The front page of yesterday’s Sunday Times broke the news that South Africa’s high commissioner to Singapore, Hazel Francis Ngubeni, is a convicted drug smuggler.
This has now raised some serious questions about the vetting process people go through to get such high-ranking jobs – not that we should even be surprised that such a thing could happen, what with our “No.1” pretty much messing us all about.
Ngubeni spent two years, from 1999 to 2001, in jail in New York for smuggling cocaine. She had previously been arrested in 1995 at OR Tambo, for smuggling nine kilograms of heroin into South Africa from Thailand, but was acquitted two years later.
At the time of her arrest, Ngubeni was going by the name of Francis MacDonald and was a cabin attendant for SAA during both incidents – the last of which got her fired.
A former senior manager at SAA claimed they could not have fired her if she wasn’t convicted, as that is illegal.
So what about her position in Singapore? According to the Sunday Times:
Ngubeni left South Africa for Singapore on April 17 2013 and her security clearance was issued three months later, on July 21 2013.
A senior source at the department said that Ngubeni would never have been deployed had she declared her criminal record.
Records at the department note that Ngubeni was nominated to her position by “senior political leadership”.
But what does this say about our country – not that we have much left to go on:
[International relations expert Professor Siphamandla] Zondi said the violation of the ethics of diplomatic conduct “can cause serious damage both to the stature of the profession of diplomacy and South Africa’s stature. It does a lot more harm to us as a country than we realise and it erodes the trust in diplomatic immunity.”
Another international relations and foreign policy expert, who asked not to be named, said the revelation was shocking.
“God forgive us all! Diplomats are vetted to verify as to what extent would they become a liability to our country. I was made to believe that we have one of the highest security checks.”
The expert said the credentials of diplomats on missions abroad were sent to the receiving country to scrutinise.
“In most cases, they accept our diplomats as presented to them, but there are a lot of things happening behind closed doors when some stuff like this … about this high commissioner are discovered . . . but they can’t be discussed in public to avoid a diplomatic row.”
I’m starting to think criminal records are a prerequisite for the ANC.
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