Parliament seeks luxury perks for top official, security vetting of staff

Proposal could mean taxpayers foot the bill for business class flights and five-star hotel stays for suspended secretary and his entourage

15 July 2018 - 00:00 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA

Parliament wants to give its secretary and his entourage free rein to fly business class and sleep in five-star hotels at taxpayers' expense.
In addition, it wants all staff to obtain top-level security clearances and take oaths of secrecy.
The proposals are spelt out in a draft policy document, seen by the Sunday Times, that was discussed at workshops in parliament this week.
In a section on travel, the document states: "The Secretary may travel in business class."
Parliament has never divulged what its policy is on travel, but Gengezi Mgidlana, who now holds the top post of secretary, is on suspension while he faces charges that include wasting taxpayers' money during domestic and international travel with his wife. He spent R4-million in two years on such trips.
He is also alleged to have awarded himself a bursary, and an audit committee of parliament last year found that Mgidlana was "wasting money" by staying at five-star hotels despite calls for belt-tightening.Mgidlana is undergoing a disciplinary process related to alleged breaches of the Financial Management of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, parliamentary policies and the National Road Traffic Act.
But it is the security management proposals in the policy documents that are likely to have many staff up in arms.
Lobby group Right2Know Campaign condemned them as contrary to the principles of open democracy and warned they could be replicated in other arms of state if adopted for parliament.
Among other things, parliament wants the State Security Agency to vet all the legislature's service providers, and proposes that staff should sign an oath of secrecy.
"All applicants and employees must be vetted to the level of top secret by the SSA," reads the document.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, which represents public servants, vowed to fight the proposal.
Sthembiso Tembe, chairman of the union's branch in parliament, said it was never consulted about the proposals.
"If the institution is to take an action that has the potential to interfere with the conditions of service of workers, they have to consult the union. They consulted us on the HR-related policies but not on this policy ... we don't agree with it."
Tembe said it also did not make sense for everyone to have top-secret vetting as the majority of parliamentary staff dealt with public documents.
"They cannot justify why everyone must be vetted top secret or sign an oath of secrecy. There could be a certain category of employees with top-security clearance and that would be for those officials who handle sensitive and secret information. There can't be a blanket approach," he said.Moloto Mothapo, the spokesman for parliament, said the document was not final.
"The chief whips forum has been consulted and currently the views of staff of parliament are being canvassed on it," he said.
Mothapo said top-level security clearance was necessary to ensure that potential employees had not been involved in crimes such as espionage, terrorism, sabotage or actions intended to overthrow or undermine democracy.
"It also assures the organisation that an individual has not been a member of, or associated with, any organisation which has advocated such activities or has demonstrated a lack of reliability through dishonesty, lack of integrity or behaviour.
"Given the standing of parliament, which is the only state institution which often sees the convergence of heads of the three arms of the state at the same time ... necessary measures ought to be applied to ensure safety and security."
Mothapo said the travel policy was also being canvassed with the entire staff.The proposed policies would have to be approved by Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of the National Assembly, and Thandi Modise, chairwoman of the National Council of Provinces, before they could be implemented.
Parliament and Nehawu clashed in 2015 when the SSA vetted staff and subjected them to polygraph testing in some cases.
Right2Know's Murray Hunter said heightened security at parliament would be bad for democracy.
"The signal-jamming, the SSA vetting, the bouncers, the access control; many people hoped that the security ramp-up in parliament was a symptom of the Zuma era. Apparently not," he said.
Mcebisi Ndletyana, a political analyst, said it was important to make clear what public officials were entitled to, and one should always err on the side of frugality.
"That's just a moral issue, especially for a liberation movement like the ANC, which purports to care for the poor," he said.
"You would want to emphasise that a lot more now, in light of the wastage and looting that has been happening."

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