Spat over ‘top secret’ Nkandla report
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Johannesburg - State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has dismissed as “factually incorrect” suggestions by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi that he classified the Nkandlagate report “top secret”.
He said on Monday that only Nxesi, who commissioned the probe into the controversial R206 million upgrade to President Jacob Zuma’s private homestead, can classify or declassify the report.
This raises questions about whether Nxesi deliberately misled Parliament when he said last month that Cwele had classified the report in terms of the Minimum Information Security Standards.
Cwele’s statement has also led to the DA accusing Nxesi of using Cwele’s name to justify his decision to refer the report to the joint standing committee on intelligence.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko added that Nxesi was “clutching at straws” in his efforts to justify his decision not to make it public.
Nxesi’s legal adviser, Phillip Masilo, conceded on Monday that Cwele had never classified the Nkandla report.
However, he denied that Nxesi had attributed the decision to classify the report to the state security minister in the first place.
In his June 19 letter to National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu, Nxesi had said he would rather submit the report – on Cwele’s behalf – to joint standing committee on intelligence chairman Cecil Burgess.
“The report on the security upgrades at Nkandla has been classified as ‘top secret’ in terms of the Minimum Information Security Standards, rendering it exempt from disclosure, and its classification can only be adjusted by the task team itself, and (I have) been unable to provide the Auditor-General and the Public Protector with copies of the report owing to its classification as ‘top secret’, but was attending to the challenge that it presented,” said Nxesi.
Sisulu, after getting legal opinion, subsequently said he would allow the Nkandla report to be considered behind closed doors by the intelligence committee only.
This decision prevented even Auditor-General Terence Nombembe and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela from accessing the report.
But Cwele hit back on Monday, saying he had nothing to do with the decision to classify the report.
His spokesman, Brian Dube, said: “We wish to indicate that it’s factually incorrect that the Minister of State Security, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, has classified the report top secret or issued an instruction to this effect as claimed by some media reports. In terms of the prevailing classification regime, the author of the report is the one who classifies it.
“As the report is authored by the task team and owned by the commissioning minister of public works, the minister of state security cannot classify or declassify it or issue instructions to this effect.”
Masilo denied that Nxesi said Cwele had classified the report. He accused the DA of distortion.
“I think that’s unfortunate. It’s actually incorrect. Minister Nxesi never said the report was classified by Minister Cwele.”
He added that Nxesi was asked two questions: What legislation did he rely on in classifying the task team report, and what classification grading was given to that report?
“And the minister answered that the classification was done in terms of the Protection of Information Act and also in terms of the Minimum Information Security Standards, which is an approved cabinet policy,” he added.
Mazibuko maintained that Nxesi had “serious questions” to answer regarding his “glaring inconsistencies” in the wake of Cwele’s decision to publicly distance himself from the classification of the Nkandla report.
“I will again write to Minister Nxesi and ask for urgent clarification on all of these glaring inconsistencies, as well as the omissions in his official correspondence with Parliament.
“Should he fail to provide satisfactory answers to these questions, I will table a motion in the National Assembly requesting that he be investigated for misleading the House,” Mazibuko said.