Cecil Burgess. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Cecil Burgess. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

PARLIAMENT has been served with legal papers demanding it appoint a new inspector-general of intelligence, the surveillance watchdog who keeps state spies in check.

While this position has been vacant for almost a year and complaints about abuses of power by the state’s intelligence services are piling up, the African National Congress (ANC) is in a tricky position because it cannot secure enough support for its preferred candidate, former ANC MP Cecil Burgess.

In the letter, the Legal Resources Centre, which is acting for the Right2Know Campaign, calls on Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete to ensure that Parliament "fufils its constitutional obligation" and appoints this watchdog by Thursday.

If this cannot be done, Ms Mbete must provide reasons for the unprecedented delay in filling this position, vacant since Advocate Faith Radebe’s term ended in March last year. If these demands are not met, court action will begin, aimed at forcing Parliament to make the appointment.

Parliament confirmed that it had received this letter and said that its programming committee was "seized with" the matter of getting the appointment of the inspector-general of intelligence onto the legislature’s programme. No other comment was given in response to questions.

Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence nominated Mr Burgess, who is a previous chairman of the committee and who chaired it when the so-called secrecy bill was piloted through Parliament, for the position of inspector-general last year.

Mr Burgess was not re-elected in the 2014 election, but the three biggest opposition parties in Parliament — the Democratic Alliance, the Economic Freedom Fighters, and the Inkatha Freedom Party — are emphatic they will not support his nomination for the inspector-general of intelligence because his track record has proved that his priority is advancing the executive line, not independently holding government to account.

The ANC has insisted that he is the only person for the job and it remains confident that it will be able to obtain enough support from opposition benches to appoint Mr Burgess with the required two-thirds majority in Parliament.

This means that the ANC needs support from all of its 249 MPs, as well as 17 votes from opposition benches. So far, however, it has been unable to gain the two-thirds majority it needs in the National Assembly to achieve this.

In June last year, the ANC had to abandon its first attempt at installing Mr Burgess in the post when too few ANC MPs showed up for the vote and there was not enough opposition party support to carry it.

In November the vote appeared on Parliament’s order paper again, but was withdrawn before the sitting. The plan was to reschedule the vote for the new year.