Defence & Military Veterans: Minister's Budget Speech
03 May 2010
4 May 2010
Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Ladies and gentlemen
At the end of last month I was afforded a rare glimpse into the future - a glimpse of hope and victory. Hope, because I saw into the future where South Africa will be unencumbered by the past, by prejudice and bigotry; a future where every child has the enormous advantage only a country like ours can give. I saw victory over the inequitable order of things we had come to accept.
I visited a range of our new recruits into the military, in their second month of training. Many of them are from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds with no hope. Here they were, having overcome their adversity and inhibitions and proving that given the necessary opportunity and space, they too can and will succeed. In the Navy, for instance were youth who had never been in water before. It was amazing to see how, in the space of two months, they had not only overcome their fear of water, they had learnt to swim and survive in water and are now being taught to dive, paddle boats and read and interpret a map.
Above all, here was a youth that was learning in the most natural way that this country belongs to all of us. Here was a youth from all classes and racial groups who had learnt that racial integration is the most natural thing when faced with common problems, common goals, common dangers and common identity.
The forging of racial harmony was amazing. It was victory over the illogical. Here, a new bond was being crafted, a new discourse that understood the strengths of each group and utilised it for the greater good, where song had become part of the culture, to motivate and unify. Here were White and Indian children singing in Zulu!
All in two months, I realised too that various racial groups that seemed unwilling to join the Defence Force were now finding the force attractive. It has been an exhilarating exercise. And to the parents of those children in our care I can assure you, your kids are in very good hands.
I left these places ever more convinced that there could not be a better equaliser in any society than the defence force; that there could not be a better tool for most of the problems we grapple with, including those of skills shortage and of unemployment. I am convinced there could not be another solution to the huge glut of unemployed, disempowered and unskilled youth.
At his state of the nation address, the President gave a graphic analysis of the situation in our country. He indicated that we are an extremely youthful country and yet, not investing sufficiently in this future. These are some of the disturbing figures that have emerged: there are more than three million young people who are unemployed, presumably with no prospect whatsoever that they will be absorbed into a labour market that continues to shrink. That 50% of people in the age group 18 to 24 are unemployed.
Having spent a year in this portfolio and having learnt what I have learnt, I am proposing formally through Parliament that the country considers the possibility that in the next year we create national service where all youth will be gradually absorbed into our training facilities.
What we offer is skills that each would be able to build on, we offer training in discipline that which would create a sector, whether public or private, which is firmly grounded in a purposeful sense of tomorrow. What we offer is education, in essential respect for each individual and authority: an element you will all agree is not in abundance in our youth.
After due consultation with all necessary stakeholders, we intend to introduce a bill that will provide the necessary legal framework for the creation of national service. This will not be a compulsory national service, but an unavoidable national service.
Throughout the world the defence force, that great social equaliser, is used for precisely the purpose for which we propose it should be used for here. Young people are leaving school with no skills and no prospect of being absorbed into a labour market that is already is glutted.
Any television footage of service delivery protests will show you that at the forefront of this, in great majority are our youth. With excessive anger and misdirected energy and frustration etched on their faces. We as a country can ill afford this. Our youth are an asset and we must direct them properly.
History is replete with examples of how turning the youth into a disciplined purposeful force can change the fortunes of a people. Our own history tells how by using the age cohort system, Shaka harnessed the power of youth and changed the face of the subcontinent forever. Every culture known to men has a process of coming of age.
This includes some initiation into responsible adulthood, where the line is drawn from childish ways to purposeful, responsible adult behaviour. We can do that for this country, because that is the one thing we need; to build a future for our development and prosperity a place where the young and unemployed can find skills dignity and purpose.
This could be part of our essential education and in partnership with the Ministers of Higher and Basic Education, we could create a seamless education system between Compulsory Basic Education, national service, skills training and tertiary education, where access to education is not based on class. The benefits to the youth are enormous, the benefits to society incalculable and for the economy this means a solid bedrock that will sustain our development. Should we find that the idea is one our country and people would want to support, we expect that it would take the next two years to build up the capacity and infrastructure required for the numbers were are faced with.
I emphasise, this will not be compulsory national service. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past nor, on the other hand do we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There has been a concern raised that if we militarise our youth, we are turning them over to society, highly trained to kill and a greater danger than before.
We can interrogate this concern and we will hopefully be able to show that this is not the experience of countries with military service and that quite the contrary, the greater danger is caused by people who have no purpose, no discipline and who come across guns that are so readily available in society.
The past year has been an exceedingly eventful one for me, but one where we recorded enormous successes in the goals we had set ourselves.
In taking stock of our achievement in the last year, I wish to cast your mind back to a promise I made when I appeared before this august House on 3 July 2009. In my maiden address I stated that:
“I want to assure Defence Force staff that their conditions of service are a concern. We are acutely aware that the state of readiness of the South African Defence Force (SANDF) depends primarily on the morale of our soldiers.”
I went further to state that:
“We are considering making a request for a separate dispensation for the Department of Defence that would allow us to creatively deal with our own needs and the specificities of our own unique security requirements.”
The request was made to Cabinet and approved. We have gone a long way in establishing a separate dispensation for the Defence Force. Cabinet also approved the regulatory mechanism to govern and oversee the dispensation. The dispensation we have been given has the authority and regulatory mandate of the Public Service Commission. Within this environment we have been able to deal with a number of issues that are uniquely Defence related and I believe we now have an environment where we can deal with our problems and where we can provide enhanced conditions of service.
Soldiers are not workers. It is precisely because the Defence Force is so different from all other arms of state that we demand that we take extraordinary measures to enforce discipline. Soldiers are responsible for lethal instruments of ultimate force and therefore their conduct has had to be stipulated in the Constitution. Our relationship with the state is not that of a worker. It is not governed by an employment agreement, but by a solemn oath. This dispensation is regulated by a Military Commission due to be legislated, hopefully this month.
This dispensation has also allowed us to restructure and enhance our grievance mechanism, which will be further enhanced by the re-establishment of the Office of the Military Ombud.
“The defence force expects us to put it on a pedestal and accord it a special status.”
We have been accused of wanting to treat the Defence Force as special and different. These accusations are repeated with scorn and with monotonous frequency. At one level it reflects a lingering attitude which prevailed when we took over in 1994. We inherited a military state. In our quest to rein the influence of the military, we developed regulations aimed at bringing down the power of the Defence Force. In doing so, we may have gone overboard and risked compromising its strength and capabilities.
The Defence Force is special, we cannot ever deny. They are special because they take an oath that commits them to giving their lives in order that you may keep yours. No country or nation worth its salt should expect any less for members of its defence force.
The South African National Defence Force is a proud, disciplined force and that is its constitutional prescript. This is precisely why I still am distraught that some of our soldiers would have gone on an illegal march to the Union Buildings on 26 August 2009. We will not allow ill-discipline in our ranks, ever, because it destroys the most fundamental premise of a soldier. We will retain our culture and not allow any to defile our image and the honour of our profession.
Our commitment as the State, to our Defence Force is complete and unconditional and will not be decided by ill-disciplined soldiers. The relationship the state has with its soldiers is unique and based on an exceptional amount of trust and responsibility. It requires of the state an enormous investment in each member, both in their conditions of service and education and training. We have been working on this and over the past year have made significant progress in a number of areas. We still have serious challenges in the Defence Force, most of which are as a result of serious under funding. If we do not invest in our Defence Force, we are doing ourselves an injustice.
There are few components of the State which have such a high calling; which demands selflessness, bravery in the face of danger, the highest levels of discipline and absolute loyalty to the Constitution.
In peacetime our defence is a force for good. When all else fails, you can count on the Defence Force in providing whatever support is required. When faced with disaster strikes, whether natural or man made, we can count on these men and women in uniform to come to provide humanitarian assistance.
Who can forget the rescue mission our forces carried out during the floods in Mozambique in 2000? Who amongst us can forget the image of a child born on a tree and her miraculous rescue by our special forces? Rosinah is now ten years old and in good health. She is amongst us here. She has become a symbol of the commitment of and everything the SANDF represents: technical skill and expertise; humanity; bravery; discipline and empathy for the plight of those less fortunate or those in difficulty. This is what we strive for at all times.
We are continuously working to ensure that our military is infused with all these noble values. This is the culture we insisted on in our new democracy, because this was the culture on which our struggle for freedom was based. We follow a very proud tradition of our military veterans, sons and daughters of Africa who sacrificed their lives for us to be here today, living in peace and harmony/security. We can only hope that they look at us with the same pride as a continuation of their work.
However Chairperson, allow me to digress. Sadly, even though the veterans have made such sacrifices for us to be here today, we have not given them the most basic honour they deserve a life of retirement in dignity. I was horrified to learn that the matter of the pensions due to them, that would enable them to live out their retirement in some acceptable level of comfort, had not been finalised.
The agreements on their pensions, forged during the negotiation process that ushered in our democracy and which was endorsed by successive Cabinets, have not been implemented. The basic principle of caring for our veterans has not been adhered to. It should be of great concern to all of us that fifteen years later, we have not honoured our commitment. I have therefore taken unconventional steps to call all my chiefs to beg for money from their meagre budgets to fulfil this right. All of Sunday and Monday the Military Command Council met to discuss this unusual posture of a begging Minister.
But it worked It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce to all our Non-Statutory Force Military Veterans that we are we are now able to make adjustments in our budget to ensure we can provide you with a pension you can live on, which would come into effect on 15 May 2010. This will be implemented incrementally and the first adjustment will be done this month. On 16 May I will be available for a lunch with the NSF veterans – they must foot the bill! My sincerest gratitude goes to General Ngwenya and his staff, as well as my advisers for making this possible.
I digressed Chairperson, but I am glad you allowed me, because that is a major breakthrough for our Military Veterans right now. The Deputy Minister, who is responsible for the new Department of Military Veterans will deal with the greater part of the work we have put in place.
However, as I was saying, Honourable members will recall, we wasted no time in establishing the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission last year. It has done sterling work over the past year and we have already implemented three of its proposals.
First, the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission recommended and worked on a draft Bill to enact the permanent National Defence Force Service Commission. We hope the Bill will go through the parliamentary process in the next two months. This will give our new dispensation legal standing.
A second recommendation related to the improvement of the basic salaries of members of the SANDF from salary levels 2 to 12. The President, as the Commander-in-Chief announced salary increases in December 2009. This directive was effected immediately with salary increases ranging from 2% to 65% for all members of the SANDF on salary levels 2 to 12, with effect from 1 December 2009. We have done this as part of our commitment to ensure that members of the SANDF are remunerated at levels that are in line with our responsibility towards them and because we have the dispensation that makes it possible for us to do so.
But the best is still to come. The interim Service Commission recommended that the salary adjustments, which were paid in December 2009, be backdated to 1 July 2009 to November 2009. We did not have the budget then (neither do we have it now), so we took a decision to effect salaries from December 2009. What it means is that we owe our soldiers of salary levels 2 to 12 the five months back pay from 1 July 2009. I am therefore happy to announce that the soldiers on salary levels 2 to 12 will be given their 5 months back pay incrementally as of 15 May 2010.
The final report of the interim Service Commission has dealt with the long outstanding matter of the Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD). The disjuncture between the dispensation of the Public Service and the military has always meant that the Defence Force was severely disadvantaged. But now with the new dispensation, these festering problems are being attended to.
The Department of Defence has lost a number of technical professionals in the SAAF, Army, Navy and SAMHS due to the uncompetitive remuneration levels. The Military OSD is therefore embraced as the first phase of the remuneration strategic intervention to ensure skills retention in Defence – skills whose shortage would cripple our capacity.
Again, we have had to find the budget for the salary adjustment for the Military OSD and again I am happy to announce that those who have not benefited will have their salary adjustment with effect from 1 July 2010. This will be backdated to 1 July 2009. However, the details of the backdated payments will be discussed at a later stage. I would like to that the interim Service Commission for the wonderful work they have done to ensure that our dispensation responds to our unique environment. We have made immense progress on so many fronts, because now we can.
This has given us creative space to innovatively respond to our unique challenges. We have used the space to develop an HIV and AIDS policy that uniquely responds to our circumstances. It is a matter of public record that our policy on HIV and AIDS is not only precedent setting but is considered the most progressive in the world.
In response to the request from the Reserve Force that they will be allowed to continue to serve, we have been seized with the challenge of making optimal use of members of the Reserve Force. Legislation would be put before parliament which will enable a call-up of those members who would like to be deployed by the Chief of the SANDF during peacetime. At the moment they can only be deployed in times of war or national emergencies. We look forward to this as the Reserves are an essential part of our Defence Force and as our responsibilities increase, so does our need to absorb them.
Major changes, both dramatic and evolutionary, have taken place in the defence environment over the past 15 years. The policy review and strategy would of necessity take this into consideration and will be informed by a clear-eyed assessment of what we want our foreign policy to achieve, the potential threats facing us, and socio-economic interests in what is a very uncertain era of growing competition among new major powers. The new environment requires new thinking and new approaches. To this end, we remain committed to creating a dependable, agile and flexible Human Capital base in the defence force.
We had a Defence Workshop from 19 to 21 March 2010 to review the work done in this respect and are of the view that we need to give this added impetus. I can confirm that the Review Team will deliver the final product by December 2010. The onerous assignment of leading our Review Process has fallen on retired Lieutenant-General Motau. None could be better placed to drive this process. It will enable to do long term planning in terms of force levels, force structure and equipment needs.
For the SANDF and particular the SA Army to remain successful, it will have to take into account the complexities of African politics. The size of the continent, its geographic and climate complexity, as well as the lack of transport infrastructure, problems engendered by economic under-development and the diverse military challenges it may encounter, will necessitate the SANDF to be well and appropriately equipped and trained for both its external and internal roles as prescribed by the Constitution.
Our portfolio committee has just returned from the border and I am certain they found the experience a very educative one. The entire military command turned out to spend the better part of four days with the committee. Protecting the border is an enormous task that we have recently re-commissioned to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The sheer size of our borders and the enormity of the problem indicate that we as government indeed erred in removing this responsibility from the Defence Force.
The SAPS can now reclaim their personnel to deal with internal crime, while we continue with this constitutional responsibility to safeguard our borders. We do not have the necessary resources to do this as we should and have therefore only just begun. We want to take this time to assure all those people who live in vulnerable circumstances around our borders that your problems are uppermost in our minds. In particular in this regard I would like to urge our farming community to allow us space to engage with yourselves and I thank you for your understanding.
And now I turn to the hard substance of the budget. Our budget is woefully inadequate. Realising the dire need we have been placed in, we took a decision at the workshop of 19 to 21 March 2010 that we would divide ourselves into work-streams to see how we can find immediate remedy for this state of affairs. We have decided to do the following as short gap measures:
1. To trawl the existing budget to see where we can make temporary savings.
2. To find innovative ways in which we can generate our own revenue.
3. To reprioritise the budget the budget and transfer some of the funding to areas of critical shortage. We would like, for the current year to prioritise our landward forces whose infrastructure and equipment has fallen into bad state of repairs.
We gave up the Airbus A400 in part because we understand that in times of economic crunch great sacrifices have to be made. We need an airlift capability, but we were more concerned about the development issues of the country. We have made the greatest sacrifice of this country and we hope that Treasury will not so easily forget that.
We ask for a budget of around two percent of GDP. Unless this is done, we will not be able to fulfil our role as a critical, credible partner in the region. As our obligations grow, our budget shrinks. I want to say to Honourable members that we are doing everything possible to secure a decent budget and we request your help. Only you know the conditions under which we work, your support is crucial. Our soldiers do outstanding work – the State has a responsibility to show its support.
The Department of Defence has worked tirelessly over the last few years to eliminate audit qualifications arising from the Auditor General’s report.
I made a commitment to you last year that we would improve our audit qualifications. The audit qualifications for the year prior to my appointment were six and I made a commitment that we would make that one or zero. We have worked tirelessly to eliminate these audit qualifications. The acting Secretary for Defence and the Secretary for Defence designate are in constant liaison with the National Treasury and the Accountant-General’s office.
As Honourable members would know, the final report will be released in July 2010 and I have indicated to both Secretaries for Defence and the new Chief Financial Officer that, should there be any audit qualifications, they would be deployed to the border. We are very serious about this matter and as Honourable members know, I have personally been involved in overseeing every step we have taken.
I had taken the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans through the report. Explaining each qualification and detailing what steps we are taking to ensure that Defence stops being a serial offender. It had become evident that, because some of the qualifications derive from historical challenges in which data is not available, they have become intractable.
We had a successful meeting with the Portfolio Committee. Members were satisfied that we have taken every step possible to drastically reduce the qualifications. The asset register remains a major challenge. The problem arises out of misalignment between our system and that which is used by Treasury. Our team, led by the acting Secretary for Defence and the Secretary for Defence designate are in regular consultation with Treasury officials. We hope to turn some of the outstanding qualifications to emphasis of matter only. To ensure constant monitoring, and to underscore the seriousness with which we approach this matter, we have decided to appoint a compliance officer in the Ministry.
Can South Africa afford a Defence Force along the lines set out here? Yes, we can. But that will require a defence budget of around two percent of GDP, instead of the present 1,3%. Unless this is done, we will not be able to fulfil our role as a critical and credible partner in influencing events in our region, and the international community. It must be noted that as our obligations continues to grow, our budget continues to shrink. The SANDF will be expected to take on a number of additional responsibilities and these must be commensurate with what the government and people of South Africa expect from us. It must also be supported by the budget which will enable us to carry our mandate.
You will have read about a very important project of the Department of Defence, entailing the local development of a fifth generation air to air missile intended for use on the newly acquired Gripen Aircraft of the SA Airforce. This programme is co-funded by the South African Department of Defence and the Brazilian Air Force and represents the first cooperative defence program under the trilateral IBSA agreement. Development of this missile is progressing exceptionally well and after almost four years since inception of the programme, originally planned timescales are still being adhered to.
During the past year, the development has progressed to a point where flyable missiles have been completed and a first series of flight and guidance tests have been completed with great success. The first test firing of this missile from a Gripen Aircraft is expected within the next two months. This program is set to become a model for cooperation and joint development by South Africa and other developing nations.
Another exciting project for the DOD entails the development of a new generation tactical communication system for the SANDF. Once completed, this system will be unparalleled in the world and will make provision for all tactical communication requirements for all arms of service and will ensure inter-operatability between all users. The communication system will encompass digital voice communication and state of the art transmission and information security techniques. The programme is progressing exceptionally well and demonstrations of prototypes of the first radios have been very successful.
To support South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, a Shallow Water Route Survey capability for the SA Navy was procured and established as a short term solution to a perceived shortfall in the Soccer World Cup 2010 security-planning milieu. The new system will be used to conduct route surveys in Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town Harbours and contribute towards underwater security in the respective ports. The system uses new Multi Beam Echo Sounder technology which will provide a full seafloor search of the seabed and provides accurate and precise data during a Shallow Water Route Survey for the provision of safe navigation and underwater security.
Having returned from the Navy base in Saldanha, I want to make a public offer to the coach of Bafana Bafana to consider spending some time there before the start of the FIFA Soccer World Cup and South Africa will see the results of the improvement. South Africa Rugby uses this facility and their record speaks for itself.
I must express my appreciation for the immense support I have received from the Military Command of the South African National Defence Force, the Acting Secretary of Defence, the Director-General of Military Veterans and the interim National Defence Force Service Commission.
In conclusion, I want to address my soldiers who are watching. My greatest appreciation goes to the many thousands of our soldiers who have carried themselves with dignity and discipline and who serve this country with amazing patriotism, sometimes under very difficult conditions. With your positions come huge responsibilities, because the whole country watches your every move. I am immeasurably proud to serve as your Minister and please continue serving with honour.
I thank you.
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