In the presence of the Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, the Chief State Law Advisor briefed the Committee on the Defence Amendment Bill 2010. The Bill would provide for the conclusion of service contracts between the Minister and members of the military reserve force. It would further provide for when and under what circumstances reservists would be obligated to honour a call-up from the Chief of Defence. The Bill would further make provisions on how the services of reserves would be utilised even during the times of peace.
The Democratic Alliance asked whether the Bill made any provisions for those who might have failed to honour the call-up for legitimate reasons and whether the Bill provided for compensating employers whose employees were called-up. An African National Congress Member asked who would monitor and supervise reservists when they were not required to report for duty. These were people with military training and it could not be said that such people were ‘let loose’ when not needed for call-up.
The Deputy Minister informed the Committee that the establishment of the new department to cater for military veterans was soon to be concluded. So far an allocation of R20 million had been allocated to finance the structure of the department. A report was due to be tabled before the Cabinet Committee on the exact framework of the new department and it was thereafter that the budget for the department would be debated.
Some Members were not happy that a decision was made to approve the structure of the new department without any input from the Committee.
The Minister informed the Committee that she had taken over a department that had a poor record of financial reporting. She assured the Committee that progress was being made to ensure that the days of qualified audits by the Auditor-General were over.
The Minister then spoke briefly about her dispute with the Committee on Public Accounts. She wanted tensions between the Committee on Public Accounts and her resolved in a preliminary meeting before she could submit herself to a hearing by that Committee. She condemned the words of some members of the Committee on Public Accounts as ‘unparliamentary’.
The Minister said that after her request for such a preliminary meeting was denied, she took advice from the African National Congress. This advice was that she should not attend that Committee’s hearing.
The Chairperson said that there would be no further engagement with the Minister as time had been exhausted.
Defence Amendment Bill 2010
Adv Enver Daniels, Chief State Law Advisor, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ & CD), briefed the Committee. One of the aims of the Defence Amendment Bill 2010 was to address the shortcomings of the current legislation as to the issue of members of the military reserve force and their contracts of service with the Department of Defence (DOD). The Amendments would attempt to streamline members’ service contracts to be in line with the broader objectives of the Department in order to be able to manage efficiently and effectively the call-up order to report for duty when need arose. The Bill would specify when and under what circumstances a call-up order could be made, consequences of failing to honour the call, and the content and format of the service contracts to be entered into between the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and the individual parties. The Bill would further make provisions on how the services of reserves would be utilised even during the times of peace, something which was not provided for as things stood in the current legislation.
Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) said that during the apartheid regime there used to be a call-up system in the form of conscription to the army. He asked whether the Bill pointed in a similar direction.
Adv Daniels replied that the call-up system as proposed in the Amendment Bill was very different from conscription. The Bill envisaged call-up of reservists based on the service contract which may have been entered into by the relevant individual and the Minister of Defence. If an individual became employed on a full time basis elsewhere, he or she could still make arrangements in the contract with the Minister wherein he or she could specify the period when he or she could be available for call-up. The Chief of Defence would call individuals only during the specific dates mentioned in the contract.
Mr D Maynier (DA) asked whether the Bill made any provisions for those who might have failed to honour the call-up for legitimate reasons. It was not enough to effect a provision stipulating that failure to honour the call-up would constitute a criminal offence without recognising that, at times, there could be valid reasons why an individual would fail to honour the call-up. He gave an example of a farmer who might be harvesting when the call-up was made.
The Chairperson wanted to know how much effect some of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights would have on the implementation of the Bill. Today people had all sorts of rights given to them by the Constitution. To what extent would the Bill triumph over the right to work and the right not to be subjected to inhumane conditions, to mention but two?
Mr Maynier asked whether the Bill made provisions for the compensation of employers who stood to lose out on the productivity of their employees who might have been called for duty from time to time.
Adv Daniels replied there was nothing in the Bill that addressed the question of compensation, but if the Committee felt strongly about it, such a provision could be effected in the Bill.
Mr A Maziya (ANC) requested the Chief State Law Advisor to explain what was the compensation arrangement for the military reserve forces or whether their service was rendered for free.
Adv Daniels replied that the service contracts did provide for certain benefits and allowances but it was important to bear in mind that the reserve forces served on a voluntary basis.
The Chairperson noted that the powers relating to the negotiation and conclusion of service contracts of the reserves was vested in the Minister. He wanted to know why the decision had been made to grant those powers to the Minister instead of the Chief of Defence.
Adv Mongameli Kweta, Senior State Law Advisor, Office of the Chief State Law Advisor, said that it was simply a matter of policy decision to grant the powers to the Minister and that there was nothing unconstitutional about the decision.
Ms H Mgabadeli (ANC) said the issue of reserve forces raised many deeper questions for her whenever the subject cropped up. For example, when they were not required to report for duty, where would they be and who monitored and supervised them? These were people with military training and it could not be said that such people were ‘let loose’ during times when they were not needed for call-up.
Mr Mlangeni asked any of the State Law Advisors to clarify when a reservist might or might not be obligated to honour a call-up.
The Hon. Mr Thabang Makwetla, Deputy Minister of Defence, said that the reserves, when called to report during times of peace, were not obligated to report, but they needed to communicate with the Chief of Defence. During times of war and during any state of emergency, the reserves would be obligated to report for duty and it was a criminal offence to fail to report for duty during such period.
Mr Maynier asked whether the services of the reserves were sought when the regulars marched to the Union Buildings.
The Hon. Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, said that some reserves had been called to fill the gap which had been left by those members who had deserted.
Progress made in establishment of Military Veterans department
The Deputy Minister reported that a task team had been established to examine how issues affecting military veterans could be addressed. The work of the task team had begun in November 2009, whereupon its terms of reference were to look into policy recommendations, i.e. benefits and other support packages to be rendered to the military veterans, and secondly, to produce a new organisation through which the identified benefits and programmes would be channelled. As for the second aspect, that of establishing the new structure, it was unanimously agreed that the Department should be extended to include military veterans as the structure that was to be formulated. The task team had completed its recommendations, which had been handed to the Minister, who in turn needed to table those recommendations to the Cabinet before she could bring them before the Committee. The Cabinet would be presented with the recommendations on the 29 April 2010 and soon thereafter the Committee would have a chance to deliberate on these proposed policy recommendations.
Mr Maynier asked why the proclamation in relation to the structure of the Military Veterans department was made without giving the Committee a chance to comment on it. One would wonder whether it would not have been appropriate for Parliament to have played a role in approving the structure and whether such was not consistent with best practice and whether the optimal model structure was chosen.
The Minister said that the proclamation was the responsibility of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and that the DOD had nothing to do with the process of proclamation.
The Deputy Minister added that there was no need to involve the Committee in deciding the structure but that did not mean the input from the Committee was not welcome. The work was still in progress despite the proclamation having been made because the matters being dealt with were of highly technical.
Mr D Smiles (DA) said in was concerning that in the absence of the report which spoke to the structure of the Military Veterans department, how were Members of Parliament, expected to debate intelligently on matters involving the budget allocation of the Military Veterans department on 04 May 2010. There was no additional information provided on whether the R20 million already allocated was adequate on not.
The Deputy Minister said the R20 million allocation was not based on the work to be done by the new department, but rather it was an estimation of costs that were reasonably thought would be incurred in setting up the offices in order to get the department off the ground. The budget for the benefits and services which the new department of Military Veterans would offer would only be debated once the policy recommendations had been finalised by Cabinet. The R20 million “was nothing” compared to what the new department sought to do for the military veterans.
Mr Smiles said it was deeply concerning to hear the deputy minister pronouncing that the R20million allocation was nothing, saying the R20million was something because it came from taxpayers.
The Deputy Minister apologised to Mr Smiles for the misunderstanding, saying what he meant was that the R20 million was nothing in respect to the actual needs of implementing the programmes of the new department. The budget for the provision of benefits and services for the military veterans would be far more than the R20 million, which was explained as the estimated costs of setting up the new department. In that light, the comment was fair.
Mr Mlangeni said he understood the Deputy Minister perfectly and the Minister was very clear about the R20 million allocation.
Progress with Operation Clean Audit
The Minister informed the Committee that when she had assumed office she had found that the Department had continuously been given very bad audits by the Auditor-General (AG). Therefore the Minister and Deputy Minister had committed themselves to turn around the Department from that predicament. Since then, the Department had been working very closely with the office of the AG to implement some of the recommendations of the AG’s office. Furthermore, the Department had employed two audit companies to help the Department clean up all its disorder in pursuit of a clean audit in the current financial year.
The Acting Secretary for Defence, Lieutenant-General Themba Matanzima, concurred with the Minister that the Department was pulling all its weight in ensuring that this year the Department would receive no qualification from the AG. He reported that there were interactions currently in progress between the Department and the AG’s office on each of the AG’s concerns. He expressed confidence that they were making significant progress in that regard. The recent appointment of Ms Mpumi Mpofu as the Secretary for Defence designate was commended and it was hoped that, with her experience, she would play an important role in helping the Department receive clean audits from now on.
Minister’s Problems with the Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA)
The Minister said she was extremely unhappy with the events that had happened over the past weeks. She reported that as a result she was taking steps to lodge a complaint about the manner in which she had been treated by the Committee on Public Accounts. The Minister explained that she missed the meetings of that Committee because of her commitments to official duties as a member of the Executive. Despite her insistence to that Committee’s Chairperson that she attended its hearings to observe, she was never officially invited on the previous occasions where it was alleged that she had missed the meetings.
The Minister reported that she had requested a separate closed meeting with that Committee so that the parties could clarify confusion caused by numerous negative comments issued to the media. After that request was denied by the Chairperson of that Committee, the Minister reported that she had sought advice from the African National Congress (ANC), which had advised her to stay away from the meeting until the tensions were resolved. She described the attacks levelled against her as very unfortunate, unprecedented and unparliamentarily. She said that she had read from the media that she was alleged to be an arrogant minister who had no respect for that Committee and who would soon be summoned to appear before that Committee, something which she described as ill-conceived since she was not the accounting officer of her Department and therefore not obliged to appear before it. The Minister said that she wanted an apology from that Committee and that she would not appear before it until she received that apology. She concluded by saying she had been a Member of Parliament for many years and had no reason whatsoever to undermine Parliament.
Mr Maynier read a letter dated 18 April 2010 from the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans to Mr T Godi (APC), Chairperson, Committee on Public Accounts, in which the Minister confirmed her availability, together with that of the Deputy Minister, to attend that Committee’s meeting.
The Minister replied that on the day in question there were two letters written, one requesting a separate meeting with that Committee for the purposes of dealing with the negative comments which the Minister had deemed unfair and unfounded. It was intended that having cleared the tension, the second meeting would take place which would allow the Deputy Minister and the Department to enter and engage with that Committee. After that request was denied, advice was taken from the ANC that the Minister should not attend the meeting.
The Chairperson said that there would be no further engagement with the Minister as time had been exhausted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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