Military Veterans Bill [B1-2011]: Department of Military Veterans briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

07 February 2011
Chairperson: Mr M Motimele (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Director-General of the Department of Military Veterans briefed the Committee on the background to and scope of the Military Veterans Bill.  The Bill repealed the current Military Veterans Affairs Act No. 17 of 1999.

The briefing included an overview of the background to the Bill, the current legislative framework and the main elements of the Bill.  The definition of ‘military veteran’ had been expanded and the provisions concerning benefits and eligibility had been amended.  The Bill established a Military Veterans Advisory Board and an Appeal Board.

The financial implications of implementing the Bill had not been determined.  The Member representing the Democratic Alliance pointed out that the failure to cost the Bill contravened Parliamentary Rule 243 and Section 35 of the Public Finance Management Act.  It was not clear if the Bill should be in terms of Section 75 or Section 76 as implementation would involve provincial authorities.

Other questions from Members concerned the number of military veterans and their dependents likely to benefit from the Bill; the risk of corruption; the nature of benefits related to transport, healthcare and business opportunities; the necessity to ensure that benefits were made available to bona fide military veterans only; the reference to ‘South Africa’s liberation war’ in the definition of ‘military veteran’ and the means test applied to determine eligibility.

Members acknowledged that many veterans were in dire straights and in desperate need of assistance.  The Department was requested to address the outstanding issues as a matter or urgency to allow the Committee to process the legislation without undue delay and to place the advertisements for public hearings on the Bill.

Meeting report

Briefing by the Department of Military Veterans
Mr Tsepe Motumi, Director-General of the Department of Military Veterans, briefed the Committee on the Military Veterans Bill (see attached document).

The presentation included an overview of the background to the Bill; the current legislative framework applicable to military veterans; the main elements of the Bill; the Military Veterans Task Team established by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and the main focus areas of the Bill.

Subsequent to earlier briefings to the Committee, the Department had made changes to the Long Title of the Bill, the definition of ‘military veteran’, the provisions concerning eligibility, the establishment of an Appeal Board, the functions of the Department of Military Veterans, the benefits and entitlements and the administration of such benefits and entitlements.

Details were provided of the objects of the Bill, the revised definition of ‘military veteran’, the benefits and services that would be made available to veterans and the eligibility criteria.  The Bill provided for the establishment of a Military Veterans Advisory Council and a Military Veterans Appeal Board.

The current Military Veterans Affairs Act, No. 17 of 1999 would be repealed upon enactment of this Bill.

Mr D Maynier (DA) expressed concern that the Committee was expected to process legislation in a vacuum.  The Committee had not been informed of the number of military veterans and dependents that would be affected by the Bill.  He asked the Department to provide an estimate of the number of veterans and the number of dependents that would be eligible to receive the benefits provided for in the Bill.  The Bill had not been costed and the financial implications of the proposed legislation were not known.  The Bill contravened National Assembly Rule 243 as well as Section 35 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), which dealt with unfunded mandates.  He requested an explanation of the Department’s failure to determine the cost of implementing the legislation.  In addition, the Bill was introduced as a Section 75 Bill but should be enacted in terms of Section 76 as the provincial authorities would be responsible for implementing the provisions providing health, transport and housing benefits.  He suggested that the Committee obtained the opinion of the Parliamentary Law Adviser on the latter aspect.

Mr L Tolo (COPE) shared the concern that the number of military veterans likely to benefit from the Bill had not been determined by the Department.  Another concern was the opportunity for large-scale corruption and he wanted to know how he Department would ensure that the right people would receive benefits.  He requested clarity on the provision of transport subsidies.

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) agreed that the Bill had not been costed and suggested that the Committee refrained from processing the legislation further until the Department had determined the financial implications.  He queried the reference to ‘South Africa’s liberation war from 1960 to 1990’ in the definition of ‘military veteran’.  He asked for further details of the means test applied to determine eligibility.

Mr L Mphahlele (PAC) referred to the Department’s invitations to military veterans’ organisations during 2010.  He objected to the invitation issued to the military veterans’ association established by a rival faction of the PAC rather than to the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) military veterans association recognised by the faction of the PAC under his leadership.

Mr Motumi advised that the Department currently had the confirmed and verified details of 57,500 military veterans captured on a database.  Applicants were placed on a list but details were only captured on the database once the information had been verified and the applicant had been confirmed as a bona fide military veteran.  Ensuring that all applicants were truly entitled to be regarded as bona fide military veterans was considered to be a critical aspect by the Department.  The Department was aware that not all bona fide military veterans had submitted applications.  The details of the number of dependents of veterans were not available.  The Department worked with all the military veterans’ associations, regardless of any affiliation to any particular political party.

Mr Motumi said that the Department acknowledged that the implementation of the Bill would have financial implications for the State.  The Department liaised with other Government Departments to deliver benefits to veterans and not all the costs would be borne by the Department of Military Veterans (DMV).  The DMV would be entering into service level agreements with the other Departments on the delivery of benefits provided for in the Bill.  The Ministerial Task Team had recommended that veterans were provided with access to public transport and the DMV was working with the Department of Transport on the provision of subsidies.

Mr Motumi explained that the definition of ‘military veteran’ had been expanded to cover all involved in the liberation struggle.  The South African liberation war of 1960 to 1994 was recognised by the United Nations (UN).  A military veteran was subjected to a means test and not all veterans were automatically entitled to receive benefits.  The intention was to provide benefits to those persons who were most in need.  The principles applied by the Department of Social Development provided a guideline to determine the means test.

Ms Ayandla Dlodlo, Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration and Secretary-General of MKMV agreed that the definition of ‘military veteran’ needed careful consideration to ensure that all persons involved in the liberation struggle were included.  The Bill would have financial implications and it might be necessary to revisit the problem statement.  She was aware that many military veterans and their families were destitute and had been badly treated.  It was essential that the database of veterans was accurate and complete and that the verification process was properly carried out.  She suggested that the information provided by applicants were analysed to determine the benefits and types of assistance required.  The cost of benefits could be more accurately determined.  The report of the Ministerial Task Team had raised a number of issues.  She suggested that the veterans were allowed to participate in the resolution of the problems and that alignment with political parties was avoided.

Mr C Kekana (ANC) remarked that the issues concerning military veterans had been raised over a period of many years.  The Bill must be considered as a starting point to address the problems of veterans and its implementation should not be delayed any further.  The definition of ‘military veteran’ covered both sides involved in the liberation war and had been accepted by the UN.  The Bill provided a broad framework for addressing the needs of veterans.

Mr Maynier felt that the Department had not done its homework and that the Committee should halt the processing of the Bill until the financial implications had been determined.  The Committee should request the advice of the Parliamentary Law Adviser on the question of whether the Bill should be a Section 75 or a Section 76 Bill.  He felt that there was a significant risk of massive corruption, as acknowledged by the Department.  The proper verification of veterans on the database was crucial.

Mr Maynier referred to the report of the Ministerial Task Team and the recommendation concerning the provision of business opportunities to military veterans.  The report recommended that tenders were awarded to veterans, which contradicted the response of the Minister when asked if tenders would be reserved for military veterans.  Such a practice was not only economically inefficient but increased the risk of corruption.  He felt that the Department was let down by the Ministerial Task Team as it took a year to produce an inadequate report at the cost of more than R855,000.

Mr Groenewald understood that the application of the means test would require that the income and assets of an applicant was determined.  Clause 5 of the Bill was very vague on the provisions concerning the means test.  Currently, only persons earning less than R65,000 p.a. qualified to receive a monthly social grant.  The benefits provided in terms of the Bill included the provision of housing, transport, education, etc. in addition to a monthly income.  He asked how the Department would determine the cost of healthcare for veterans.  He pointed out that veterans could access medical care at Government hospitals like any other poor person.

Mr Tolo commented that many veterans were living in conditions of abject poverty.  He was aware of veterans being forced into criminal activities.

Mr Mphahlele reiterated his earlier objections and accused the Department of favouring certain military veterans’ organisations above others.

Mr Groenewald agreed that the plight of military veterans was an important issue that needed to be addressed in a responsible manner.  He said that there were clear categories of veterans when the liberation forces were integrated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the mid 1990’s.  Veterans had the option to receive financial compensation in lieu of joining the SANDF, regardless of their financial need.  He asked what categories of veterans were covered by the Bill.

Mr A Maziya (ANC) observed that proper consultation had to take place and suggested that the Bill was discussed by the Members in study groups.  The Department had to be provided an opportunity to respond to the concerns raised by the Committee.

Mr Motumi replied that the Department recognised that there were various groups of veterans and that not all individuals could be dealt with equally.  Many veterans chose not to join the SANDF and the pensions of those who did were inadequate as former members of the liberation forces did not contribute to pension funds.  Many veterans did not have access to military health facilities, which the Bill intended to address.  The Department intended that the entire spectrum of society contributed to the well-being of veterans.  He expected the extent of the problem to diminish in future but the current problems experienced by veterans needed to be addressed, regardless of their previous allegiances.  He stressed that the Department was a-political and non-partisan.  He agreed that there were clear categories applicable when the forces were integrated but pointed out that those who chose not to participate in the process for various reasons fell by the wayside.  He recalled that the deadline for integration was extended on several occasions in order to give all concerned the opportunity to participate in the process.  The Department had a procedure in place to verify the military status of veterans but it was more difficult to establish the status of persons who chose not to integrate with the SANDF.  The Department was working with all the military veterans’ organisations to compile a list of all their members.

Mr Maynier asked how many applicants were on the list of veterans that had not yet been verified.

Mr Kekana remarked that other Government Departments would be responsible for providing certain benefits and would be required to provide resources.  The Department of Military Veterans had a national responsibility, rather than a provincial entity.  A deadline for resolving the outstanding matters needed to be established.

Mr Motumi replied that there were approximately 20,000 applicants on the unverified list.  He referred to paragraph 8.10.3 of the report of the Task Team that was distributed to the Members concerning the recommendation dealing with business opportunities.  The recommendation was in line with international practice and tenders would not necessarily be awarded on the basis of the applicant being a military veteran but would take the ability to deliver the product or service into account.  There were many military veteran organisations in the USA that were supported by the State.  The Department was engaging with the National Treasury to determine the financial implications of implementing the Bill.  The Department was also working on obtaining the assistance of non-governmental entities to provide benefits.  He agreed that the Department needed to do more work on the Bill but did not wish the processing of the legislation to be delayed.

Mr Motumi advised that the provision of healthcare to veterans was a key priority.  The Minister had recently approved the provision of healthcare at military installations to veterans older than age 60 and those who suffered from chronic illnesses.  Currently, 2,000 veterans benefited from this dispensation.

Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) agreed that the Bill should not be delayed because the Department had not completed the costing exercise.  He was aware that there were many veterans in desperate need of the benefits provided in the Bill.

The Chairperson agreed that the plight of veterans needed to be addressed as a matter or urgency.  The Bill was a starting point and should not be delayed by the Committee.  The Department had agreed to respond to the outstanding issues as soon as possible.  The next step in the process was to hold public hearings on the Bill and to obtain submissions from interested parties.

Mr Maynier said that all parties sympathised with the plight of veterans but the Committee was obliged to abide by the Parliamentary Rules and the PFMA.  The delay in processing the Bill was not the fault of the Committee and he suggested that the Department attended to the outstanding issues as a matter of urgency.

Mr Maziya agreed with Mr Maynier’s suggested that the advice of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser was obtained.  He suggested that the Committee postponed further deliberations on the Bill to the following week.  He pointed out that the advertisements for the public hearings could not be placed if the Committee was not satisfied with the Bill.  He noted that the Bill replaced the Military Veterans Affairs Act and asked what the impact of the Bill was on the implementation of the current legislation.  Many veterans were not on the database but he felt that the issue of verification of applicants should be discussed at a later stage.  The Committee should hold public hearings and obtain input from interested parties before debating the Bill.  He suggested that further discussion on the Bill was postponed.

The Chairperson understood that the existing processes would continue.  He asked the Department if one week was sufficient time to address the outstanding issues raised by the Members.

Mr Motumi replied that as much work as possible would be done to respond to Members’ concerns.  The availability of resources was a major issue and the reason for the limitation placed on the provision of healthcare for veterans at military installations.  He said that provincial and national Government Departments were already delivering certain services to veterans.  The DMV needed to coordinate the delivery of benefits and service and to ensure that only bona fide military veterans received benefits.

Mr Maziya noted the concerns raised by the other political parties but the ANC wished the Bill to be implemented as soon as possible.  The Committee had to ensure that the legislative process was properly completed.

The Chairperson confirmed that the Committee Secretary would confirm the outstanding issues to be addressed by the DMV in writing.

The meeting was adjourned.


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