Firearms Control Bill: hearings

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12 September 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
12 September 2000
FIREARMS CONTROL BILL: HEARINGS


Chairperson: Mr M E George

Documents handed out:
Department of Defence Comment on Firearms Control Bill
Security Officers' Interim Board Submission

 

Department of Defence team: Nick Sendall (Defence Secretariat); Capt (SAN) Dean Gillespie (Military Legal Services Division SANDF); Maj Genl (ret) Julius Kroon (Aerospace); Advocate Kuswayo (Armscor).

SUMMARY
The Department of Defence raised concerns with the Bill, which centred mainly around the issues of private contractors not being exempt from certain requirements (as is the case with the SANDF) although they were subcontracted to the SANDF to perform maintenance and logistical support when deployed. A further concern of the DOD was raised relating to their shooting clubs. The committee members were hostile toward this late submission as the SANDF had not attended the public hearings, and had already had their input taken into account through the Security Cluster forum and the Minister of Defence. The committee also felt that the presenters were not well prepared for the meeting, and that their disorganisation had resulted in their raising issues which had already been accommodated and attended to. The Chair undertook to report this poor showing to the Minister of Defence, and contended that this presentation was not made on behalf of the DOD as a whole, but rather by a sector within the Department.

The Security Officers' Interim Board made a presentation which supported the Bill, raising certain concerns and pointing to opportunities where the Security Industry Regulatory Authority (as is being created by the Security Industry Regulation Bill) can assist with the issuing and regulation of competency certificates.

MINUTES
Department of Defence
The Chair stated that the Department of Defence had been called to make this submission as a result of an SANDF letter sent to the Committee which indicates serious implications for implementation of the Firearms Control Bill within the SANDF. He noted that the committee may be slightly hostile towards the presentation due to the fact that it was seemingly penned after the time for consultation was over. He also noted that the DOD had failed to attend the public hearings, and that it was felt that the reason given for this absence was not convincing. He also underlined that the Bill had been passed through the Security Cluster in Cabinet, of which the DOD was a part, where the Minister of Defence had raised certain issues, which were accommodated. The Bill was then approved by Cabinet, of which the Minister of Defence is a member.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) raised a concern that the DOD had only circulated their 23 page document at this meeting, not leaving the committee any time to formulate responses and questions.

Mr Sendall began by stating that the DOD and the South African Police Service (SAPS) have had a very good interface on the Bill within the National Crime Prevention Strategy forum, and have made written comment as such. He stated that the comment of the DOD as presented here are a re-iteration of comments made to the committee in October / November 1999. He outlined the DOD's concerns as follows:

· The DOD's main concerns centre around the logistical support and deployment of the SANDF. In line with most defence forces in the world, the SANDF outsources maintenance and logistical support for their weapons systems, meaning that any repairs, maintenance and logistical support are provided by the private sector, and that whenever deployed in any capacity civilian contractors are utilised. Although the SANDF is granted specific exceptions by section 11 of the Act, the DOD would like to see these private organisations benefiting from these exceptions as well.
· In remote areas, SANDF and Military Police Stations are recognised as part of the SAPS, and should therefore be included as areas designated for storage, collection and reporting of firearms.
· SANDF Shooting Clubs are seen as an extension of musketry training for members as it is here that skills are honed and perfected. Shooting competence is essential to soldiers, and it is at these shooting clubs that this is promoted. The SANDF therefore wants these clubs to be recognised as part of the schools training of SANDF members.
· Military museums form part of many of the bases and regiments, and as such should be included with SANDF firearms management.

Discussion
Adv Swart (DP) opened by questioning the factual basis of the presentation as it frequently misquoted clauses to which it was addressing itself. He stressed that it was almost impossible to give full consideration to a presentation whose compilers had not taken the trouble of checking their facts. Adv Swart asked the DOD which draft of the Bill they had been working from as it was clear that they had not been using the most up-to-date version. Other members of the committee vigorously agreed.

Ms van Wyk (UDM) asked for clarity on the point of the SANDF shooting clubs, questioning whether only members of the SANDF were able to be members of the shooting clubs, or whether membership was extended to their dependants as well. She also asked whether it was compulsory for SANDF members to belong to these clubs, as this would be the only way that the DOD's argument in favour of these clubs as an extension of schools training was sustainable. She also asked whether members were allowed to be recreational members of the clubs, or whether all members were involved in competition shooting.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) stated that he seconded Ms van Wyk's questions, asking for the DOD's views on the Bill's requirement that SANDF members be required to be issued with competency certificates on an individual basis. He also asked for comment on the DOD's commitment to enforcing this through checks and audits.

General Viljoen (FF) voiced his concern that although the private sector had undertaken to support the SANDF logistically during deployment, what was the practice during training? He also raised concern around the regulation, training and monitoring of these private companies. He further asked the DOD whether it had standards in place regarding the capacity to handle weapons safely, and asked whether the DOD was prepared to undertake these as prescribed by the Bill. He concluded by stating that notice as requested by the SANDF before an arms audit would negate its very purpose, namely of checking on day-to-day handling of weapons.

Mr Zondo (ANC) reminded the meeting that the DOD formed part of the Security Cluster which had already made submissions on the Bill, and asked whether the DOD were intending this to be a submission outside of this. He also asked whether the DOD was contending that they had proper control of their arms, and questioned whether they were able to give the meeting a report as to the number of arms lost during the last year.

Mr Booi (ANC) asked regarding the DOD's feeling on the Bill's contention that a license for gunsmithing should only be applicable to fixed premises, and should not allow for a 'roaming' gunsmith. He asked regarding the DOD's request that members be exempt from having to have a license while on duty and on SANDF property, continuing that when members take their firearms home they are often the perpetrators of violence using these weapons.

Adv Swart stated that he could not find any of the DOD's requests which were not already accommodated in the Bill, except for the fact that under the Bill the DOD would be required to apply for temporary exclusions and authorisations where the DOD would prefer to have these as permanent.

The Chair underlined that many were of the opinion that the SANDF and SAPS were the greatest sources of illegal weapons through their negligence and sloppy handling.

Mr Sendall replied that the DOD has been supportive of the Bill and stating again that there has been good consultation between the SANDF and the drafters regarding the Bill. He referred members to the correspondence included in the presentation literature. He stated that many drafts of the Bill had changed hands during consultation, and admitted that it was possible that the DOD had been working from an outdated copy.

In attempting to answer the questions posed by Ms van Wyk, he consulted with Capt Gillespie. The Chair indicated that it would be better that Mr Gillespie be allowed to answer for himself as the Department was not winning the committee's confidence by wasting the their time.

Capt Gillespie replied that only members of the SANDF were eligible to be members of the shooting clubs, but that they were not obliged to do so.

The Chair interjected, asking why, in this case, the DOD felt that they needed further exclusion than was catered for under the section dealing with sports shooting.

Mr Booi expressed extreme frustration at the DOD's lack of organisation and ability to answer questions raised by the members. He stated that he felt that it was a lack of respect that allowed them to present their case without the knowledge to back up their statements.

Mr Ndlovu agreed, stating that the committee needs the presenters to tell them WHY they are requesting changes at this late stage.

The Chair stated that he was giving the presenters a last opportunity to motivate what has been presented.

Advocate Kuswayo stated that Armscor fully supports the Bill, and that she had attended merely in an observer capacity.

Mr Zondo pleaded with the presenters to organise themselves and get to the point.

Mr Sendall answered the question relating to competency certification by stating that weapons training, including the safe handling and transportation which would form part of the competency certification process is already taking place as part of SANDF members' initial training. The SANDF undertakes to continue with this, as well as perform the checks required to ensure that this is applied stringently.

The Chair underlined that the granting of a competency certificate involves more than simply knowing how to shoot a weapon.

Capt Gillespie replied that tighter controls had already been implemented, and that these orders apply to stowage and safekeeping as well. SANDF members are not allowed to take leave with their weapons, and in the case of a member going absent or on leave with their weapons, the SANDF is under orders to recover these weapons immediately.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Kroon stated that he represented private industry, and that they also provided training on safeguarding, stowage and transportation.

The Chair asked why, then, did industry want to be exempted from the requirements of the Bill?

Maj Gen. Kroon replied that his organisation had not made this request.

The Chair stated that the SANDF should answer to the members' questions. Although they were fully entitled to bring advisors to this meeting, it was the responsibility of the SANDF to put their case forward and explain their rationale behind their objections to the Bill. It is ultimately on the strength of the arguments backing up their contentions that members will be persuaded to take their requests to heart. He stated that the DOD were currently not helping their case at all, but were bordering on wasting the committee's time as they were unprepared. He said that it would be better if the DOD presenters simply admitted that they were unable to answer the questions as they were merely the people who had been picked to present this morning, rather than the ones who had drafted the presentation.

Mr Zondo contended that there is no further value to be gained from the DOD presentation, and that their submission should be concluded to make way for the following presentation.

Mr Ndlovu stated that he felt that it was extremely bad to do so, as the DOD should be taken to task for preparing a shoddy presentation which had wasted the time of the committee, just as any member of the public would be.

The Chair concluded the presentation by stating that it was clear that this was not a presentation on behalf of the entire SANDF, but rather the work of a certain sector of the DOD. He undertook to discuss this with the Minister of Defence, who had also raised his own concerns relating to the origin of the document. He underlined that the DOD was an integral part of the fight against crime and the protection of the citizens, and stated that on the strength of today's showing he was doubtful of the ability of the SANDF to protect the citizens of the country. This presentation was simply not acceptable.

Security Officers' Interim Board
The Chair apologised for the inconvenience caused to the Board when they had arrived to make their presentations on a previous occasion and had been unable to due to time constraints. He thanked them for taking the time to give their feedback to the committee in spite of this.

Messrs Ian Pullar and Obbey Mabena stated that the Board was supportive of the Bill, and strict regulation of the possession and use of firearms. They outlined their concerns with the legislation as follows:

· As a result of the new , yet to be prescribed competency levels, the Board will have trouble dealing with the increased volumes of applications.
· Scope exists for the development of corruption as a result of the training certificates which will need to be issued to so many personnel by so few institutions.
· As a partner to the SAPS in the fight against crime, and with understanding of the already stretched resources of the SAPS, the Board is concerned at the SAPS' capacity to monitor this area.
· The Bill requires security officers to be employed by a specific security company in order to be eligible for the issue of a competency certificate, but many security officers operate as individuals (sole proprietors). There are also many officers who are required to carry their own weapon as a condition of employment, which would fall outside of the scope of the Bill.
· They suggested that the Bill amend the definition of "security officer" to be defined as anybody who provides a security service as defined by the Security Industry Act.
· The Board suggested that future Security Industry Regulatory Authority be allowed to issue competency certificates to registered security officers, and these certificates could be referred to the SAPS for ratification. This would alleviate the burden on the SAPS by utilising the capacity of the SIRA.

Discussion
Ms van Wyk asked regarding their proposal that everyone applying for a firearms licence for self-defence be cross-referenced with the firearms registry and the SIRA to see whether they are members of a security company or not, stating that this would be impossible to do without violating people's rights and privileged information. She suggested that the SIRA should check with the Central Firearms Register to see if a member wishing to become a security officer already owns weapons for self-defence.

Mr Booi asked whether guns within the security industry are being looked after, and how the Board saw the solution to the curbing of the proliferation of illegal firearms.

A member of the ANC asked in the case of security officers who have to have their own firearms to be employed, who buys the bullets for them to use in the course of their tasks? If an applicant does not have their own firearm, would they be disqualified from employ?

Mr Ndlovu asked whether the presenters proposed that the SIRA be allowed to issue competency certificates only to companies or to individuals as well?

The Chair questioned the ability of the SIRA to remain objective as they would be issuing competency certificates to members that they would not be able to employ without these. He questioned whether the SIRA is of the opinion that they have a proven record in this area, and whether it is practical for them to have this responsibility.

Mr Pullar replied that they are here as the Security Officers' Board who are charged with the responsibility for regulating the security industry. They have instituted a Board of Inspectors to ensure that their members are complying with requirements, and would continue to do this under the new Act. He underlined that they regard themselves as part of the law enforcement community, and so should not be seen as attempting to undermine the authority of the SAPS, but rather attempting to make a positive contribution in terms of capacity and resources to affect tighter control of the situation.

He stressed that as they do not represent any specific companies, they are able to regulate the industry through their inspectorate. This is being incorporated into their own new Act, and there is value for this to be given extra weight by being incorporated into this Bill.

He noted that the Board has a very extensive and well-maintained database, and that their intention is for this to become an extra tool in the fight against the proliferation of illegal weapons. He sees the relationship between the Firearms Register and the SIRA as co-operative, and is not suggesting that the SIRA overarch the SAPS. He said that the size of the SIRA could only help to cover more of the burden.

The Chair thanked the presenters, and assured them that their input would be borne in mind through further deliberations.

The meeting was adjourned at 12h20.

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