During previous briefings and public hearings on the Defence Amendment Bill, Members had requested that the report issued by the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission be made available to the Committee. The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans advised that the report had to be formally approved by Cabinet before it was publicly released. The Chairperson of the Committee had approached the Speaker for guidance on the matter. The Chairperson received a Memorandum from the House Chairperson: Committees, Oversight and ICT on 30 August 2010 in response.
The House Chairperson proposed that the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans was afforded the opportunity to consult on the matter with Cabinet. The Speaker had met with the Minister and with the Leader of Government Business and was given the assurance that the report of the Commission would be speedily processed by Cabinet and made available to the Committee. The House Chairperson had informed the National Assembly Programme Committee that an extension was required to process the Bill and that work on the Bill would be resumed as soon as the report had been made available. The spokesperson for the Speaker had compiled a statement for release to the media during the previous week.
The Members welcomed the contents of the Memorandum but requested that a timeframe for the release of the report was established. The Committee did not wish to delay the processing of the Bill and suggested that a period of thirty days was a reasonable timeframe for the release of the report.
Memorandum from Mr Obed Bapela, House Chairperson: Committees, Oversight and ICT
The Chairperson read the Memorandum from Mr KO Bapela, which was circulated to the Members of the Committee (see attached document).
Mr Bapela proposed that the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans was afforded the opportunity to consult on the matter with Cabinet. He advised that the Speaker had met with the Minister and with the Leader of Government Business and was given the assurance that the report of the Commission would be speedily processed by Cabinet and made available to the Committee. The National Assembly Programme Committee was informed that an extension was required to process the Bill and that work on the Bill would be resumed by the Committee as soon as the report had been made available. The spokesperson for the Speaker had compiled a media release during the previous week.
Mr A Maziya (ANC) noted that the Committee would suspend the processing of the Bill until such time that the report from the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission (INDFSC) was made available.
Ms S Ndabeni (ANC) welcomed the Memorandum and suggested that the Committee obtain a timeframe for the release of the report. The Committee wished to finalise the Bill as soon as possible.
Mr D Maynier (DA) welcomed the Memorandum as well as the press statement from the Speaker. He was gratified that the Speaker had upheld the Committee’s right to have sight of the report from the INDFSC. He suggested that the Chairperson write to the Minister to request that the report was released to the Committee as soon as possible, to ask for the Minister’s commitment to a specific timeframe and to advise the Minister that the Committee would take further action should she fail to release the report in the timeframe allowed. The Bill was important and had to be finalised as soon as possible.
Mr P Groenewald (FF+) supported the views expressed by the other Members. He warned that the Members might be disappointed by the contents of the report and he questioned whether the report had any relevance to the Bill. The report included details of the conditions of service in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which were of interest to the Committee but had little bearing on the Bill. The report might give the Committee an indication of the functioning and degree of independence of the Commission and whether or not the permanent Commission could be manipulated by the Minister, as alleged in certain submissions made during the public hearings. He suggested that the Committee specify a deadline for receipt of the report, rather than leaving the determination of the timeframe to the Minister.
Mr L Mphahlele (PAC) concurred with the views expressed by the other Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson pointed out that the report had been submitted to Cabinet and the Minister was therefore not involved in the process of obtaining the report of the Commission. He explained the role of the Members, the Committee and Cabinet. The Committee wished to finalise the Bill and it must be understood that the Committee was not stalling the process by insisting on the Members having sight of the report. The problem was that Members would have no sense of the potential impact of the Bill if they did not have sight of all the relevant reports.
Mr Groenewald agreed with the Chairperson. He suggested that the Committee pay particular attention to the clauses in the Bill that dealt with the availability of the reports from the proposed permanent Commission. The Committee had to ensure that adequate provision was made in the legislation that the Committee received all future reports from the Commission.
Mr C Kekana (ANC), Member of the Portfolio Committee for Public Works, asked what the deadline for receipt of the report would be.
Mr E Mlambo (ANC) felt that the Committee needed to apply pressure on the Cabinet for the speedy release of the report. He suggested that the Leader of Government Business was approached as well.
Mr Maynier suggested that a period of two weeks be allowed for receipt of the report as the Bill was urgent.
Ms Ndabeni said that a period of three to four weeks was more reasonable. The report was submitted to the Cabinet in December 2009. The permanent National Defence Force Service Commission (NDFSC) would be a ministerial commission but it was important that the Committee was kept fully informed of what was happening in the SANDF.
Mr Maynier conceded that a period of thirty days would be reasonable.
Mr Mukesh Vassen, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, explained that the Minister introduced the Bill to the National Assembly. The processing of the Bill was delegated to the Committee. The National Assembly Programme Committee had set a deadline of 17 September 2010 for the finalisation of the Bill. The Programme Committee had to be formally advised that the finalisation of the Bill would be delayed until the Portfolio Committee had received the report from the INDFSC.
The Chairperson was concerned that the postponement of the Bill would affect the schedule of the Cabinet and could result in a political debate. He undertook to approach the Speaker for guidance.
Mr Vassen referred to the media release, which stated that it was inappropriate for the presiding officers to intervene in the processing of a Bill and potentially undermine the authority granted to the Committee. The intervention of the presidium was not usually required. In this case, the Committee had requested the guidance of the Speaker, who had taken up the issue with the Executive.
Mr Kekana agreed that the Committee had to follow the legal route in pursuing the matter. The role of Parliament in conducting oversight over the Executive had to be upheld. He suggested that a constructive debate on the matter would serve as an example to other Parliamentary Committees.
Mr Maziya disagreed that a debate on the matter was necessary.
Mr Groenewald felt that a debate was welcome as the experience of the Committee could serve as an example to other Parliamentary Committees.
Ms Ndabeni agreed with Mr Maziya. She pointed out that a debate would require an additional process and might further delay the processing of the Bill.
Mr Maynier remarked that the Committee had to issue a report on the Bill. He suggested that the matter was not further debated. A timeframe of 30 days was reasonable for Cabinet to release the report to the Committee.
Mr Vassen said that the Committee had written to the Minister to request the report from the INDFSC. The Minister had informed the Committee that the report had to be approved by Cabinet before it could be made available. He cautioned against action by the Committee that could be interpreted as telling Cabinet what to do. He suggested that the Committee allowed Cabinet to proceed with the release of the report.
The Chairperson advised that the Committee would seek the guidance of the Speaker on the process that had to be followed.
Mr Groenewald remarked that the Minister wanted the Bill to be finalised n order to establish the NDFSC. He felt that the Minister should be advised of the deadline for receipt of the report by the Committee as any delay would result in there not being sufficient time to finalise the Bill before the end of the year.
Mr Maynier agreed with Mr Groenewald. He suggested that the Minister be compelled to appear before the Committee should the report not be made available within the timeframe.
The Chairperson reiterated that the report was with Cabinet and the Minister was not responsible for releasing it to the Committee. The Committee had to respect the prerogative of Cabinet in the matter. The perception that the report was available to the Committee was incorrect. The Committee had to approach Cabinet to seek the release of the report.
Mr Groenewald felt that there was a need for the matter to be further debated. He pointed out that Cabinet had received the report almost a year ago.
The Chairperson noted that the report by the INDFSC was submitted to Cabinet on 9 November 2009. This was the first time that the Committee had to reproach Cabinet for failing to release the report. The Committee had followed the laid-down process in seeking the release of the report and would be requesting that the report was made available within thirty days.
Mr Kekana informed the Committee that the Portfolio Committee on Public Works had become aware that certain military barracks were not being maintained and were falling into disrepair. There was some confusion about which Department was responsible for the maintenance of military installations. Certain premises were vacant and were being vandalised. The premises could be used by local communities but the communities were denied access. He requested that the Committee looked into the matter.
Mr Maynier understood that the Chairperson would write to the Leader of Government Business to request the release of the report and seek the guidance of the Speaker on imposing a timeframe of thirty days. The Committee would suspend proceeding with the Bill until such time as the report was received.
The Chairperson confirmed that the Committee would request the release of the report from the INDFSC from Cabinet. Turning to other Committee business, he asked the Members to submit suggestions for a study tour. The Committee would be briefed on the report from the ministerial task team on military veterans on 1 September 2010.
The meeting was adjourned.
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