Interim National Defence Force Service Commission briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

15 March 2010
Chairperson: Mr M Booi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Acting Chairperson of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission briefed the Committee on the amended Terms of Reference of the interim Commission and the progress made since the previous meeting on 18 November 2009.  The Commission had developed short and medium term objectives for the key focus areas of consultation with key stakeholders, defence commitments, transformation, civil/military relations, service conditions and legislative issues.  The briefing included a report on the activities of the Commission and indicated where issues required further attention or had not yet been attended to.

One of the key outputs of the interim Commission was the passing of the Defence Amendment Bill, which made provision for the establishment of a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission.  The Commission requested the assistance of the Committee with the passing of the Bill.

Members were concerned that the Terms of Reference of the Commission was too broad and suggested that the Minister clearly identified the key focus areas.  A Member was of the opinion that the Commission was acting outside its Terms of Reference when monitoring the readiness of the SANDF and civil/military relations.  Members asked questions about the relationship between the Commission and Parliament and the responsibility of the Commission to report to Parliament.  The Commission queried the oversight responsibility of Parliament.  The changes in policy on Defence needed to be documented as the White Paper on Defence was outdated and made no reference to the peacekeeping operations in other countries being carried out by the Defence Force.

Other questions from the Members dealt with the reasons why earlier reports made by the Commission had not been made public, if troops will be visited by the Commission, if consultation would be held with reservists and stakeholders in civil society, if work was being done on the Defence Update, if other countries would be visited for the purpose of benchmarking ranks and salaries, if the Commission accommodated requests from political interest groups, if the Commission considered issues concerning the budget, qualified audits and problems with asset management in the Defence Force, the disparity between SAPS and the SANDF and the availability of documentation on the grievance procedures and military discipline.

Meeting report

Briefing by the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission (INDFSC)
Maj Gen (retd) Rashid Aboobaker Ismail, Acting Chairperson of the Commission, presented the amended Terms of Reference of the INDFSC before briefing the Committee on the programme of action and the progress made by the Commission since the previous meeting with the Committee on 18 November 2009 (see attached document).

The programme of action included short- as well as medium term objectives.  The INDFSC had initiated a process of discussion with key stakeholders to understand the nature of the problems confronting the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Stakeholders included the Portfolio Committee, the Defence Staff Council, the Military Command Council, the Secretariat Council, the members of the Defence Force, the Directorate of Human Resources Policy, the Chaplain General, various military veterans’ associations, the Reserve Force Council,
Members of the Public Service Commission, the Minister and Department of Public Service and Administration, the Minister of Finance, the National Treasury, the Minister of State Security, the  and representatives of civil society.  The discussions centered on issues of command and control, the military chain of command, discipline, morale, grievance mechanisms and procedures, service conditions and the state of infrastructure, facilities and equipment in the SANDF.

In respect of Defence commitments, the aspects requiring further attention were the adequacy of training, military ranking and salary grading, and the effects of under-spending on morale.  With regard to transformational issues, the matters requiring further attention included educational programmes and feedback from the SANDF Rank Audit Team.

A key focus area was civil/military relations. The Commission would examine the oversight role of Parliament and the relationship between the SANDF and Defence Secretariat structures.  In respect of Service Conditions, the Commission had engaged in a benchmarking exercise with the South African Police Services (SAPS) and Intelligence entities and undertook a visit to the United Kingdom (UK) for the purpose of comparing ranks, grading and remuneration.  The most significant legislative issue was the Defence Amendment Bill, which would allow for a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission (NDFSC) to be established.

The presentation was concluded with a summary of the outputs delivered and the Commission’s short-term programme of action.  The assistance of the Committee in establishing the permanent NDFSC was requested.

Ms S Ndabeni (ANC) asked if the Terms of Reference had been finalised.  She asked what the Commission’s relationship was to Parliament and if it had a responsibility to report to Parliament.

Mr D Maynier (DA) was of the opinion that the Commission was acting outside its Terms of Reference when monitoring the readiness of the SANDF or civil/military relations. He asked if the oversight role of Parliament was adequately dealt with.  He said that there had to be a separation of powers and the responsibility of the executive authority and the legislative authority need to be clear.

Mr Ismail explained that the Terms of Reference had been presented to the Committee as a programme of action. The terms could be interpreted either narrowly or broadly. For example, the term “service conditions” could include weapons such as tanks or rifles that were necessary for the military to function. The term could include items such as appropriate uniforms for service in different contexts and whether or not provision had been made in the defence budget.  The Terms of Reference served as guidelines for determining the focus areas of the Commission.  The current version of the Terms of Reference was not cast in stone and the Commission was open to suggestions to adopt terms that was more narrowly defined.

With regard to the Commission’s relationship with Parliament, Mr Ismail said that the Commission had been appointed by the Minister of Defence and was accountable to Parliament. The Ministry required the Commission to report to Parliament and had determined what was expected from it. The Commission had commenced its duties with great energy, especially concerning service conditions, but the members of the Commission were only available for three or four days per month.

Mr Ismail explained that infrastructure and facilities fell outside the Terms of Reference. The Commission was concerned with how executive decisions affected the members of the Defence Force on the ground. With regard to the oversight role of Parliament, he said that the Commission did not wish to pronounce on the Committee’s area of responsibility but suggested that the necessary procedures and structures were in place before the permanent Commission was established.

Mr Maynier asked what the Ministry and the Commission understood by “service conditions”.  He felt that the Terms of Reference were too broad.  He suggested that the Minister was requested to clarify and define more manageable tasks and to provide clear guidelines on where the focus of the Commission’s activities should be.

Mr Ismail agreed that there was a need to agree the priorities of the items on the Commission’s agenda. The exercise would be useful in providing guidance to the proposed permanent Commission.  He suggested that the issue was considered in conjunction with the Defence Amendment Bill, which was currently with the State Law Advisers.

Mr B Holomisa, Commissioner, INDFSC, confirmed that the draft Amendment Bill had been submitted. The onus for passing the Bill had shifted to the Minister of Defence and the Portfolio Committee. The Commission was an ad-hoc body and every effort had to be made to finalise the establishment of the permanent Commission by September 2010.  The Defence Review needed to address the issue of clearing the backlogs.

Mr Maynier asked why the information contained in the two previous reports of the Commission was not made public.

Mr Ismail replied that the Commission had raised the findings with the Minister. The Defence Secretariat had to respond to the issues that were raised in the reports. The Minister would decide what information could be made public.

The Chairperson ventured that Parliament would ask if the Commission understood the issue of confidentiality. He remarked that public statements always involved a degree of risk.

Mr Maynier asked if there was anything in the reports that the Commission would not be prepared to make public.

The Chairperson replied that the Minister would decide on what would be made public.

Mr Groenewald, Commissioner, INDFSC, pointed out that the Commission had been appointed by the Minister to solve problems. He questioned whether it was desirable that the world should know about matters such as military readiness.  The decision on what information should be made public was a Ministerial prerogative.

Mr Holomisa said that the matter could not be fully discussed while the report was still with the Minister. Concerning the relationship between the Commission and Parliament, he felt that the focus had to be on the permanent Commission and how it would interact with the Portfolio Committee. As an ad-hoc body, the interim Commission did not have the status of a statutory body. The Portfolio Committee and the Commission had to jointly determine how they would interact with each other.

Mr Malusi Mpumlwana, Commissioner, INDFSC, remarked that the INDFSC was essentially a Ministerial Commission. One of the major responsibilities of the INDFSC was the Defence Amendment Bill.  The Commission needed to know what should be included in the Bill.

Dr A Mokgonong, Commissioner, INDFSC, urged that a holistic and structured approach was followed. The current planning process had to prepare a foundation for the permanent Commission. The assistance of the Portfolio Committee was required to expedite the process of establishing the permanent Commission and to provide it with a firm foundation. There needed to be clarity about what reports were required and the applicable protocols and structures. There were urgent matters that the permanent Commission needed to attend to, such as salary dispensations and occupational specific pay to counteract the “brain drain” and loss of scarce skills from the Defence Force.

Mr Z Ngcakani, Commissioner, INDFSC, said that the Committee could assist in defining areas that were rightfully beyond the scope of the Commission, which would help to define the focus. The Committee had endorsed the Commission’s programme of action but Mr Maynier now said that the Commission had exceeded its Terms of Reference. He felt that the matter should have been raised with the Commissioner at an earlier stage. The Committee had received previous reports from the Commission and could have provided more direction at an earlier stage. It was difficult for the Commission to report at the Minister’s behest. It would be best for the Commission to report to the Committee after a response had been received from the Minister.

The Chairperson emphasised that the Committee needed to understand the activities of the Commission. Parliament monitored the Commission through the Minister. It was hoped that the Minister would comply with the oversight requirement. Concerning the separation of powers, he felt that Parliament should not exceed its powers. The Commission had been appointed by the Executive. There had to be no interference with the work of the Commission.  Concerning administrative issues, the Committee could not interfere with the Minister. The task of the Committee was to keep an eye on the Minister as it represented the taxpayer, who provided the funding for the Ministry of Defence. The SANDF had recently received more media attention compared to the preceding years and more questions were being asked about what was going on in the Defence Force.

Mr Smiles (DA) asked if the Commission was satisfied with the work that had been done to date.  He noted that the planned consultation with reservists and with other stakeholders in civil society had not yet taken place. He asked for the reasons why the consultations had not been done.

The Chairperson noted that peacekeeping missions had not been included in the original White Paper on Defence (which was published in 1996) because South Africa had not been involved in such operations at the time. He wanted to know how the issue would be dealt with.  Mr Maynier had recently insisted on a Defence Update. There were fundamental questions concerning the Defence Force that needed to be answered. The Minister needed to know the issues that had an impact on the Defence Update.  The policy on defence needed to be updated to provide clarity on policy issues.

Mr Ismail replied that some work had been done by the Commission on the Defence Review and the Update prior to the appointment of the new Minister of Defence.  He advised that the process would be resumed.  He agreed that a code of conduct for soldiers on peacekeeping missions was necessary. The conditions under which soldiers operated in the different contexts needed to be understood and taken into account. Interaction with the Minister needed to take place, the areas of concern had to be highlighted and recommendations had to be made.

Mr Smiles remarked that interaction with other forces had to be taken into account as well.  He asked if the Commission planned to visit more troops.

Mr Mpumlwana replied that the Defence Service Committees currently decided on the selection of soldiers for peacekeeping missions and on the allowances paid. There was concern about the conditions under which the soldiers were deployed and whether they had sufficient ability and resources to carry out the tasks required of them.

Mr E Mlambo (ANC) asked why it had been necessary for the Commission to visit the UK for the benchmarking exercise rather than other African countries.

Mr Ngcakani explained that the benchmarking was an interim process undertaken by the INDFSC. Once it was established, the permanent Commission would decide which other countries would be visited.

Mr Ismail advised that Malaysia and certain African countries had been recommended. He confirmed that both the interim and the permanent Commissions would visit the troops.

Mr Mlambo referred to the request by the June 16th Detachment of the MK Military Veterans Association to meet with the Commission. He remarked that the Commission would be facing people who presented themselves in a politically charged manner as “young lions”. He wanted to know how the Commission would respond to the request as there were other forums were such a group could express itself.

The Chairperson observed that the question of political interest groups was important and had implications for the Parliamentary process.

Mr Holomisa replied that if interest groups wanted to make presentations as stakeholders, the Commission was prepared to listen to them.

The Chairperson asked if matters such as qualified audits and problems with asset management were considered by the Commission.

Mr Ismail answered that problems with asset management and the other issues raised by the Select Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) were related to the need for adequate training in accounting for assets. The Minister had requested input from the Commission on the budget. The Commission had discussed these issues with the UK military as well and would make recommendations.

Mr Maynier asked about the recommendations for the salary dispensation. He asked if the disparity between the salaries paid by SAPS and the SANDF had been established in terms of the cost to the company.

Mr Ismail replied that salary parity had not yet been achieved between the two entities. Comparisons between the SAPS and SANDF had been made on a cost to company basis. Recommendations had to be made by the Commission. For example, contract appointments were paid less than half of the amount paid to permanent staff. The relative levels between the SAPS and the SANDF needed to be established.

Mr Smiles said that he was unable to obtain any documentation concerning grievance mechanisms and military discipline.

Mr Mpumlwana replied that it was important to understand the conditions of employment of people serving in the Defence force.  The Commission was not unwilling to meet with representatives of Defence Force personnel to discuss the matter.

Mr Ismail conceded that there were current problems that had not yet been attended to.

Mr Groenewald pointed out that there were documents available on military discipline and military courts.

Mr Ismail advised that there were some problems concerning the constitutionality of military courts.

The Chairperson thanked the Commission for the briefing.  He felt that the Commission was making good progress.

The meeting was adjourned.


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