The Director: Air Capability and Planning of the South African Air Force briefed the Committee on the capability of the SA Air Force in 2009/10. The total allocation for the fiscal year amounted to R3.1 billion. Personnel costs totaled R1.6 billion and operational costs were R1.5 billion. The operational budget was under-funded by R132 million.
A summary of the strategic objectives was provided. The strategic objectives set for medium, light and combat support helicopter capability, transport and maritime surveillance capability and air combat capability were not achieved. The main reasons for the failure to reach the targeted number of flying hours were funding restrictions, lack of experienced crew and the age of aircraft. Details of the status of the air transport fleet and the impact of the age of aircraft on serviceability were provided.
The achievements included a total of 32,866 flying hours, with only one major aircraft accident. The Reserve Force aircraft was utilised for the VIP squadron instead of chartering civilian aircraft. 26 pilots had qualified for wings. The Hawk squadron was fully operational, the main runway at the Waterkloof Air Force Base was upgraded, the SAAF messes were outsourced, Air Traffic Navigation System training was provided and 59 lives were saved by successful casualty evacuation and search and rescue operations.
The major challenges faced by the SAAF included sever under-funding, competing for scarce skills, maintaining combat capability, relocating the Durban Air Force Base to King Shaka Airport, the need to use operational funds for system upgrades, the impact of the low flying rate and maintaining command and control capabilities with old systems and equipment. Details of mitigation and intervention initiatives were provided.
Members asked questions about the impact of the financial constraints on operational capability and the need to utilise operational funding for capital expenditure on system upgrades. Other questions pertained to the age and serviceability of the aircraft, the size of the helicopter and fighter squadrons, the strategy for training pilots, the efficacy of increased simulator training, the retention strategy to retain scarce skills, the status of the Rooivalk project, if the acquisition of transport aircraft was planned, the incidents in India and the DRC involving the VIP squadron and the A109 helicopter crash in KwaZulu Natal.
Members asked how many pilots the SA Air Force had, how many were required and how many had left the service during the preceding three years but the Director and Acting Secretary for Defence would not provide the information until they had consulted with the Minister. Members disagreed that the information posed a threat to national security. The Committee awaited the release of the written response to questions asked during an earlier meeting by the Ministry.
The Director-General of the Department of Military Veterans presented a progress report on the establishment of the new Department, which was proclaimed in December 2009. The recommendations of the Ministerial Task Team were approved by the Cabinet in June 2010 and a strategic plan was submitted to the National Treasury in July 2010.
Five strategic outputs were identified, i.e. the provision of healthcare and socio-economic support services and empowerment and stakeholder relations services to military veterans, corporate support services, executive and administrative support services and internal audit and risk management services.
The estimated costs (excluding service delivery requirements) and the allocated amounts for the 2010/11 to 2012/13 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period were provided. The estimated shortfall for the 2010/11 financial year was R212 million, reducing to R36 million in 2011/12 and R39 million in 2012/13.
28 posts in the new Department were advertised in August 2010 and the interviewing of short-listed candidates would commence shortly. Meetings were held with the other Government Departments and entities concerned with military veterans. The Military Veterans Bill was approved by Cabinet on 10 November 2010 and would be gazetted on 19 November 2010.
Members asked questions about the cost of implementing the Bill, the proposed definition of a military veteran, the total number of veterans in the country and the lack of detailed performance indicators in the strategic plan of the Department. Members suggested that the Department considered services to veterans with regard to re-burials, job-placement after training, the widows of deceased veterans, counselling services, the care of elderly veterans and the database of veterans. The Committee requested that the Department’s written responses to Members’ questions were forwarded in due course.
The scheduled briefing by the South African Military Health Services was postponed to 2011.
Ms Mamoloko Kubushi, Deputy Director-General, Department of Defence (DOD) attended the meeting in her capacity as Acting Secretary for Defence in the absence of Ms Mpumi Mpofu, Secretary for Defence.
Due to time constraints, the scheduled briefing by the South African Military Health Services was postponed to 2011.
Briefing by South African Air Force (SAAF)
Brigadier-General Wiseman Mbambo, Director: Air Capability and Planning, SAAF presented the briefing to the Committee (see attached document).
The presentation included a summary of the strategic objectives of the SAAF for 2009/10. The total allocation for the fiscal year amounted to R3.1 billion. Personnel costs totaled R1.6 billion and operational costs were R1.5 billion. The operational budget was under-funded by R132 million.
The strategic objectives set for medium, light and combat support helicopter capability, transport and maritime surveillance capability and air combat capability were not achieved. Reasons for the failure to achieve the target number of flying hours were provided. The main reasons were funding restrictions, lack of experienced crew and the age of aircraft. The presentation included details of the status of the air transport fleet and a graphical illustration of the impact of the age of aircraft on serviceability.
The achievements during the year were summarised. A total of 32,866 flying hours were achieved, with only one major aircraft accident. Maximum use was made of the Reserve Force aircraft instead of chartering civilian aircraft. 26 pilots had qualified for wings. The Hawk squadron was fully operational, the main runway at the Waterkloof Air Force Base was upgraded, the SAAF messes were outsourced, Air Traffic Navigation System training was provided and successful casualty evacuation and search and rescue operations had resulted in the saving of 59 lives.
The major challenges faced by the SAAF included competing for scarce skills, maintaining combat capability, relocating the Durban Air Force Base to King Shaka Airport, the need to utilise operational funds for system upgrades instead of capital funds, the impact of low funding levels on the low flying rate and maintaining command and control capabilities with old systems and equipment. Details of mitigation and intervention initiatives were provided.
Mr P Groenewald (FF+) noted that 26 pilots had qualified for wings. He asked how many pilots the SAAF had, how many were needed and how many had left during the preceding three years. The briefing stated that the Hawk squadrons were fully operational but this was contradicted by the statement in slide 11 of the presentation document that the target number of flying hours was not achieved due to inadequate funding. He asked how many Gripen aircraft were delivered and how many were operational. He was concerned that the SAAF was using its operational budget for system upgrades and wanted to know how much of the operational budget was used for this purpose.
Mr L Mphahlele (PAC) asked how many aircraft comprised a squadron (see slide 3). One of the reasons given for not achieving the required number of flying hours was the age factor of aircraft (see slide 6). He asked what the SAAF suggested was done about the old aircraft in the fleet. He wanted to know who was responsible for the non-delivery of the full Gripen support package (see slide 7). He requested a breakdown by gender and demographic background of the pilots who had qualified during the year. He asked if the use of simulators to train pilots was cost-effective and a reliable method of training. He wanted to know which other airlines were involved in discussions with the SAAF.
Mr D Maynier (DA) remarked that the information provided in the 2009/10 annual report of the Department of Defence (DOD) and in the presentation indicated that the SAAF was in trouble. It would appear that pilots were being trained to fly desks and simulators rather than aircraft. He asked how many Gripen and Hawk aircraft were delivered, how many were operational and how many operational pilots were available to fly the Gripens and Hawks (excluding instructors, test pilots and the Reserve Force pilots). He wanted to know what plans were in place to address the funding shortfall. He pointed out that the SAAF budget for 2011/12 would be reduced by R971 million, which would exacerbate the existing under-funding of the SA Air Force. He asked for an explanation of the downloading of Hawk flying hours to
Mr J Masango (DA) noted that the lack of adequate funding was applicable to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as a whole. He asked for further clarity on the challenges related to staff benefits. He asked what the benefits were of continuing to service the old aircraft. He asked if the simulator training provided to pilots was reliable.
Mr M Mncwango (IFP) asked what the strategy was for the training of pilots, what the cost of training a pilot was, how many trained pilots were lost to the private sector and what retention strategies were in place.
Mr L Tolo (COPE) asked if there had been any fatalities in the aircraft accident reported. He wanted to know how old the aircraft in the fleet were. He observed that the Defence Force played a major role in assisting with non-combat operations in
Ms Kubushi advised that the questions asked by the Members of the Committee during an earlier briefing were responded to in writing by the Department.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee did not require a response to a question that would compromise national security.
Brig Gen Mbambo explained that the financial constraints had compelled the SAAF to investigate alternative options to maintain capability. The Pilatus aircraft were cheaper to operate than the Hawks and the
General Zimpande Msimang, Chief Director: Air Capability and Planning, SAAF added that pilots were able to gain more flying experience on the
Mr Banie Engelbrecht, Chief Director: Budget Management, DOD advised that the Pilatus avionics were upgraded and the instruments and cockpit layouts of the
Brig Gen Mbambo explained that the Reserve Force aircraft were utilised as far as possible when transporting VIP’s. The SAAF only reverted to the more costly alternative of chartering aircraft if it was not possible to use the Reserve Force aircraft. The questions concerning the incidents in the DRC and
Mr Groenewald disagreed that the questions concerning the number of pilots in the SAAF were a threat to national security. He had asked the same questions in Parliament on several occasions.
The Chairperson said that Brig Gen Mbambo considered the matter to be a national security issue.
Brig Gen Mbambo explained that the matter concerned the capability of the SAAF. He asked to be allowed to respond to the questions at a later stage if the Members felt strongly about receiving a response.
Mr Maynier said that the issue of transparency had been discussed by the Committee. He agreed with Mr Groenewald that the questions concerning the number of pilots posed no threat to National Security. He felt that Brig Gen Mbambo deserved protection as the Committee should not ask a serving officer to carry that kind of responsibility. The responsibility to provide the information to the Committee rested with the Minister.
The Chairperson acknowledged the position of Mr Groenewald and understood that Brig Gen Mbambo needed to consult with the Minister before providing a response.
Mr Groenewald said that the Committee was an extension of Parliament. The delegates from the SAAF should have been authorised to respond to the questions asked by the Members or else the Minister should have been present at the meeting. He did not understand what the threat to national security was if the information provided was subject to change.
Mr A Maziya (ANC) had some sympathy for the views expressed by Mr Groenewald but felt that the Committee should accept Brig Gen Mbambo’s request to be allowed time to consult with his principal.
The Chairperson said that the Committee accepted Brig Gen Mbambo’s right to consult before responding to the questions from the Members. He was not obliged to respond in an open meeting if the matter concerned the national security. He agreed with Mr Maynier that the matter should be referred to the Minister.
Mr Maynier did not believe that the answer to the questions would prejudice the national security. He asked that the Acting Secretary for Defence authorised Brig Gen Mbambo to respond to the questions.
Mr Groenewald said that a soldier should not be required to make a decision on issues of national security. He would never ask a question that threatened security but the matter had been in the public domain for several years and the question had been asked and answered on a number of earlier occasions.
The Chairperson observed that matters concerning national security tended to change from time to time. He accepted that Brig Gen Mbambo was not in a position to provide a response at that time.
Mr E Mlambo (ANC) said that the Committee should be provided with a response if the matter was in the public domain but agreed that Brig Gen Mbambo should not be compelled to provide answers.
Ms Kubushi asked to be allowed time to consult with the Minister on the matter. She said that the delegation had not prepared a response to the question and would require time to obtain the information.
The Chairperson agreed that the questions could be responded to once the Minister had been consulted on the matter.
Mr Groenewald said that it was not acceptable that delegates were unable to respond to the questions asked by the Committee because information that was previously available was re-classified. He asked if the question concerning the number of pilots who had left was also considered to be classified of if it could be answered.
Mr Maynier pointed out that the Committee had not yet received the written response to the questions asked by the Committee two weeks earlier. He understood that the written response was still with the Ministry and had not yet been submitted to Parliament. He requested that his question concerning the safety of VIP’s was responded to.
The Chairperson confirmed that the written response to earlier questions from the Committee was awaited from the Ministry of Defence.
Brig Gen Mbambo advised that the Rooivalk project was still in progress. Five Rooivalk helicopters were scheduled for delivery to the SAAF in April 2011. The SAAF recognised the need for transport capability but there were currently no plans to acquire transport aircraft. The aircraft would be chartered if required to support operations. Simulator training was more cost-efficient than aircraft training but had certain limitations. Pilot training involved both simulator and aircraft training.
Gen Msimang explained that the SAAF had four helicopter and one fighter squadron. 16 Squadron comprised 12 Rooivalk helicopters and 17 Squadron had 18 aircraft. Each squadron included between 100 and 120 personnel, including pilots, crew and ground support staff.
Brig Gen Mbambo agreed that utilising the operational budget to pay for system upgrades was not an ideal situation but the SAAF had no alternative source of funding to cover critical upgrades.
Mr Engelbrecht said that the SAAF had a specific role to play and it was necessary to strike a fine balance between the funds allocated for operations, capital acquisition and personnel in order to provide the best possible value for the taxpayer.
Gen Msimang added that the SAAF was grossly under-funded and the budget available for all the systems was inadequate to fund the full operational cycle of the fleet. When it became necessary to upgrade or renew the aircraft, the issues of safety and airworthiness had to be taken into consideration.
The Chairperson asked for a more detailed explanation as the answers provided appeared to be evasive.
Mr Engelbrecht replied that there was no intention to respond evasively but it was necessary to explain the process involved in keeping aircraft operational. In order to ensure that aircraft can be utilised, it was necessary to provide crew, air traffic controllers, technical support, fuel and spare parts. Aircraft were unusable if there were insufficient funds to purchase critical spares. Budgets were generally compiled one year before the actual expenditure was incurred and the DOD need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances.
Gen Msimang pointed out that the need to utilise the operational budget for capital acquisition purposes had contributed to the differences between the planned and actual performance.
Dr Mary Ledwaba, Chief Director: Human Resources Strategy and Policy, DOD said that the Committee was given a detailed briefing on the human resource capability on the previous Wednesday. The Committee had requested a detailed breakdown of personnel by gender and race group. The information requested was provided in a written response document and submitted to the Minister. The response included details of the number of pilots and the retention strategy to retain scarce skills. The Department paid an additional allowance to technical and pilot and crew personnel but the allowances did not adequately address the Department’s requirements. The funding provided by the National Treasury for special allowances was inadequate. The Department was engaged in discussions with the National Treasury and the Department of Public Service and Administration concerning the need for a separate dispensation for members of the Defence Force. Despite the retention strategy in place, monthly monitoring indicated that the Department continued to lose scarce skills to the private sector.
The Chairperson said that the awaited written response would be helpful to answer the questions asked by the Members. He explained why Members needed to obtain information and appealed for the indulgence of the DOD in responding to repeated enquiries from the Committee.
Brig Gen Mbambo referred to slide 18 in the presentation document, which included information on the ages of the different aircraft in each class. He explained that serviceability was the ability of the system to deliver what it was meant to do. An aircraft became less serviceable the older it became. The old aircraft was kept in service because the SAAF had no alternative. He confirmed that 15 Gripen aircraft and 26 Hawk aircraft had been delivered. The A109 helicopter had crashed into water and the subsequent enquiry had found that the cause of the accident was the loss of situational awareness by the pilot. There were three fatalities
Gen Msimang added that the accident occurred when the helicopter was en route to the Drakensberg training facility. The pilot had flown into a dam.
Mr Maynier repeated his earlier questions concerning the plans for the Gripen system in the light of a further reduction in funding and what the utilisation of the Reserve Force aircraft to augment the VIP squadron entailed.
Mr Groenewald repeated his question about the apparent anomaly in the information provided on the operational ability of the Hawk system in the presentation (slides 9 and 11).
Brig Gen Mbambo advised that all the Hawk aircraft had been delivered but the SAAF did not have sufficient funds to fly the desired number of hours. The Reserve Force aircraft was utilised for VIP flights whenever possible as this was a cheaper option than chartering civilian aircraft.
Mr Maynier asked if the Reserve Force aircraft were chartered.
Gen Msimang replied that the Reserve Force was part of the SANDF. The Reserve Force aircraft were not chartered but it was more cost effective to cover the cost of fuel and the allowances of the crew than to charter a civilian aircraft.
The Chairperson requested that a more detailed written response on the use of Reserve Force aircraft for VIP flights was forwarded to the Committee.
Mr Tolo asked for a response to his earlier question on the age of the fleet.
Brig Gen Mbambo said that the SAAF operational plans attempted to relieve the pressure on the Hawk system as well as to ensure that the minimum Gripen operations were undertaken to allow the Gripen pilots to retain competence. He repeated the information provided on slide 18 concerning the age of the aircraft in the fleet.
Mr Engelbrecht explained that the funds allocated for the Gripen and Hawk aircraft and the frigates were ring-fenced. The reason why R900 million of the 2010/11 budget was returned to the Treasury was that the equipment ordered would not be delivered before the end of the financial year and the funds could not be utilised for any other purpose.
Briefing by the Department of Military Veterans (DMV)
Mr Tsebe Motumi, Director-General, DMV briefed the Committee on the progress made in establishing the new Department in terms of Proclamation 92/2009.
The Cabinet had approved the recommendations made in the Ministerial Task Team Report in June 2010 and a strategic plan was submitted to the National Treasury in July 2010. The strategic outputs identified were the provision of healthcare and socio-economic support services, empowerment and stakeholder relations services, corporate support services, executive and administrative support services and internal audit and risk management services.
The presentation included a breakdown of the estimated costs (excluding service delivery requirements) and the allocated amounts for the 2010/11 to 2012/13 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period. The estimated shortfall for the 2010/11 financial year was R212 million, reducing to R36 million in 2011/12 and R39 million in 2012/13.
The DMV had advertised 28 posts in the press during August 2010 and received over 6,000 applications. The process of interviewing the short-listed candidates would commence in the near future. Meetings were held with Government Departments and entities concerned with military veterans. The Military Veterans Bill was approved by Cabinet on 10 November 2010 and would be gazetted on 19 November 2010. The focus areas and objects of the Bill were explained to the Committee.
The Chairperson asked if the Military Veterans Bill was a Section 75 Bill that required approval from the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). He warned that amendments to the Bill might be made as Members received many enquiries and complaints from military veterans.
Ms Kubushi confirmed that the Bill had to be approved by the NCOP as service delivery would be done at the provincial level. The DMV was a national Department but provincial coordinators would be appointed.
Mr Mphahlele enquired what was meant by the task team recommendations with regard to ‘honour and burials’ referred to in the presentation document. Reference to burials should include re-burial as many veterans had died far from home. He felt that veterans should also be granted land and be given the chance to farm the land. He suggested that the definition of ‘military veteran’ was not limited to persons who had fought in recent conflicts. He referred to the large number of applications received for the vacant posts and asked if the advertisements had specified minimum criteria. He was highly critical of the “partisan and fictional” benefits paid to military veterans and the exclusion of members of certain liberation organisations, such as the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), from qualifying for benefits.
Mr Maynier asked if the DMV had considered any models to determine the cost of implementing the Military Veterans Bill. He warned that the legislation would not be approved by Parliament unless the Bill was properly costed. He pointed out that the Ministerial Task Team for Military Veterans Report was tabled in Parliament but was not made available to Members of Parliament. He asked for clarity on the plan to provide ‘business opportunities’ to military veterans and what mechanisms were in place.
Mr Masango observed that a substantial amount had been spent on setting up the administration of the DMV despite many concerns from Government entities regarding inadequate funding. He agreed that a clear definition of a military veteran was required. The presentation document indicated a percentage target for each of the strategic outputs but more specific performance indicators were required.
Mr Maziya was of the opinion that the disparity in the current provisions for military veterans would be addressed by the new legislation and the establishment of a dedicated Department. He queried the task team recommendation concerning ‘business opportunities’. He asked if the DMV planned to include a placement programme for military veterans who had completed training programmes. Many complaints had been received by the complicated, bureaucratic process involved in registering for benefits. The process involved the need to visit a number of Government offices before all the requirements to lodge a compensation claim were met. Many potential claimants had given up and the current process amounted to a denial of the right of a person to claim compensation. He asked for a report from the Department on the number of cancellations in accordance with the recommendation made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Mr Tolo commented on the large number of applications received for the vacant posts advertised in newspapers. He wanted to know what the Department planned to ensure that advertisements for jobs reached people in rural areas. He asked what would be done to assist the widows of deceased veterans, many of whom were in dire straights. He warned that care had to be taken in deciding who would be considered to be a military veteran in order to avoid confrontations with those who were excluded from receiving benefits.
Mr Mphahlele suggested that the former commanders were involved in providing counselling services to former freedom fighters.
Mr Mlambo wanted to know what progress had been made to establish a database of military veterans and what would be done about providing care for elderly veterans who did not have families to look after them.
Mr Mncwango asked what the criteria would be for ascertaining whether or not a person was considered to be a military veteran and if information would be available on military veterans. He said that not all veterans were too old to be re-skilled and thereby making an economic contribution and asked what the alternatives were to pensioning off veterans.
Mr Tolo asked how many military veterans were in
The Chairperson expected that the Bill would provide an opportunity for much discussion over the many issues concerning military veterans. Most engagement would be on the topic of funding and on the need for memoranda of understanding with stakeholders. The Committee would need to understand how the DMV was structured to provide housing, healthcare and other benefits to military veterans and the nature of the relationship with other Government entities. He confirmed that the report issued by the task team had not yet been submitted to Parliament.
Mr Maziya noted that the offices where applications for compensation could be made were not situated throughout the country. He asked if veterans had been encouraged to apply for the vacant posts at the DMV and were given preference over other applicants.
Mr Motumi replied that the Department would consider the matter of re-burial in line with Government policy as many graves of freedom fighters were out of the country. The Department was currently in discussion with other entities to ascertain what services were currently available for veterans. For example, the Eastern Cape Province had recently made 44 houses in
Mr Motumi advised that the advertisements for the DMV posts had included the general minimum criteria for qualifications and experience applicable to Government service. There were a total of 141 posts and further advertisements would be placed in the media. The services provided by the DMV would include providing assistance with maximizing business opportunities available to military veterans, for example by referring the veterans to the Department of Trade and Industry and other organisations that could help veterans to establish their own businesses.
Mr Motumi conceded that the funds allocated to the Department had not been sufficient. The initial performance targets set had been modest and would have to be revised. The DMV required the necessary human and financial resources to be in place before the required outputs could be achieved. A more detailed strategic plan would be in place for the 2011/12 fiscal year.
The Chairperson asked Mr Motumi to forward a written response to the remaining questions from Members that could not be answered due to time constraints.
The meeting was adjourned.
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