Defence Minister's response to key matters

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Defence and Military Veterans

12 April 2010
Chairperson: Mr M Booi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans responded to a list of questions that were drawn up and forwarded to her by the Committee. The questions were from matters that had emerged from previous portfolio committee meetings.

She responded extensively to certain issues such as the status of legislation to be tabled in Parliament, the appointment of a permanent Secretary of Defence and the work of the Interim National Defence Force Services Commission. She stated that she would not speak to questions concerning progress made with matters mentioned in the previous Budget Vote Debate, the ministerial priorities stated in the Strategic Budget Plan, the status of the revised Defence policy, the de-unionisation of the South African National Defence Force, progress made with upgrading the landward programme, scarce skills retention and the filling of vacancies and defence procurement and the investigation into irregularities. These matters had to be deferred.

The Minister and the Committee ran out of time, as Members had to attend the memorial service for the late Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Molefi Sefularo. The Minister did not finish her responses and many matters were not clarified or elaborated upon. The Minister and the Committee agreed that another meeting would be scheduled in which to discuss those matters.

Meeting report

Opening Statements
The Chairperson said that the Committee had some questions for the Minister to answer. The Minister would answer as many questions as possible. Some of the questions would be of a sensitive nature. The Minister would inform the Committee of these questions and they would proceed from there.

The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, reported that the Chairperson had sent her a list of questions that were solicited from the Members. She wanted to go through the questions so she could indicate to Members the issues that were going to be dealt with as well as those that would not. She stated that no other portfolio committee had met with its respective department as much as this committee had. She congratulated the Committee for being so active. She suggested that Members should ask the Speaker to give awards to Committees such as the Defence Committee that worked very hard.

Discussion on Key Defence Matters
Q: Progress made with matters mentioned in the previous Budget Vote Debate on 3 July 2009.

The Minister replied that this matter was on the Ministry of Defence’s agenda.

Q: Ministerial Priorities for the financial year 2010/11 as stated in the Strategic Business Plan.

The Minister answered that she would not be dealing with this question as it was the essence of the Budget Vote. It would be dealt with in Parliament and the Members would be able to engage with it at that time.

Q: Status of legislation to be tabled in Parliament.

The Minister replied that this was a matter that she wanted to attend to as it was something that needed to be “knuckled” down urgently. The Defence sector was hobbled by some of the legislation that did not speak to things that the sector wanted to do. Some of the legislation had to be amended as a consequence of policies that were put in place or new policies that the Ministry still wanted to put in place.

She stated that the Defence Amendment Bill was a piece of legislation that the Defence Ministry wanted to prioritise. They hoped that it would be put before Parliament before May. The Ministry wanted to amend the legislation for two reasons. The first was to ensure that the Defence Ministry would be able to remove the voluntary aspect of the reserve force, which would enable them to fully utilise the reserve force. Currently, the reserve force could only be called upon during war time or when the country was in a state of emergency. This had to be amended to ensure that reserves could be called upon even during peace times. There was enormous capacity in the reserves and the Defence Ministry wanted to ensure that they could utilise it. It would still be voluntary to serve in the Defence Force. They just wanted to ensure that the reserves could be called upon and listed for active service when they were needed. The reserves were especially needed at the borders. It was also clear that most reserves wanted permanent employment, which was impossible because of the current legislation. This proposal was accepted by Cabinet recently. The amendment would also include a clause that would deal with the establishment of the National Defence Force Services Commission. She asked the Committee to prioritise the legislation as it was essential that it would be up and running, especially now that reserves were being deployed to the borders and for use in the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The Minister raised another issue concerning clause 202(1) of the Constitution that focused on command of the Defence Force. This matter had not been put before the Cabinet yet. However, she wanted the Committee's thoughts on the matter. The issue had to do with a mismatch between the Constitution and the law. The clause stated that the President, as head of the national Executive, was Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force and had to appoint the Military Command of the Defence Force. In terms of the Defence Amendment Bill, the President only appointed the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the National Defence Force. She believed that the Defence Bill should have contained a definition for what “military command” was.

Mr D Smiles (DA) stated that there was “sort of” a definition in the Constitution for military command. In terms of command of the Defence Force, the Constitution stated that the President had to appoint the military command of the Defence Force. The military command of the Defence Force had to appoint, in accordance with the directions of the Cabinet, the person responsible for defence.

The Minister replied that clause 202(1) used the phrase as a collective noun, which made it into a structure. The command that she spoke of, under which this military command would be exercising its command, had to be exercised in accordance with what the Minister had laid down. She wanted to limit the terms to what the Constitution actually meant it to be.

Mr D Maynier (DA) wondered if he was correct in understanding that the Minister's proposal would be for the Commander in Chief to appoint not only the Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), but the other service chiefs as well. He asked if this undermined the integrity and hierarchy of the military. Surely, the Chief of the SANDF should appoint the service chiefs?

The Minister answered that Members had to ensure that there was no problem with the legislation. There had to be complete concord between the Constitution and the law. She stated that the SANDF was not and should not be part of public service. These were service men who gave their lives to the state. Therefore, a special dispensation had to be created for them that recognised what they were giving to the state. If these matters could not be clarified in the legislation then it would have to be done through the Public Service Act. In the absence of any law that defined how the Chief of Defence Intelligence should be appointed, it would have to be done through the Public Service Act. The Act required that any service position had to be advertised. The Committee could immediately understand that this would not work for the Defence Force. The legislation had to provide clarity in all the gray areas. Chief of Services in the Defence Force were currently seen as Deputy Director-Generals (DDGs). This was ridiculous. These were people who commanded services and defended the country when required.

The Minister had a discussion with the Military Command Council and they proposed that there should be a law that allowed the Minister to appoint the Chiefs of Services in consultation with the Chief of the Defence Force. There was a hierarchy that would be observed. The Chiefs of Services could not be appointed by the Chief of the Defence Force because they had military command and powers that made them accountable to the Minister.

Q: The Defence budget and the extent to which the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the Department of Defence and Military Veterans could fulfil its mandates.

The Minister answered that this was a matter to which she wanted to dedicate a great deal of time with the necessary expertise that was needed to take the Committee through the budget. She wanted to delay answering the question for now. She suggested that a special day be set aside to deal with the matter. She said that, traditionally, the defence community usually arranged a workshop for new members of Parliament. The workshop made for a better relationship between the Ministry and the Committee, as Defence was a unique institution and was dealt with in a unique way. The workshop would give the Committee a feel of what the defence community has done and what the challenges were.

Q: The status of the revised defence policy and timeframes for the tabling to Parliament.

The Minister asked the Committee to “stand down” on this question as it involved ongoing work that had to be brought before Cabinet before it could be given to the Committee. Cabinet did not take kindly to private matters being discussed by the media. The Committee’s relationship with the media was very open and she did not want to expose Cabinet to this kind of situation.

Q: Appointment of a permanent Secretary of Defence.

The Minister answered that General Themba Matanzima was the acting Secretary of Defence until mid-June 2010. The newly appointed Secretary of Defence designate was Ms Mpumi Mpofu, who would be taking over from General Matanzima in mid-June. Ms Mpofu was given a two month grace period so she could acquaint herself with the area she would be dealing with. General Matanzima would be returning to his duties as the Chief of Joint Operations.

Ms Mpofu was at the meeting so the Committee could speak to her if it wished to.

Q: The National Defence Force Services Commission (NDFSC): the status of the recommendations in the three preliminary reports by the Interim Commission submitted to the Ministry; and progress made with the establishment of the permanent National Defence Force Service Commission

The Minister replied that the NDFSC was ready to report to the Committee regarding its work. The Committee was due to discuss the matter of progress in establishing a permanent NDFSC.

The Chairperson added that he had spoken with the Deputy Minister’s office and they were also sensitive to the fact that they were putting certain issues in front of Cabinet on Thursday. They wanted to make the presentation to the Cabinet first and then report to the Committee. Therefore, the Deputy Minister would not be attending the meeting scheduled for the next day. 

The Minister stated that the Interim Service Commission was appointed to look at the establishment of a permanent Service Commission and the parameters that had to be established for this Commission. It was also established because the country needed a structure that could deal with issues urgently. The Commission was proposed at the Budget Vote on 3 July 2009. The Minister then met with the Commission and gave its terms of reference. The Commission then went to work. When the Minister came back to the Committee, she was asked why the Commission was dealing with the matter of unions. The Minister then held discussions with State Law Advisors and the Department of Defence and Military Veterans and they decided to make it clear to the Commission that the matter of unions was a matter for Parliament to resolve. The Commission stopped what they were doing and focused on its terms of reference. It was possible that the Commission and the Ministry were not communicating as frequently as it should have. The Commission understood the structure of the Defence Force, the issues that needed to be looked at and they advised the Minister and the President on how to restructure salary of soldiers. The Commission also focused its attention on the legislation that established a permanent Commission. They proposed that the Commission should be appointed by the President; it should consist of ten people, and should not serve more that five years. This was brought before Cabinet and some of the amendments were put in place. The legislation would now be brought before the Committee. This was the information she received fro the Commission as work that was concluded. Anything else the Commission was involved in was work in progress. Therefore, she did not have the three preliminary reports that the Committee wanted. She had one report from the Commission that looked at the revision of salaries and the amendments to legislation. The other reports would be submitted to the Minister when they were completed.

Mr Maynier noted that there was a contradiction. The Committee was briefed on two occasions by the Interim Service Commission, who told the Committee that they had submitted two interim reports to the Minister. The first interim report was submitted on 3 November 2009 and the second on 10 December 2009. He asked if this was true.

The Minister stated that she would get the second report. The preamble would then indicate to the Committee that the Commission was asking that the first report be withdrawn and concluded because it was still work in progress. The second report zeroed in on issues that needed a timeframe. It was submitted as a finished product. Right now there was the first report, which was ongoing work. It was not a completed report and had not served before Cabinet because the Commission was continuing with it and trying to understand the framework around which a particular dispensation for the Defence Force could be established. In the mean time, the Ministry needed answers by a particular time to be able to ensure that a permanent Commission could be established. The timeframe for the review of the salaries for soldiers had arrived. The report that the Commission gave the Minister was called the second report and had served before Cabinet. It was adopted and consisted of the salary issue and the amendments to legislation. 

Mr Maynier stated that he had referred to the reports because he thought they were important and led to very important actions being taken by the Department. The first report seemed to provide the primary motivation for increasing the remuneration of the Defence Force in the last year. He asked if the Minister would provide the Committee with both reports.

The Minister replied that the primary motivation for the review of the salary given to soldiers was not given by the Commission. It was something she committed to on 3 July 2009 before the Commission was established. This was why the Ministry wanted to establish the Commission. The interim report did not have anything to do with the motivation for the increase in the remuneration. The Commission went out far and wide to understand the context in which they would be working. The Ministry made it clear to the Commission that there were timeframes they had to adhere with. The Commission then abandoned the wider scope they had been dealing with after they submitted a report to the Minister that focused on urgent issues. In effect, there was only one report that was given to her as a complete report. The report consisted of the remuneration of soldiers and changes to legislation concerning the establishment of the Commission. This was also submitted to the Committee. The other report was still work in progress.

Mr Maynier noted that the Minister had appointed an Interim Service Commission that visited military formations. The Commission had not shared with the Committee, in detail, what they found or what they described as a “ticking time bomb”. This information was captured in the Commission's first interim report, which was submitted to the Minister. It was the Minister's choice whether she wanted to submit it to the Committee or not. From his perspective, the Committee was not party to some very important information that the Commission discovered during its tenure. There had to be a way where the information could be shared with the Committee. However, only the Minister could authorise this.

The Minister answered that Mr Maynier's mind seemed to be made up already, so any answer that she gave would not suffice. She stated that she was the person who introduced the idea of the Commission briefing the Committee. They had no intention of briefing anyone because they were a ministerial committee that had to report to the Minister first, which in turn had to report to Cabinet before a report could be made public. The Minister suggested the briefing because she wanted to have a closer relationship with the Committee. However, the Commission discovered that the Committee was not interested in the infrastructure of the legislation being worked on; they were interested in matters that had not even been discussed with the Minister. When the Commission came to the Committee, it was actually a breach of protocol to discuss a report that had not yet been given to the Minister. The Commission explained to her that the Committee “buckled” them down forced them to speak. They had not intended to speak about it as it was still work in progress. Their work has not yet been concluded. Therefore, there was no report. The Commission was not supposed to have spoken about certain things. When establishing the Commission, the Ministry had to take in to consideration the environment of the Defence Force. The Defence Force was open to the Committee. The Commission could not fully cooperate with everyone, as it would not be in the country's interest.  The Committee was not dealing with market access; it was dealing with security issues and an environment that needed to be dealt with very sensitively. The SANDF was also upset about what happened.

Mr Maynier asked if the Minister would consider asking the Commission to draw up an interim report with its current findings and present it to the Committee before the Budget Vote. The Committee needed to know these things.

The Minister replied that she did not know when this would happen, as she still awaited their report and it had to serve before Cabinet before it could be given to the Committee. She could not commit to this suggestion.

Q: The de-unionisation of the SANDF.

The Minister stated that this was a matter that was being discussed by Cabinet. Until the matter was resolved, it would not be discussed with the Committee. Having discussed this matter extensively and after receiving legal opinion, it seemed the decision would have to be taken by parliament. More discussions were needed on the topic. She wanted this matter to “stand down” for now.

Q: Update on Operation Corona.

The Minister replied that the matter would be dealt with briefly. She was aware that the Committee had been invited to the borders. The visit would be preceded by a briefing by the SANDF.

Q: Operational readiness of the SANDF.

The Minister answered that she wanted to have meeting with the Committee about the various roles of the various Parliamentary Committees. She had already invited the Committee to take steps to rectify the situation. She received a complaint from the Chairperson of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence saying that the Minister was subordinating their mandate to the Portfolio Committee’s responsibilities and that some of the matters that were being brought to the Committee were matters that were supposed to be served before the Joint Standing Committee. She had hoped that the two Committees would have resolved this matter. In terms of the Constitution, most of the questions that referred to the SANDFs state of readiness fell in to the mandate of the Joint Standing Committee.

The Chairperson added that the matter was put before Parliament.

Q: Progress with the rejuvenation and upgrading of the Landward Programme.

The Minister replied that she hoped to brief the Committee on the matter when they had more time.

Q: Scarce skills retention and the filling of vacancies – progress and successes.

The Minister answered that the NDFSC was dealing with this matter at the moment. This matter had to “stand down” for time being.

Q: Defence procurement and the investigation in to alleged irregularities.

The Minister replied that she wanted to dedicate more time to the matter. It would have to “stand down” for now.

Q: Progress made with Operation Clean Audit.

*The Minister ran out of time and could not elaborate on the matter.

Q: The working relationship between the Department/Ministry and the Portfolio Committee.

*The Minister ran out of time and could not elaborate on the matter.

The Chairperson noted that they were running out of time and the meeting had to be closed so that Members could attend the memorial service for Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Molefi Sefularo. The Minister had said that this was a work in progress. He asked the Minister if they could suspend some of the issues and discuss it at another time.

The Minister stated that she stood ready to entertain the next discussion and to elaborate further on the questions posed by Members. This had to happen before the budget vote. She invited the Committee to join her on an oversight visit to Simons Town to see the see the state of readiness of the Navy for the FIFA World Cup.

Closing Statements
The Minister stated that she had come across a news item alleging that luxury cars were being bought by the Defence Ministry to a value of R7 million. This expenditure was deliberately plucked out of a whole list of transport items that was being renewed in the Defence Force. This matter was sensationalised. There was a whole list of the different transport items that would be bought such as trucks and buses. The Defence Force was responsible for the Security of Heads of States and extra protection was needed for the FIFA World Cup. Her door was wide open. If Members had any questions, they could approach her.

The meeting was adjourned.


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