JC Defence Committee programme

Defence

29 February 2012
Chairperson: Mr J Maake (ANC), Mr S Montsitsi (ANC; Gauteng)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met to set its Committee Programme from January to June. At the outset, Members discussed whether it was useful to continue to meet on Thursday at 08:00, since several Members had difficulty arriving by that time, keeping the others waiting and shortening the already limited time to discuss matters. It was noted that when the Committee had met on a Friday, it also had limited attendance, and meetings on other days may clash with other Parliamentary committees. The Committee Chairperson would again look into the possibility of having meetings on a Tuesday, and would report back.

Members noted that the purpose of the draft programme was to make suggestions and indicate areas that needed to be covered. Although the DA Member raised his concerns with the process, it was noted that Members had been asked to raise topics for comment, which had been incorporated into the draft.

Members agreed, in principle, that there should be oversight visits every quarter. Members debated what bases needed to be visited, and what questions could be asked, and suggested that all bases be covered, whether or not problems had been identified. They agreed that a full briefing on all issues was needed from the South African Air Force, which would include discussions on VIP Squadron and the alleged “borrowing” of a plane by a pilot for a private visit, and if necessary additional slots would be arranged for this purpose, around 8 March. There would be a meeting with National Conventional Arms and Control Committee on 15 March would be retained. It was suggested that the State Law Advisors’ briefing on 26 April should be combined with a briefing also by the Parliamentary Law Advisors. Members discussed noted that the slot of 24 May was for a briefing, and public hearings on the position of war veterans would be held on 14 and 15 June. After lengthy deliberations the Committee agreed that a hearing for the South African Air Force to deal.

Meeting report

 

Committee programme
Co-Chairperson Mr J Maake tabled two draft proposed programmes, noting that these were suggestions only, and called for comment.

Mr D Maynier (DA) suggested that the Committee should not continue to meet on Thursday mornings. It was not possible for the Chairperson and some other Members to attend at 08:00, and it was unfair that other Members be kept waiting for thirty to forty minutes until they arrived. It would be embarrassing if delegates from the Defence Force or Ministry were also to be kept waiting. There was also insufficient time available to complete the meetings properly before the caucus meetings commenced.

Mrs P Daniels (ANC)was in agreement with the comments on the time of meetings, and confirmed that the late arrival of buses was adversely affecting the work of the Committee.

Co-Chairperson Mr S Montsitsi (ANC, Gauteng) also agreed, noting that this was not a problem affecting this Committee alone.  Although the Chief Whip had been asked to try to make a bus available to leave the Parliamentary Village at 06:30, there was no finality on this.

Mr Maake drew attention to the fact that the previous slot had been on a Friday, but that too had not been desirable for many Members failed to attend. The present 08:00 to 09:30 slot was the only one available, and there were apparently not alternatives.

Mr B Fihla (ANC) stated that Thursday was convenient, and pointed out that he himself left home in his own car at 07:00 and arrived in time for the meeting. If traffic congestion was the problem, then perhaps the meeting could start at 08:30.

Mr Maynier reiterated that Thursday was not convenient, adding that major hearings would be held during the year, which could not be accommodated in two hours, and that Members could not miss the caucus meetings. He noted that the Portfolio Committee on Defence met on Wednesdays, and suggested that this meeting be shifted to Tuesday, unless it clashed with the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI). 

Mr Montsitsi stated that all other Joint Committees met on Friday, except the JSCI, and noted that the problem had been raised that there was low attendance when meetings had been held on a Friday in the past.

Mr Maynier quipped that perhaps the JSCI would consider sharing the venue.

Mr Maake replied that he would enquire again about the possibility of a Tuesday slot, and would report back.

Mr Maynier also suggested that discussion was needed on what the programme wished to achieve.

Mr Maake answered that the draft was merely an indication of areas that needed to be covered, and was subject to discussion, so it was not a finalised programme. He agreed that nobody could  draft a programme for the Committee, but that concepts in line with the Committee’s mandate should be presented.

Ms Daniels suggested that the Committee should hold an oversight visit each quarter, to get a good balance, and suggested that an oversight plan was needed.

Mr Maake replied that he was not certain if Parliament had made provision for a specific period for oversight, and asked the Committee Secretary, Ms Bulelwa Madikane, to comment.

Ms Madikane replied that specific times for oversight were set for the National Assembly (NA) and National council of Provinces (NCOP); for the latter the first week of every time was set aside for oversight. Whether the Committee could attend to oversight during the session would depend on the Committee programme. Although the Committee could conduct oversight at any time, it first had to seek approval for this, giving a motivation.

Mr Fihla stated that the dates for oversight were stated in the programmes of all the committees.

Mr Maake agreed that oversight was of prime importance and suggested that proposals for oversight be sent.

Mr Montsitsi agreed, and referred to discussions in the past on the need to visit a number of bases, including air force bases. Issues raised included problems with the aircraft used by the President and Deputy President.

Mr Maake stated that there was no need to discuss the issues now, but merely the principles.

Mr Montsitsi also suggested that oversight should be conducted to United States and Vietnam.

Mr Maake thought Mr Montsitsi was still discussing the issues, not the principles, and asked for comment on whether oversight should be conducted quarterly, as suggested  by Ms Daniels, whether it should include visits to the Army, Air Force and Navy bases. The Parliamentary authorities would need to receive motivation for those visits.  

Mrs N Mabedla (ANC) asked about the possibility of using the constituency periods for oversight, to cover all the provinces.

Mr Fihla outlined the purpose of oversight, which was intended to identify the challenges facing the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (the Department), so that it could improve.

Mr Maake believed it would be difficult to get permission to use the constituency period for oversight.

Mr Maynier agreed that it was important to conduct the oversight, and it had to be done soon.

Mrs Mabedla suggested that every part of the country where the Defence Force had a presence must be visited.

Mr Maake replied that this suggestion did not require any debate.

Mr Montsitsi reiterated that the programme had to be adopted first, because Parliament would, on receiving a request for oversight visits, check that the subject of the oversight was within the ambit of the adopted Committee programme.

Mr Maake again asked Members for formal confirmation that there should, in principle, be a slot set aside in every quarter for the purpose of oversight. This oversight would be devoted to different sectors in defence.

Members indicated their agreement.

Mr Maake asked Members to make their suggestions for the period January to March 2012.

Mr Maynier suggested that the slot for the National Conventional Arms and Control Committee be 15 March. Another slot was available on 8 March, and he suggested that a hearing should be scheduled with the Chief of the South African Air force (SAAF) in order to deal with the issue of the VIP Squadron 21.

Mr Maynier also believed that it was important to hold hearings into the incident where a South African Air Force pilot allegedly “borrowed” one of the aircrafts in the VIP Squadron to pay a private visit to a friend in Botswana. This was unacceptable, and this message should be clearly conveyed.

Ms Daniels stated that the SAAF still owed the Committee a presentation, and suggested that all outstanding issues and not just the VIP Squadron, had to be covered.

Mr Maake asked if the discussion on the annual report should be moved to another slot.

Mr Maynier gave his opinion that one whole slot should not be devoted to discussion of the annual report. He agreed with Ms Daniels that the SAAF hearing should deal with holistic matters, and thought this was urgent.

Mr Maake asked if Members agreed that a hearing with the SAAF should be scheduled for 8 March, when SAAF should present a full report.

Mr Maynier indicated his agreement, but thought that perhaps a two-hour slot might not suffice, suggesting that the afternoon also be set aside to continue with this hearing.

Mr Maake asked whether this would not clash with a sitting of the House.

Mr Maynier suggested that permission could be requested for Members to be absent from the hearing.

Mr Maake did not think this was possible, and noted that the Committee could use a Friday for the hearing.

Mr M Maine (ANC, North West) stated that it would not be convenient for NCOP Members to attend the hearing on 8 March, as this clashed with a meeting with the President. Friday would not be convenient either. He suggested that the hearing commence on a Wednesday, and continue on, if necessary, to Thursday.

Mr Montsitsi thought the Committee should see what it could accomplish on Thursday; the Chief of Staff and SAAF could be given a 90 minute to give their presentation, and 90 minutes be set aside for interrogation. He thought all the information could be obtained in this timeframe. Meetings usually ended at 10:00 to allow Members to attend party caucuses, and perhaps Members could notify their parties in advance that they would be late in attending the caucus on that day, to allow that full justice be given to the issues needing to be discussed.

Mr Maake said this was an administrative issue.

Mr Maake moved on to discuss the 16 to 18 March slot, which was for the Joint Strategic Planning Workshop. All NA Members of this Committee also served on the Portfolio Committee on Defence, which was also due to hold a Strategic Training Workshop on those days. He suggested that a joint Strategic Planning Workshop be arranged, which would merely involve adding in items that specifically affected this Committee.

Mr Maake noted that a slot for “Provincial oversight visit to bases” was scheduled for 16 to 20 April, and asked for suggestions on what would need to be considered.

Ms Daniels asked whether there was an Air Force base in Wolvesprit, and what was needed there.

Mr Maake was not sure if the Wolvesprit base was still functioning. He thought that the hearing suggested for SAAF should be split into distinct sections, so that there could be discussion on all issues around bases.

Mr Montsitsi referred to the bases listed since the Chief of Navy’s presentation, and noted that matters of transformation had been raised as problematic. Six bases had been identified, and he suggested that the Committee divide into two groups, with each to attend to three bases, and any others could be added, if necessary.

Mr Maynier suggested that the oversight visits be structure according to capacity. Visits should be made to the Air Combat Capability, and Transport Capability (although he was not sure where this was), as well as the VIP Squadron Capability in Vaticus and the Flying School. There was concern about combat readiness of the Air Combat aircraft, and, in the Transport Capability, concern about the airworthiness of the Hercules Transport Fleet. A range of questions involving safety needed to be investigated in relation to the VIP Squadron. At the Flying School, there were concerns about the recruitment and retention of new pilots.

Mr Maake agreed on these points.

Mr Maine noted that NCOP Members would not be available in this week, as they were expected to attend at their provinces.

Mr Montsitsi confirmed that this was indeed a provincial week, which was part of oversight, so it was possible that the Parliamentary authorities might view this in the context of oversight in the different provinces, over specific entities.

Mrs Mabedla noted that the Committee would be divided into groups, and perhaps could still attend to oversight in the absence of NCOP Members.

Mr Maake asked the Committee Secretary to look into the logistics.

Ms Daniels noted that whilst she did not disagree that the combat readiness of some bases was an issue requiring attention, she was not sure whether the Committee should only visit bases that were problematic, as the mandate of the Committee included the need to boost morale of all serving defence force members. She thought all six bases should be visited, if at all possible.

Mr Maake noted that Mr Maynier’s comments related to possible questions to be asked.

Mr Maake noted that the slot of 26 April was set aside for a briefing by the State Law Advisors on the Constitutional responsibility of the Joint Standing Committee on the Defence Review.

Mr Montsitsi noted that the documents relating to the Defence Review had been circulated. Members had to acquaint themselves with the shape, size and position of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the past reviews, and debate whether there was evidence of integration and transformation in the Forces. The Defence Review Committee was tasked with making improvements and updates to the former Review.

Mr Montsitsi emphasised that the State Law Advisors were to brief the Committee on the Constitutional mandate, in preparation for the presentation by the Defence Review Committee. There would be no excuses, in future, that nobody had known of downsizing. Other pertinent issues would include the type of weaponry to be used, the educational intake and transformation processes.

Mr Maake agreed that the State Law Advisors would be aware of what the Committee needed to know. He suggested that one or two Fridays should be selected in advance, giving Members plenty of notice, for holding workshops or meetings with the Defence Review Committee, which would allow for a lot of work to be achieved.

Mr Maynier agreed, noting that this would be a major undertaking and might even require more than two days.

Mr Maake noted that there was no opposition to his suggestion, and noted that two Fridays would be selected.

Mr Maynier asked why the briefing was being given by the State Law Advisors, and not the Parliamentary Law Advisors, and suggested that the views of both be obtained.

Mr Maake agreed.

Mr Maake then asked for any comments on the slots for 10 May (follow up on Committee recommendations), 17 May (consideration of draft oversight report) and 24 May (preparation for public hearings and evaluation of submissions). Public hearings were scheduled for 14 to 15 June, to investigate whether the lives of military veterans had improved since the Joint Standing Committee Report in 2006.

Ms Daniels noted that the slot of 24 May made reference to hearings on the mandate of the Committee and wondered if the State Law Advisors’ briefing would touch on this issue.

Mr Maynier wondered why there was a need for public hearings into the Committee’s mandate, between 17 and 25 May.

Mr Montsitsi explained that the meeting on 17 May would discuss the oversight Report made after visiting the six bases, and he thought it could be adopted on the same day. The meeting on 24 May would consider past reports dealing with the improvement of lives of military veterans, including areas such as housing, health, transport and the special pension.

Mr Maake noted that the meeting was described as a “public hearing”, and he asked whether this implied that it would be advertised as such, and what procedures would be taken.

Mr Maine clarified that the issue had been explained, and the only problem was the reference to “public hearing”.

Mr Maake still thought the Committee had to debate what “public hearings” meant, and whether all stakeholders would have to be invited.

Mr Montsitsi said that public hearings would be called where issues had to be discussed, and thought that this was more correctly to be described as a briefing.

Mrs Daniels suggested that before the actual public hearing, the Department of Military Veterans should brief the Committee on its progress and challenges.

Mr Maine noted confusion about the dates, and said the briefing was scheduled for 24 May, but public hearings on 14 and 15 June.

Mr Montsitsi explained that every Committee had the prerogative to call for public hearings, not only on legislative issues, but also on matters of public interest. The objective of these hearings was to review what had been done between 2006 and 2012, and the Department of Military Veterans had made a commitment to draft regulations arising from recommendations at the hearings.

Mr Maynier expressed his frustration about how this process was being handled. He thought that the wrong approach had been taken, and said that a day should have been set aside to look at the aims of the Committee, identify the issues of the various parties, and only then structure a programme.

Mr Maake replied that that was exactly what the Committee had done; Members had been asked for their suggestions, which were then incorporated into this draft programme.

The meeting was adjourned.


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