Spy ombud wants greater autonomy
Inspector-general of intelligence Imtiaz Fazel tells parliament he wants more independence from the intelligence services he oversees
The inspector-general of intelligence (IGI), Imtiaz Fazel, wants more independence from the intelligence services he oversees.
The office of the IGI is responsible for monitoring intelligence services and investigating complaints against them.
Appearing before parliament’s ad hoc committee processing the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, Fazel said he was concerned that despite several recommendations over the years, the proposed law fails to address the independence of his office.
While the Intelligence Services Oversight Act was promulgated to articulate the role and function of the IGI to be impartial, independent and perform his or her functions in good faith and without fear, favour, bias or prejudice, institutional and administrative arrangements were incompatible with the provisions, as the dispensation made the IGI subservient in some respects to the intelligence services.
“This in many respects may restrain oversight and also has an adverse effect on the impact of the IGI and also perceptions of the trustworthiness of the IG in the eyes of the public, especially with respect to the ombud role,” said Fazel.
While section 210 of the constitution provides for civilian monitoring of the activities of the intelligence services, a number of review commissions, including the Sydney Mufamadi high-level review panel of 2018 and the Zondo commission, raised concerns that the requirements of an independent IGI were not provided for in legislation.
These review initiatives recommended independent status to allow the IGI to have full control of the financial, human resources and administrative activities of his or her office.
For example, the law provides for the minister of state security to, after consultation with the IGI, appoint staff of the IGI. It also empowers the minister to determine the organisational structure and grading of posts for the ombud office.
This means the IGI doesn’t have the power to appoint staff, deal with disciplinary matters, manage the office's budget and administration.
There was consensus on the findings and recommendations that there’s no reason the recommendations should not be implemented. In the absence of implementation, the oversight would become irrelevantImtiaz Fazel, inspector-general of intelligence
Fazel said it was important to remove all clauses in the act that require the minister of state security to appoint staff members of the IGI or approve operational matters of the office, including “any suggestion” of the State Security Agency (SSA) director-general being the accounting officer, “because we have that impediment where the DG of state security has the authority over the functioning of the office of the IGI; it’s something we repel very strongly to maintain autonomy”.
The proposed amendments will provide the necessary independence and regulate reliance on the SSA, whom the IGI oversees, and will bring about a more effective oversight regime, said Fazel.
He proposed amendments to give the office control of its functioning, especially the management of its budget and human resources as prescribed in the Public Finance Management Act and Public Service Act.
To enhance the performance of the oversight function, Fazel wants the office’s recommendations to be binding.
“It’s an important provision we are introducing. We found in our recent report we issued 234 findings on the intelligence services that were accompanied by 130 recommendations and these recommendations, as well as findings, were subject to consultation with the heads of services and the respective ministers,” he said.
“There was consensus on the findings and recommendations that there’s no reason the recommendations should not be implemented. In the absence of implementation, the oversight would become irrelevant.”
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