The Committee discussed the letter from the Speaker dated 2 September 2010, in response to the decision of the Committee on 31 August 2010 to suspend deliberations on the Defence Amendment Bill until the reports of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission were released by the Cabinet.
The Member from the Democratic Alliance strongly objected to the continuance of the deliberations on the Bill and maintained that the Committee needed to have sight of the reports of the Interim Commission on the service conditions in the South African National Defence Force. However, the other Members of the Committee agreed that the Bill should be proceeded with even though the Members had not seen the reports. Members felt that the reports should be made available to the Committee, in the interests of the democratic principles of transparency and accountability. The Bill made provision for the establishment of a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission, which would investigate and make recommendations on the conditions of service of members of the Defence Force. The Committee decided to proceed with the Bill, on the basis of improving the conditions of service in the military.
The Committee accepted the draft report on the oversight visit to selected border areas during April 2010, with amendments. Members made suggestions on the countries that should be visited during a proposed study tour during June 2011. Members agreed that the focus of the study tour should be on the working conditions of soldiers in the defence force or the countries visited. Two countries with contrasting military scenarios should be visited. The suggested countries included Canada, the USA, the UK, Sweden, Germany and China.
The Chairperson welcomed Mr James Masango (DA), who replaced Mr D Smiles on the Committee.
Discussion on the letter to the Committee from the Speaker
The Chairperson tabled the letter from the Speaker, dated 2 September 2010 for discussion by the Committee. The letter was in response to the decision made by the Committee during a meeting held on 31 August 2010 to suspend deliberations on the Defence Amendment Bill until the reports of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission (INDFSC) were released by the Cabinet. The letter was read (see attached document).
Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) did not recall the discussion held by the Committee on the matter. He felt that the consideration of the Bill should be proceeded with.
Mr D Maynier (DA) pointed out that Mr Mlangeni did not attend the meeting where the matter was discussed. He referred to the penultimate paragraph in the letter, advising that the Committee submitted a report to the House should the Committee wish to delay the processing of the Bill for whatever reason. He suggested that the Committee submitted a report to this effect, as the Committee required sight of the reports from the Commission, which included information on the prevailing conditions of service in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
Mr A Maziya (ANC) felt that the Members of the Committee should be allowed time to consult with their respective parties on the letter from the Speaker before the matter was debated further.
Mr L Mphahlele (PAC) noted that the letter from the Speaker had raised two issues. In the first instance, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans had stated that the reports from the INDFSC had no bearing on the Bill and the processing of the Bill should not be delayed for this reason. However, the Committee thought that the reports contained information that should be taken into account. Secondly, the Speaker had stated that it was “incorrect for a committee to simply not deal with a matter formally referred to it”. He queried whether the action of the Committee was illegal or contrary to the Rules of Parliament.
Mr P Groenewald (FF+) affirmed his strong belief in the principles of accountability and transparency applicable in a democracy. He believed that no report to Parliament should be withheld from the Committee. However, he had informed the Committee that the Members would be disappointed by the contents of the first report of the INDFSC and he agreed that there was no link between the report and the Bill. The Committee had to have good reason to demand the reports from the Commission in order to finalise the Bill. The recommendations of the INDFSC were included in the Bill. He felt that the reports must be made available to the Committee. Technically, the Minister was correct that the reports had to be submitted to Cabinet. There was some confusion about whether or not both reports were submitted. He was under the impression that the Minister had sent the second report to Cabinet as that report included recommendations on the salaries payable in the SANDF and the President had made mention of this matter. It was essential that a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission (NDFSC) was established in order to deal with the special dispensation for the Defence Force. The establishment of the NDFSC was in the interest of the SANDF. He wished the Bill to be proceeded with without further delay and warned that little time remained to finalise deliberations before the end of the current session of Parliament. He agreed that the reports from the INDFSC should be made available to the Committee but felt that delaying the Bill was not in the interests of the SANDF. He suggested that the Committee continued deliberations during the following week and postponed a final resolution once deliberations were completed.
Mr Maynier disagreed with the view of Mr Groenewald that the Committee did not need the reports in order to process the Bill. He did agree that the Committee had to act in the best interests of the SANDF. The Bill allowed for the establishment of the NDFSC, which would contribute to solving the problems with the conditions of service in the SANDF. The Committee had not been briefed on the conditions and had not visited a base to ascertain the prevailing conditions. The Committee had not had sight of the report on the conditions and was expected to legislate blindly. He accepted that the Members needed time to consider the letter from the Speaker and suggested that Members took into consideration the key issue of the link between the INDFSC reports and the Bill. The purpose of the Bill was the establishment of a permanent NDFSC. During a briefing to the Committee by the INDFSC on 16 March 2010, the Committee was informed that the second report issued by the Commission dealt with the establishment of the NDFSC and the proposed Bill. Therefore, there was clear evidence that there was a link between the reports and the Bill and the information given to the Speaker by the Minister was incorrect.
Mr Maziya asked that the Chairperson made a ruling on the matter as it was clear that agreement would not be reached on the approach that should be taken by the Committee. The matter was already in the spotlight and further discussion would elicit further exposure in the media.
Mr Groenewald pointed out that the Committee, rather than the Chairperson, had to agree on a ruling. He did not have a problem with the matter being highlighted in the media. The Committee needed to reach a decision on the way forward. He disagreed with Mr Maynier that the Committee needed to have sight of the reports issued by the INDFSC. A distinction between the two reports had to be drawn. The first report was leaked but the INDFSC had appeared before the Committee on 16 March 2010 and the Bill was submitted. The fact that the Committee had not had an opportunity to conduct oversight visits was another matter. The legislative process required the Committee to consider the desirability of the Bill. He suggested that the Committee considered it the establishment of the NDFSC was desirable. The permanent Commission would further investigate the conditions of service in the SANDF and submit reports to Parliament. He felt strongly that the Committee proceeded with deliberations on the Bill. He pointed out that another salary review was due in the current year and the passing of the Bill would determine whether the unique circumstances of the SANDF would be taken into consideration or if members of the Defence Force would be regarded in the same light as other public servants.
The Chairperson observed that two out of three Members supported that deliberations should continue. He noted that Mr Maziya had suggested that Members were allowed time to consider the letter from the Speaker. He requested comment from the remaining Members of the Committee.
Mr E Mlambo (ANC) agreed that the Bill should be continued with.
Mr Maziya agreed that the Bill should proceed.
Mr Mlambo agreed that the letter from the Speaker should be considered as well.
Mr L Diale (ANC) agreed that the Bill was proceeded with. He suggested that the Committee arranged to conduct oversight visits to military installations as soon as possible.
Mr Mlangeni agreed with Mr Groenewald. The overriding concern of the Committee was to ensure that the conditions of service in the SANDF were satisfactory. He felt that the establishment of the NDFSC would solve the problems and that the Bill should be proceeded with.
Ms N Mabedla (ANC) agreed that the Bill should proceed. She reminded the Members of the unanimous agreement reached at the beginning of the deliberation process that the Committee wanted to improve the lives of the members of the Defence Force.
Mr Maynier reiterated his position that the Committee should not proceed with the Bill and that it would be irresponsible for the Committee to legislate blindly. He agreed that the NDFSC should be established as it would help to address the problems with service conditions in the SANDF. He questioned the Minister’s commitment as she had ‘sat on the reports for eight months’. The reports should have been fast-tracked to Cabinet and released to Parliament so that the Committee could have taken the reports into consideration during the deliberations on the Bill. He suggested that the Committee debated the issue of the accountability of the Minister at some point.
The Chairperson interrupted and asked that the discussion was limited to the matter before the Committee.
Mr Mphahlele said that the members of the SANDF were relying on the Committee to improve the conditions of service and expected the processing of the Bill to be fast-tracked. He felt that any disagreement between the Minister and the Committee should not result in the Bill being delayed. The Committee would have to rescind the earlier decision to request the release of the INDFSC reports from Cabinet. The Speaker had stated that “a committee of Parliament has no power or authority to set timeframes for the Cabinet”. The Committee had to avoid making similar demands to Cabinet in future.
Mr L Tolo (COPE) noted that the Speaker referred to a letter dated 31 August 2010, in which the Minister had stated that there was no link between the INDFSC reports and the Bill. He agreed that the Committee should proceed with the Bill.
Ms C Mohale (ANC) asked why the Minister would lie about the impact of the reports on the Bill. She felt that the Committee should believe the Minister that the reports had no impact on the Bill and supported the position that the Bill was proceeded with.
The Chairperson said that the Committee had commenced the deliberations on the Bill in food spirit and was committed to improve the conditions of service in the Defence Force. The Committee had to accept the opinion of the Speaker and could not defy the institution of Parliament. He noted the position of Mr Maynier but the majority opinion of the Members was that the Bill should be proceeded with. He awaited the formal response of the Members to the letter from the Speaker. Deliberations on the Bill would proceed as soon as possible. He undertook to advise the Speaker of the decision of the Committee and arrange for the Bill to be included in the Committee Programme.
Mr Maynier requested that his strong objection to the continued deliberations on the Bill was formally recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
The Chairperson agreed that the objection would be placed on record.
Mr Tolo referred to the comment made by Mr Diale concerning oversight visits to military bases. He pointed out that the Committee had observed the conditions during a recent visit to border posts but further oversight visits to military installations were necessary.
The Chairperson noted the point raised by Mr Tolo. He advised that the matter concerning the letter from the Speaker was concluded.
Committee Report on the Oversight Visit to Selected South African Border Areas
The Chairperson tabled the draft report of the Committee on the oversight visit to selected border areas on 28 to 30 April 2010.
Ms Mabedla said that the title of Mr Mlambo in paragraph 1.3 should be corrected from Ms to Mr.
Mr Maynier had noted several technical errors, which would be discussed with the Committee Secretary outside the meeting. Most of the Members supported the presence of the SANDF at the borders. The major issue for consideration by the Committee was whether or not the SANDF had sufficient resources to support its responsibilities to safeguard the country’s borders. Operation Corona was intended to be phased in over a period of four years. The first phase of deployment had begun but he felt that it was too little too late. The SANDF had to deploy more troops to more border areas as a matter of urgency. He suggested that the Committee debated the matter and included this aspect in the report. The problem was perhaps a lack of capacity in the SANDF. The Committee needed to be conversant with the objectives and constraints and review Operation Corona.
The Chairperson asked if Mr Maynier accepted the report as an accurate reflection of the findings of the Committee.
Mr Maynier said that question concerning the support available to the troops on the ground had not been responded to. The Commanders had stated that the type and number of vehicles available to the troops at the border posts were inadequate. He suggested that the report included mention of these two issues as well.
The Chairperson noted the suggestions made by Mr Maynier and moved that the report was accepted. The Committee approved the acceptance of the report, with amendments.
Mr Groenewald said that the issues raised by Mr Maynier were important. Although the Committee had accepted the report, further feedback from the SANDF and specific recommendations were necessary.
The Chairperson explained that the report would be submitted to Parliament for further consideration. Additional funds to implement the recommendations were required. He expected that the matters highlighted in the report would be referred back to the Committee for further attention.
Ms Mohale had observed during the oversight visit that soldiers had patrolled the border at Beit Bridge during the night.
Proposed Committee Study Tour
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the next opportunity for a study tour would be during June 2011. There had been interest in a study tour to Sweden or to Canada.
Mr Mlangeni asked if Sweden even had an army.
Mr Mlambo suggested that the Committee visited Canada.
Mr Maynier suggested that the objective of the study tour should be focused on the service conditions in the military of two contrasting countries, for example the more hierarchical military of the USA or the UK and another country with a unionised military.
Mr C Kekana (ANC), Member of the Portfolio Committee on Public Works, agreed that a study tour should have an objective. He doubted if much could be learned from the peaceful Scandinavian countries. He suggested that the focus of the study tours was on the human resources, equipment and living conditions of the defence force of the countries visited.
Mr Groenewald agreed with Mr Maynier’s suggestion. He suggested that the experience of Germany in the unification of East and West Germany would be beneficial as South Africa had experienced similar problems with the integration of the military forces.
Mr Tolo agreed with Mr Mlambo’s suggestion that a visit to Canada should be undertaken. He was informed that there were shops reserved for the exclusive use by military personnel in Canada.
Mr Mlangeni agreed that the focus of the study tour should be on the working conditions of the soldiers in the countries visited. He agreed with the suggestion that two contrasting scenarios were examined and suggested that one Western and one Eastern country were visited. The UK and the USA were too similar but the Committee might consider China as an alternative.
Mr Mlambo thought that the countries visited should include Germany and Canada.
The Chairperson noted the suggestions made by the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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