Executives and officials at South African Airways during the reign of former head Dudu Myeni were subjected to “deeply invasive” vetting in order to get security clearances, the state capture inquiry heard on Wednesday.
According to a witness before the commission – an evaluator at the State Security Agency (SSA) by the name of Nokunqoba Dlamini – the project came about following a letter written by former SSA Minister David Mahlobo to former Finance Minister Nhlanhle Nene.
In that letter – dated 13 October 2015 – Mahlobo indicated that “it has come to the attention of the SSA that there is an urgent need for vetting in public enterprises, due to sensitive information received on an ongoing basis”.
Dlamini said, from what she understood of the letter, it said that “executives of SAA are employed a by a state-owned agency and in terms of our mandate they have to be vetted.
“The fact they are employed is enough to trigger the vetting,” Dlamini said.
The commission is shining a light on the troubled state-owned entity.
Evidence leader advocate Kate Hofmeyr pointed out to the witness that, in the letter, Mahlobo had placed emphasis on executives and officials who had access to sensitive information, not all of whom were employed by the state.
It was further revealed through the witness’ evidence that the SSA did not establish whether the list of names given to the project for vetting would contain to “sensitive” i.e. classified information.
“The object was not to ensure that everyone employed by SAA should be vetted. What is stated was that this was to make sure that those who had access to information would need valid security clearance. The question is, how do you carry out the project if you do not know?” the commission’s chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo put to the witness.
Hofmeyr added: “If you do not establish whether they had access to the sensitive information, then there would be no need to vet them (this is with respect to the objectives of the project).”
Dlamini said that, when the two former ministers engaged on the said project, she was not privy to the discussions – she was merely handed a list of names to vet as the project manager.
The list of names included 118 people – none of them were board members.
“Did you consider whether board members should have been vetted? If I ask you that now, what would your answer be?” Hofmeyr asked.
“Yes,” Dlamini answered.
The operation included the following four stages: administration, vetting fieldwork, polygraph stage (that only executives were subjected to not staff) and the analysis phase.
Hofmeyr read into the record the deeply personal nature of the questions put to the 118 people employed at SAA.
Some questions included being asked about family upbringing, i.e whether all the children in the family were treated fairly while growing up. Staff were also asked if they had a chance to redo everything all over again, would they marry their spouse?
“Do you accept that these questions are of a personal nature?” Hofmeyr asked.
“Yes, it was a personal interview,” Dlamini emphasised.
The inquiry continues.