The Chairperson and Commissioners of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission briefed the Committee on the final report of the Commission submitted to the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans during November 2010. The presentation included an overview of the background to the establishment of the Interim Commission, its mandate and terms of reference, the methodology followed and the observations made during the course of its operations.
The focus of the briefing was the recommendations made by the Interim Commission concerning the relationship between the Military Command and the Defence Secretariat; the disempowerment of Officers Commanding; the defence budget allocation and composition; the need for a new Defence Review; the state of defence infrastructure; transport; career management; the Military Skills Development System (MSDS); transformation; the grievance mechanism; command, control and communication in the SANDF; promotion and utilisation; remuneration and conditions of service; the establishment of the permanent NDFSC; the international benchmarking visits to the United Kingdom, United States of America and Russia; the rank audit of demilitarised finance functionaries and the total wellness of the Department of Defence.
The Defence Amendment Bill made provision for the establishment of a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission and was adopted by Parliament in December 2010. Some of the recommendations made by the Interim Commission concerning the remuneration and benefits of members of the South African National Defence Force had already been implemented by the Department of Defence. The drafting of the regulations were nearing completion and the process of establishing the permanent Commission was under way.
Members of the Committee welcomed the report and asked questions about one of the conclusions of the Interim Commission; details of the prevailing conditions at the Doornkop and Lenz military bases; the underlying causes of the unacceptable conditions at the bases; the disparity between the pension benefits of members of the integrated Defence Force; the reasons for the old force numbering system remaining in place; the basis for the recommendation that the Defence budget was increased to 2% of GDP; the position of the military unions in the SANDF; the recommendations concerning other legislative changes and the recommendations concerning the promotions and utilisation system.
The Committee planned a briefing by the Department of Defence on the final report of the Interim Commission in due course and gave the assurance that it would exercise its oversight responsibility to ensure that the recommendations made by the Commission was implemented.
Members of the Committee and the delegates from the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission were introduced.
Mr D Maynier (DA) questioned the organisation of the Committee. Members only received two days’ notice and there was poor attendance at the briefing, particularly by Members from the ruling party. The briefing dealt with a very important matter and it was necessary to ensure that there was maximum attendance by Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson replied that the issue was an internal matter and would be looked into.
Briefing by the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission (INDFSC)
Judge Ronnie Bosielo, Chairperson of the INDFSC, presented the briefing to the Committee (see attached documents). The final report of the Commission was submitted to the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, the Honourable Lindiwe Sisulu, on 16 November 2010.
The briefing included the contextual background to the establishment of the Commission in October 2009. Ten Commissioners from diverse backgrounds were appointed. The INDFSC was a Ministerial Commission and not a Commission of Enquiry. The original terms of reference of the Commission issued on 5 October 2009 were to advise and make recommendations on a unique service dispensation for members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF); to advise and make recommendations on the amendment of the regulatory framework to give effect to the service dispensation; to investigate, advise and make recommendations on the remuneration and conditions of service of members of the SANDF; to consult widely with all stakeholders and to engage a team of experts to assist the Commission. An Urgent Interim Report was submitted to the Minister on 3 November 2009. The terms of reference was amended on 9 November 2009 to provide more guidance to the INDFSC.
An overview of the background to the proceedings of the INDFSC was provided. A programme of action was developed and seventeen major areas requiring investigation were identified. The uniqueness of the military was recognised and the Commission made recommendations to the Minister on the establishment of a special service dispensation for members of the SANDF. Provision was made for the establishment of a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission (NDFSC) in the Defence Amendment Bill, adopted by Parliament in December 2010.
Chapter 3 of the final report outlined the methodology followed by the INDFSC. Chapter 4 detailed the observations, responses and assessments. The recommendations and conclusions of the Commission were included in Chapter 5.
The presentation summarised the recommendations made by the INDFSC with regard to the relationship between the Military Command and the Defence Secretariat; the disempowerment of Officers Commanding; the defence budget allocation and composition; the need for a new Defence Review; the state of defence infrastructure; transport; career management; the Military Skills Development System (MSDS); transformation; the grievance mechanism; command, control and communication in the SANDF; promotion and utilisation; remuneration and conditions of service; the establishment of the permanent NDFSC; recommendations emanating from the international benchmarking visits to the United Kingdom, United States of America and Russia; the rank audit of demilitarised finance functionaries and the total wellness of the Department of Defence.
The conclusions of the INDFSC highlighted the need for multi-party support for the Defence Force; the requirement for the support and participation of the entire nation in the defence of the country; the resolve of members of the SANDF to address the challenges; the implementation of the recommendations made by the Commission; the establishment of the permanent NDFSC; the improvement of remuneration and conditions of service of members of the Defence Force; the ongoing nature of the process; the urgent need to address the lack of habitable accommodation at certain bases and the state of affairs at 1 Military Hospital.
Mr N Diale (ANC) welcomed the report of the Commission. The survival and integrity of the Defence Force had to be assured. The members of the SANDF have to be looked after and it was clear that the budget needed to be increased in order to take care of their basic human needs. The SANDF was a unique organisation and it was vital that the conditions under which it operated were improved. He thanked the INDFSC for the work that was done.
Mr Maynier also welcomed the report and thanked the Commission. The recommendation for a new Defence Review was particularly welcome. He referred to Annexure 5 of the report and asked for clarification of the statement made in conclusion no. 29 that “It is the opinion of the Commission that failure to address some of these concerns might affect the morale of the troops further and could possibly even threaten the security of the state.” (see page 93). The report of the Commission referred to the crisis at the Doornkop and Lenz bases (see page 15). He asked for more information on the findings of the Commission and for comment on what had caused the crisis.
Mr S Montsitsi (ANC,
Mr M Steele (DA) asked why the old force numbering system was still in place after 17 years. He wondered if there was a logistical problem in replacing the system as it was a relatively simple administrative matter that should have been dealt with years ago.
Mr P Pretorius (DA) referred to the Commission’s recommendation that the Defence budget should be increased to 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He asked if the needs of the Defence Force had been costed or if the recommendation was merely based on the percentage spent by developed nations.
Bishop M Mpumlwana, Commissioner, INDFSC, replied that the unacceptable state of conditions observed by the Commission amongst the troops could threaten the security of the State. An example was the finding that soldiers were living in informal settlements instead of in base accommodation. This meant that there would be slow response to an urgent call for soldiers to report for duty. The comment did not imply that the soldiers would revolt. The Commission had found that barracks were in an appalling condition, were badly designed and did not meet the needs of the military. The Department of Public Works (DPW) was responsible for the maintenance of buildings on military bases but this responsibility was not a high priority for the DPW. The Commission suggested that the SANDF strengthened its works detail, which would also help the training drive. The officer corps was aging and there was a need for a proper exit mechanism to encourage older members to leave the SANDF, thereby allowing for more new entrants. An effective works regiment would allow members of the Defence Force to acquire skills that could be used to set up businesses or to get jobs in the civilian construction industry.
Lieutenant General (Ret) L Moloi, Commissioner, IDNFSC, confirmed that the force numbering system currently in place was the same system applicable at the time the various forces were integrated. Extra allowances were payable to members on active duty but in certain cases these allowances were paid on a monthly basis. The Commission found that there were a number of transformation issues that needed to be addressed. The Defence budget had effectively diminished and was inadequate to meet the needs of the SANDF. The recommendation to increase the budget to 2% of GDP would allow the SANDF to meet its mandate and assist in addressing the transformation challenges. The Defence Force had attempted to stretch its budget by reducing the numbers but was experiencing difficulties in meeting the costs of new 21st century requirements, for example international peacekeeping missions and border control. Members of Parliament were responsible for ensuring that the issue of funding was addressed, in the interests of the country. The SANDF was a national body, tasked with protecting and serving the nation and the contribution and support of the entire nation was necessary. The SANDF was respected by the United Nations and the countries where the force was deployed on peacekeeping missions but required more support from the State.
Mr Maynier called a point of order and asked that delegates responded to questions from the Members and refrained from speech-making.
Bishop Mpumlwana referred to the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence budget allocation and composition (see page 40 of the report). The INDFSC recommended that the budget was increased in line with the international norm of 2% of GDP. The allocation to the Department of Defence was inadequate and a more equitable distribution to the different arms of the Defence Force was required. He appealed to the Committee to consider the recommendation that the Defence budget was increased to 2% of GDP.
Judge Bosielo explained that the INDFSC had a specific mandate and its scope was limited by the terms of reference. Not all the questions asked by the Members could be answered. During the course of its investigations, the Commission did come across additional information, which was brought to the attention of the Minister. Because of the time restriction, the Commission was unable to investigate the issues in depth and its findings could therefore be seen as being inadequate. He hoped that the permanent NDFSC would be able to investigate matters more thoroughly.
Mr Zoli Ngcakane, Commissioner, INDFSC reiterated that the 2% of GDP for a Defence budget was the average international norm. He urged the Department of Defence to implement better financial management practices and to avoid receiving qualified audit opinions from the Auditor-General, thereby strengthening its position in obtaining additional State funding.
Judge Bosielo advised that the Commission had recommended that the financial management function of the Defence Force was demilitarised. The process was long-term and involved issues of transformation.
Mr Maynier repeated his earlier question concerning conditions at the Doornkop and Lenz bases. It was apparent that the issues were not limited to matters concerning infrastructure. For example, the Commission reported that troops left the base one hour after reporting for duty and that the grounds were unclean. The findings indicated a breakdown in command and general ill discipline at the base.
Judge Bosielo was aware that the content of the report had resulted in much debate. He agreed that clear resonses to questions were necessary. The observations of the INDFSC as well as the response of the Department and the SANDF were reported on page 15 of the report. The Chief of the SANDF reported that the command and control situation at the bases had been corrected, discipline had improved dramatically and money was subsequently made available to improve the facilities. The DPW would completely refurbish the facilities over the following three years. The Commissioners were horrified by the appalling conditions at the bases and were aware that members of the unit had participated in the protest action on 29 August 2009. The soldiers had been suspended and denied access to the base. The soldiers felt that they had been isolated and that the leadership of the Defence Force had turned its back on them. The Base Commander confirmed that he was not in charge of the men and was reluctant to appear before the INDFSC. Initially, there was confusion about the role of the Commission and the INDFSC was labeled the ‘sweethearts of the Minister’ by the military unions. It was clear that the troops were disillusioned, unhappy and demoralised by the negative environment.
Mr Mayner asked the Commission to comment on the root causes of the conditions prevailing at the bases. He asked if the persons responsible for damaging the facilities had been identified and were held accountable. In his opinion, the root causes were the breakdown of the command structure and a lack of discipline.
The Chairperson understood that the base Commander had no control over the suspended soldiers. Mr Maynier had a different understanding and asked that the response was clarified.
Judge Bosielo replied that the INDFSC was not mandated to investigate the causes and could only listen to the troops, obtain submissions and make recommendations. The dysfunctional grievance system and the low salaries were major causes. The Commission observed the prevailing conditions and the state of the facilities, reported on its observations and suggested that repairs were carried out as a matter of urgency.
Mr Pretorius noted that the INDFSC was prevented from having any interaction with the military unions in the amended terms of reference. Clearly, the human resource element was a major concern and he wanted to know what the position of the military unions was within the SANDF.
Mr Montsitsi observed that the briefing by the INDFSC was only the beginning of the process. A briefing by the Department of Defence would be required by the Committee as well. He did not think that it was fair to expect the Commission to comment on an issue that fell outside its mandate. The conduct of the suspended soldiers was of grave concern and the Department would be asked to brief the Committee on the grievance procedures in place.
The Chaiperson asked if any recommendations were made concerning legislative changes. He asked if the recommendations were prioritised so that funds could be made available according to priority.
Judge Bosielo confirmed that the INDFSC was not mandated to engage with the military unions. The Commission understood that the military unions were stakeholders and had held initial discussions with the unions but the amended terms of reference prevented further engagement. He was not in a position to express any opinion on the desirability of the military unions. The legislative priorities of the INDFSC were to establish the permanent NDFSC and remove the military from the Public Service Act. The necessary changes were made and the Defence Amendment Bill was adopted. The INDFSC was not qualified to inform the Defence Force on what its priorities should be and how funds should be budgeted and spent. The recommendations made by the Commission allowed the Department and the SANDF to determine which areas would be focused on.
Mr Maynier considered the ‘flimsy’ recommendations of the Commission to be the weakness in the report. For example, the issues concerning the relationship between the Military Command and the Secretary for Defence, the disempowerment of commanding officers and career management should have been investigated in more depth and more detailed recommendations should have been made. The Commission sat for a year and the report could have been more detailed.
Judge Bosielo replied that the INDFSC adhered to the terms of reference and carried out its mandate. The Commission focused on improving service conditions, the establishment of a permanent Commission and ensured that the necessary legislative framework was in place. The regulations were nearing completion and would be in place by the time the NDFSC was established. Certain recommendations concerning salaries and the occupation-specific dispensations were implemented. In the course of its proceedings, the Commission had found additional areas of concerned and had included these matters in its observations. Detailed reports on the visits to the
Bishop Mpumlwana said that the SANDF was an important agency for the development of the youth. Most recruits came from poor families. It was necessary to invest in the development of the recruits, to the benefit of the country. The Defence Force played a critical role in shaping recruits to become good citizens and should receive the same recognition as the Department of Education. The family of a soldier needed recognition as well as the family support structure was an important element in developing good morale and quality of life.
Mr Pretorius agreed that the international benchmarking visits undertaken by the INDFSC was of value. He noted that separate reports on the visits would be submitted and asked if any of the recommendations included in the report arose from these visits.
Mr Maynier referred to the recommendations on promotion and utilisation (see page 29 of the report). The assessment stated that promotion must be earned on merit and that the necessary training must be completed. The recommendation on page 43 made no mention that promotions should be earned on merit and only recommended the development of a fair, transparent and efficient system of promotion.
Bishop Mpumlwana replied that a number of additional factors had to be taken into account. The major issue was that the promotion and utilisation system had to be fair and transparent.
Mr Ngcakane added that the Commission paid particular attention to how promotions were dealt with in the
Judge Bosielo advised that the international benchmarking visits were reported on pages 34 to 36 of the report. The Commission investigated the regulatory frameworks and the mechanisms in place to determine remuneration, allowances and benefits; the personnel strategy, career management, recruitment and retention policies; the education, training, development and accreditation programmes;, the conditions of service and service benefits; military remuneration and allowances; unique military dispensations; military health care; military grievance mechanisms and discipline; military communities and veterans’ affairs.
Mr Maynier accepted that the promotion mechanism needed to be open and fair. He asked the Commission to explain how the current system operated, how it compared to the
The Chairperson pointed out that the Commissioners were not military specialists and were only required to present an overview of the work of the INDFSC. The Commission considered the Department and the Defence Force to best know what needed to be done.
Mr Maynier remarked that there would have been no need for the INDFSC if the Defence Force knew best what needed to be done.
Judge Bosielo referred to page 18 of the report, where information was provided on the composition and extent of the Defence budget. The White Paper on Defence and the Defence Review suggested a ratio of 40:30:30 for the components of personnel, operating expenditure and capital expenditure. The 2010/11 budget reflected a ratio of 44:43:13. The budget represented 1.1% of GDP (3.9% of total Government expenditure) and was inadequate to meet the needs of the Department. An additional amount of R2.6 billion on top of the existing budget was requested for the 2010/11 fiscal year but the final allocation was instead reduced by R2 billion. The information was provided by the Department of Defence.
The Chairperson suggested that Members studied the report of the Commission. If necessary, the Committee would recall the INDFSC to provide further input. He complimented the Commission on the standard of the report and thanked the Commissioners for their participation during the briefing. The Committee would discuss the report with the Department and adhere to the Parliamentary procedures to ensure that the recommendations were implemented.
The meeting was adjourned.
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