The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSC) had been briefed on 10 May by the Defence Review Committee on the consultative document for the Defence Review 2012. The briefing clearly demonstrated that the JSC would have an important function in the Defence Review, and Members discussed some important issues around the timeframes, the input and its own recommendations. The Defence Review Committee had until June to complete its review and was expected to submit a report to the Minister in August, so Members concluded that they must prepare themselves thoroughly by end June, to give input into, and if necessary correct, the final document. They stressed that sufficient time was needed for public participation and comment, asked if stakeholders would be given documents and a proper briefing, and wanted to be advised of where the public hearings would be, to enable them to participate. Members asked that the Defence Review Committee be asked to brief the JSC again on specific key chapters, and then re-called, after the public hearings, to brief the JSC again, who would then produce an interim report for debate in the House. It was necessary to ensure due speed of the review process, but also ensure that it was done thoroughly. Members noted that some issues, including border control and issues of transformation, needed further amplification. They also felt that, to do justice to the matter, full-day meetings may be necessary. Members discussed if public participation should include non-South African citizens, but concluded that it could include those presently deployed on foreign missions, whilst one Member emphasised that it was vital to ensure that the Review was in the interests of the foot-soldiers of the Forces, and that the Defence Review Committee should provide proof of the quality of input from stakeholders. Members debated whether to call for an extension to the timeframe of the Review Committee but felt this might involve too many complications. The purpose of he Review was to identify and correct the current weaknesses of the South African Defence Force, so it was necessary to focus on certain issues. It was stressed that the JSC was not an ordinary stakeholder as it had the power to approve or reject the document presented to Cabinet.
Defence Review: Committee Recommendations
The Chairperson said the presentation by the Defence Review Committee and the briefings by the State Law Advisors and Parliamentary legal advisors clearly showed that the Joint Standing Committee on Defence had an important function in determining how the Defence Review would come about. He said the timeframe of the Defence Review Committee may not suit that of the Joint Standing Committee, and it was vital that the Joint Standing Committee discuss its role, as provided for in the Constitution, in approaching the Defence Review. The Joint Standing Committee must either deal with specific chapters of the Defence Review, or deliberate on the document page by page, and then decide whether the timeframe should be extended.
Mr E Mlambo (ANC) said it was important to discuss the way forward. The Defence Review Committee had until June to complete its review. He asked whether members of the Joint Standing Committee had the power to extend that timeframe, to allow for more time to discuss the terms of the Review. The current timeframe would not give the Joint Standing Committee enough time to make proper recommendations, as Members were expected to report back to their constituencies in June. He suggested the timeframe be extended to the end of July.
Co-Chairperson Maake said that when the Defence Review Committee returned to the Joint Standing Committee (JSC), the latter would be given the opportunity to make its input and recommendations on the Defence Review document.
Ms P Daniels (ANC) said that the process of recourse was vital, because the Joint Standing Committee must be given the chance to correct and polish the Defence Review document if Members were not happy with it.
Mr Maake acknowledged that the Defence Review document may well contain major flaws, and therefore the Joint Standing Committee would be allowed to polish the document before it was presented to Parliament.
Mr S Esau (DA) referred to the extensive list of stakeholders mentioned in the Defence Review document. These included political parties, provincial imbizos, corporate business, unions, youth organisations, religious bodies, academia and international organisations. It was important to include all stakeholders in the public participation process, so that the nation would buy into the Defence Review and thus support the defence forces. Therefore, sufficient time must be afforded for public participation and comment. In addition, specific dates, times and venues of public hearings must be made known to Members of the Joint Standing Committee so that they could attend hearings within their constituencies and observe the inputs given. He agreed that this process would require an extension of the Defence Review Committee’s timeframe.
Mr D Maynier (DA) highlighted that the Defence Review process would be conducted in two phases. The first (and current) phase dealt with high level policy, and would include input from Mr Roelf Meyer and the Defence Review Committee. The second phase would see input from the Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), on the design of the Review, and its budgetary implications. He asked how this Joint Standing Committee would structure a process that dealt with both phases and gained the approval of legal advisors. He suggested that, during the first phase, the Defence Review Committee must brief the Joint Standing Committee properly, on specific key chapters of the review document. Afterwards, following extensive public hearings, the Defence Review Committee must be re-called to brief the Joint Standing Committee again. This would enable the JSC to produce an interim report that could be debated in the National Assembly. The Minister of Defence was putting pressure on the Defence Review Committee to speed up the review process. However, it was important to strike a balance between working as quickly as possible, and also ensuring that the Defence Review process was conducted thoroughly, otherwise certain services and capabilities would be at risk of collapsing.
Co-Chairperson Montsitsi said that certain aspects within the Defence Review document, such as border control and issues of transformation, were not fully explained, but only briefly mentioned, in a sentence or two. If the review process was not conducted thoroughly, the Review document would be adopted with such inadequate provisions. Once the document became a White Paper it would be in force for the next five years. Therefore, it was important to include, in advance, all pertinent issues that were vital for the development of the SANDF. He agreed with Mr Maynier that the Joint Standing Committee must engage with the Chief of SANDF to discuss issues pertaining to the design and structure of SANDF. He suggested inviting the Chief of SANDF to a meeting so the Chief could elucidate on his role in the Defence Review process. Also, it was important that all Members read the Defence Review document thoroughly, so that everyone was familiar with it during discussions. Finally, once the Joint Standing Committee had made progress in formulating its recommendations, the Defence Review Committee must be recalled so that these proposals could be incorporated in the Defence Review document.
Ms Daniels said the Joint Standing Committee must discuss the mandate and timeframe of the Defence Review Committee, as stated in its draft report. In a previous meeting, the Defence Review Committee had assured both the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and the Portfolio Committee on Defence that the Review Committee planned to visit all nine provinces to conduct public hearings on the Defence Review. The Defence Review Committee must also report back to Parliament on the concerns raised at these public hearings.
Mr Mlambo said that Parliament had a time constraint with dealing with the Defence Review, but that the Joint Standing Committee must not allow itself to be placed under pressure. Conversely, the JSC should put pressure on the Defence Review Committee to make sure that it consulted all stakeholders before the Defence Review document could be adopted.
Ms N Mabedla (ANC) said that, considering the length of the Review document, two-hour meetings with the Defence Review Committee were not sufficient for engagement on all issues of concern. She suggested having day-long meetings, to do justice to the Review process. She agreed that the Defence Review Committee must report back on the public hearings that it conducted, so that other committees knew how many provincial areas the Defence Review Committee consulted. Finally, as a new member to the Joint Standing Committee, she thought it was important to compare the latest Defence Review document with the previous one of 1998.
Mr Maake said that public participation should include consultation not only with South African citizens, but with other countries as well.
Mr Mlambo argued that his interpretation of discussions during previous meetings was that only South African citizens were anticipated in the “public participation and consultation” process. However, Tony Yengeni, a previous Chairperson of the Defence Review Committee, had consulted with South Africans who were deployed in foreign missions, for instance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was important that the Defence Review Committee disclose where the public hearings were advertised, so that the Joint Standing Committee could be informed of these events.
Mr Maynier agreed with Ms Daniels that the Joint Standing Committee should focus on the mandate of the Defence Review Committee. It might also prove necessary to extend its timeframe, though unnecessary delays must be avoided, as the Defence Review remained a matter of great urgency. He proposed that the Joint Standing Committee hold a series of meetings and discuss specific key chapters of the Defence Review during each meeting. Furthermore, he proposed the JSC also hold meetings to discuss the outcomes of public hearings and consultations with stakeholders. He suggested that the JSC might also want to conduct its own public hearings. Finally, an additional meeting with the Defence Review Committee must be arranged so that the JSC could propose its recommendations and produce a report that could be debated in Parliament.
Ms Daniels agreed with Mr Maynier’s suggestion. She said the Joint Standing Committee must decide on the fundamental principles that it felt should be included in the Defence Review document. The Joint Standing Committee must strive to be trend setters, not trend followers. The Defence Review must resonate with the priorities of the SANDF, as
Mr D Bloem (COPE) said he had experience with the previous Defence Review of 1998. The review must be in the interests of the foot soldiers within the Defence Force, because they constituted the primary role players in any process that pertained to defence. The shaping of the Defence Review document must be influenced by the inputs of the men and women from SANDF
Mr B Fihla (ANC) said the Defence Review must also be considered in light of the current state of SANDF. The weaknesses of the SANDF must be identified, and the Review should then be geared towards improving these weaknesses. He thought that, rather than focusing on every word in the lengthy Review document, the Joint Standing Committee must try to isolate the most important issues, and discuss them thoroughly.
Mr Montsitsi reflected on the issues that were raised thus far, summarising them as:
- The timeframe of the Defence Review must be extended in order to give the Joint Standing Committee enough time to discuss the document
- The Defence Review Committee must produce a report of all public outreach programmes
- A presentation by the Chief of the SANDF on the force design and structure should be arranged
- The mandate of the Defence Review Committee must be scrutinised and understood in full
- The ordinary soldiers on the ground should be involved in the shaping of the Defence Review document
- The Joint Standing Committee should identify the key issues of the Defence Review and deliberate on these
He reiterated the importance of extending the timeframe. Although this would likely disrupt the work of the Defence Review Committee, it was unavoidable. Once adopted, the Defence Review would law for the next five years. Therefore, it was important that the Joint Standing Committee do its job properly.
Mr Maake noted that the proposals that were read out by Mr Montsitsi were not necessarily in order of urgency. He picked up on Mr Fihla’s comment about focusing on key areas. It was vital that the Joint Standing Committee discuss issues such as transformation within the SANDF, agents within the defence industry, and the Committee’s involvement in planning the Force design. In order for these issues to be discussed, another meeting must be called.
Ms Daniels was very concerned with the timeframe granted to the Defence Review Committee. She insisted the Joint Standing Committee would not adhere to this timeframe unless all of the key issues of the Defence Review were discussed on time.
Mr Maake said there would be many complications if the Joint Standing Committee sought to change the mandate and timeframe of the Defence Review Committee.
Mr Bloem asked whether the Joint Standing Committee had a deadline for concluding its work on the Defence Review matter, and, if so, when this would be.
Mr Maake responded that the Joint Standing Committee had not yet been assigned a specific timeframe or deadline.
Mr Thabiso Ratsomo, Chief Director: Strategic Support, Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans, outlined the policy procedure. He said the Defence Review Committee had a timeframe until the end of June. During this time, it would gather input from all stakeholders, including the Joint Standing Committee. By the end of June the Defence Review Committee was set to present its report to the Minister of Defence, and would then have until the end of August to refine the Defence Review document. The Defence Review Committee would then present the Report to Cabinet with the hope of presenting it to Parliament by the end of 2012.
Mr Montsitsi said that once the proposals of the Joint Standing Committee had been agreed upon, a summary would be prepared and distributed to all Committee members. After consultation with the Chief of the SANDF, a package that included all the key information would be distributed so that all Joint Standing Committee members were fully prepared for the next meeting with the Defence Review Committee.
Mr Esau stressed that the Defence Review Committee must be obliged to provide proof of the quality of input from stakeholders during the public participation processes. He wondered if the stakeholders were handed documents and afforded enough time to give constructive feedback, or whether they merely received a briefing, without engaging properly with the proposals in the Defence Review document.
Mr Maynier feared that the Defence Review Committee considered the Joint Standing Committee in the same light as any other stakeholder whose inputs were required into the final document. The Joint Standing Committee, in fact, had a much larger role in the Defence Review process. After the recommendations of public stakeholders had been considered, the Joint Standing Committee had the power to either approve or reject the final document, before the Defence Review Committee presented it to cabinet.
Mr Ratsomo said that he had understood that the input process, including input from the Joint Standing Committee, was open until the end of June. After that was concluded, the Defence Review Committee would compile a list of all the recommendations, and then present its report to the Minister of Defence by the end of August.
Mr Bloem said that if Mr Ratsomo’s understanding was correct, it was of crucial importance that the Joint Standing Committee organise its input before the end of June.
Ms Daniels looked forward to receiving a summary of the proposals of the Joint Standing Committee, to be discussed further at the next meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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