compels custodians to accede to lawful requests for declassification for legitimate purposes.
Trump is in legal and political jeopardy for abusing the power of his office to solicit interference by a foreign country in his bid for re-election as US president.
During a July telephone conversation, Trump allegedly used military funds appropriated by Congress as leverage to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to initiate investigations into past activities of former US vice-president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
On realising the inappropriateness of the conversation with Zelensky, Trump and his aides misclassified the memo of the call in an apparent effort to conceal it.
Perhaps the most explosive indictment of Trump lies in the fact that he used the supersecret intelligence computer’s electronic record system, originally designed to store highly classified information, in an effort to further hide its existence and contents.
Meanwhile, our law enforcement environment is mediated by fear, deceit, blackmail and endemic corruption.
Criminal quid pro quo and the information classification system are preferred tools used by police top brass to hide corruption and wrongdoing within their ranks.
This has unfortunately cascaded to lower levels of the system and severely affects policing.
Dereliction of duty and malfeasance within the SAPS festered in a political environment whose well has been poisoned by the absence of consequence management.
But perhaps the abuse of the information classification system, particularly the brazen refusal to declassify documents needed for legitimate criminal investigation purposes, is the worst form of abuse of executive powers.
The Zondo commission has heard how the minimum information security system was abused to conceal corruption by senior officials in the SAPS, particularly its crime intelligence division.
During his testimony recently, senior Hawks investigator Colonel Kobus Roelofse revealed how he was unable to conduct investigations on corrupt crime intelligence officials owing to apparent cover-ups.
Roelofse testified how no police commissioner, current or past, had been willing to declassify critical documents in almost a decade.
It is important to note that the documents sought by Roelofse, largely normal invoices, have been misclassified and don’t contain information that could harm the security of the state.
It is alleged that senior police officials implicated in corruption and wrongdoing entangled their political principals – current and past police ministers – in criminal wrongdoing.
Potential threats of blackmail could explain why no action has been taken against implicated police officials, especially those who stymie legitimate investigations by refusing to declassify documents.
This could also explain why whistle-blowers and upright officials have been victimised and/or hounded out of law enforcement.
Police ministers, past and present, have been implicated in wrongdoing.
This could explain their imperviousness to the rot while in some instances they are alleged to have played an active role in weakening the system.
It is widely believed that former Independent Police Investigative Directorate executive director Robert McBride failed to have his contract renewed owing to ministers and top police officials being in the crosshairs of his investigations.
Clearly, personal and political interests have been placed ahead of national interests, and this has a direct bearing on the ability of police to fight the scourge of crime.
However, there are many dedicated and upright members of the SAPS who, like Roelofse, uphold their oath of service and serve without fear, favour or prejudice.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we live in a society under the siege of criminals.
What makes it even more debilitating is the fact that some of those in key positions, tasked with the responsibility of combatting crime, are themselves the chief enablers.
It is an indictment on our criminal justice system that a judge of a high court who was recently robbed in broad daylight while driving home from court elected to not bother registering the violent incident with the police.
Crime is so bad that even National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi and, ironically, senior members of the ruling party recently joined public protests against government failure to combat the scourge of crime.
Only during the height of the Mafiosi 1990s siege of Sicily has the world witnessed such a sad spectacle.
This is a microcosm of endemic crime and the level of helplessness communities endure while SAPS bosses, particularly in the crime intelligence division, scheme and expand cover-ups of their own criminal conduct.
In its current form, SAPS crime intelligence is an oxymoron.
Senior police crime intelligence officers are consumed with fighting the ruling party’s political battles and hiding their own criminal conduct instead of discharging their mandate.
Like Trump, who is preoccupied with his re-election bid, President Cyril Ramaphosa seems hamstrung by the need to keep venal but influential ANC politicians to assure his re-election and to pursue the chimera of unity in his party.
Thus, despite clouds hanging over their heads, some individuals remain safely ensconced in their positions.
The optics do not reflect well on Ramaphosa’s commitment to combat crime and corruption. Many people accuse Ramaphosa of hypocrisy.
In a rational world those implicated in serious wrongdoing would step aside until they had cleared their names.
However, in the real world it often requires bold action against individuals who show no compunction.
Ramaphosa’s legacy will not only be judged by how he rescued an ailing economy or how he dealt with his detractors, but more importantly by how he effectively dislodged the politically convenient millstone of venal politicians and officials hanging around his neck.
The SAPS is a real and present danger to our national security and prosperity.
Revelations at the state capture commission are no cause for joy. They reflect a very sad epoch in our nascent democracy.
In its darkest hour, our nation cries out loud for bold leadership.
- Khaas is a businessman and the founder and convener of Public Interest SA, a public benefit organisation that protects and advances constitutionalism.
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