Debate over whether a clause could be interpreted as an attack on the Auditor General (AG) dominated the meeting to consider and adopt the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans. At a previous meeting, amendments to the report had been made. The Committee reviewed the changes which included insertions, slight re-wordings and typo corrections.
After review, there were objections to two amendments. These related specifically to the clause added on page 12, relating to the AG’s report, that read, “The Committee will request a briefing by the AG to clarify these issues especially as it relates to their methodology and specifically the accuracy and relevance of their findings for the 2012/13 financial year”, and to a similar clause on page 19. A Member felt strongly that this statement could be construed as an attack on the AG’s office. The majority of Members disagreed with this interpretation and that the sentence should remain in the report. After considerable discussion, Members reached a stalemate and could not agree upon the removal or re-wording of the sentence. After a vote, however, they moved to retain the clause in its original form.
Members adopted the report and the meeting was adjourned.
The Acting Chairperson started the meeting by stating that the Chairperson would be missing for quite some time. The meeting was about the consideration of the BRRR report. At a previous meeting, amendments had been made, and the Acting Chairperson asked a research team member, Mr Peter Daniels, to go through the changes that had been made, which included insertions, slight re-wordings and typo corrections.
In section 2.1, the bullet, “Institution of crime and corruption measures by the Department” was added. Under section 2.5, the sentence, “A total of 8 955 young South Africans were recruited to the MSDS” was added. In section 3.5, the clause, “These reductions were likely due to a lack of appropriate funding for these operational matters” was inserted. Under section 4.2, the bullets were reshuffled and a short addition was made to the fourth bullet, which related to Defence Facilities and read, “The Committee therefore welcomed the progress made with the establishment of the Defence Works Formation although its finalization should be speeded up”.
The next insertion was on page 12 and related to the Auditor General’s report. The added sentence read, “The Committee will request a briefing by the A-G to clarify these issues especially as it relates to their methodology and specifically the accuracy and relevance of their findings for the 2012/13 financial year”. The next changes were on page 17, and the first and last bullets under section 6.1 were slightly reworded.
On page 18, under section 6.2, 3 bullets were added. Specifically, “A total of 8 955 young South Africans were recruited to the MSDS”, “A total of 2 891 members completed National Youth Service training, of which 903 were at SAS Saldanha, and 1 988 at 3 South African Infantry Battalion” and “A total of 14 285 Defence Reserve members were called up”. On page 25, under Recommendations, the final bullet, “The Department should take the necessary action to ensure that Armscor intervenes to properly manage the delays and cost overruns of certain armaments acquisition projects,” was added.
The Chairperson stated that the report was presented to the Committee in its current form, and he asked the Committee about the changes that were proposed.
Mr D Maynier (DA) raised an objection to two amendments. Specifically referring to the clause added on page 12 relating to the AG’s report -- “The Committee will request a briefing by the A-G to clarify these issues especially as it relates to their methodology and specifically the accuracy and relevance of their findings for the 2012/13 financial year” -- Mr Maynier warned that the Committee should be very careful of inserting a clause that could very easily be construed as an attack on the Auditor General, which was a Chapter 9 institution. There was nothing in the AG’s report that raised any questions about the AG’s methodology or indeed the accuracy or relevance of the AG’s findings. He proposed that two references, on page 12 and page 19, should be deleted for the purpose of the final report.
The Acting Chairperson stated that when the Committee had received the AG’s report, they had had serious issues, and the AG himself could not answer the questions from the Members of the Committee about his findings in the qualified report. He felt that the clauses that Mr Maynier thought should be deleted should remain in the report, because the AG had previously said he would give the Committee a lecture on the audit methodologies and relevant findings. In the absence of questions, the Chairperson asked the Committee how they would like to proceed.
Mr M Mlambo (ANC) stated that the sentence should be there, but the wording could be changed. The content of what the Committee had agreed on saying must remain. The AG should account for the decisions he had made. If he did not have certain information, how could he give a qualified report? Mr Mlambo said that this sentiment must be captured in the report, and stated that if Mr Maynier was dissatisfied, he should say how the sentence should be re-worded.
Mr M Booi (ANC), stated that it was not an attack on the AG, but there was a consistent issue of how the AG handled security matters, and he asked what methodologies were being used. The clause in question was not an attack, it was rather soliciting clarity. With respect to peacekeeping missions and so on, how did the AG account for these?
Ms N Mabedla (ANC) concurred with Mr Booi and Mr Mlambo, and stated that the sentence must remain in the report because the AG had not given the Committee the proper information. She asked how the AG had audited the Department -- the Committee needed to know.
Mr S Esau (DA) stated that the Committee should take a step back. There was a continuous communication between the AG’s office, the ministerial office and the treasury office, and there was a budget cycle that was followed. During those processes, there would have been recommendations made and issues raised that were resolved internally between the Department and the AG’s office and the treasury. There was a management report that governed this arrangement and Members were not privy to this. When the AG released a report based on his findings, Members were supposed to accept in good faith that this was an accurate report. Even if the Department had an objection, Members should have noted that objection way ahead of time, even during the quarterly reports. With no such indication, the Committee should accept the report of the AG. If Members needed matters of clarity or required engagement during the budget cycle, they should have forwarded requests for briefings during that time. To interfere with the report or the accuracy was not the Committee’s objective. The Department had to raise it in the first place, and the Committee should have noted this issue much earlier.
Mr Booi stated that the BRRR was dependent on the AG, and what was in front of the Committee on that day was the AG's report. It was not making judgment on an internal communication. The issue at hand was, what did the AG’s report say? The Committee was not satisfied. It had asked, moving forward, how to deal with security matters and the AG could not provide an answer. The requested briefing should help the Committee to gain more clarity. The Committee did not want to go into the Department and deal with internal affairs. He stated that the report was publicly expressed, but today the focus should be what the AG had presented.
Mr Mlambo said Mr Booi had covered his thoughts. The Committee was the body doing oversight on the Department. He explained that the Secretary of Defence had said that the Department was not given enough time by the AG’s office, and they had had to work day and night to reduce a figure from over a billion rands. The Committee should deal with the AG report and find out how the AG audited a sensitive Department.
Mr Maynier said that the Chairperson was looking for a way forward, and said that there was a disagreement with the starting point of the discussion. He was entirely satisfied with the work done by the AG and the paragraph in question should be deleted. The only way forward was to agree to disagree.
The Acting Chairperson asked for suggestions for a re-wording, and said that in the two meetings where the AG had been present, the Committee had not been satisfied with the way the AG had presented and responded to questions. During these meetings, it became clear that the AG was not even able to identify certain assets of defence. He conceded that the wording may be too strong, or may have its own implications. Some Members were satisfied with the sentence as it appeared, but he suggested a re-wording so that all Members could be satisfied, otherwise this issue would result in a stalemate.
Mr Maynier said he would be reluctant to propose any formulation that could be seen as an attack on the AG.
The Acting Chairperson stated that he thought it was a matter of English, and that it did not make things easy for the Committee in a meeting situation, if Members took hard lines. They should work as a Committee and their position should be one that satisfied all Members. In some instances, voting was required, but he said that the Committee should not have to vote for a matter which simply required proper wording.
Mr Maynier stated that he understood the Chairperson had a role to play, and he knew that he wanted to broker a compromise. However, he explained that he did not want to be part of inserting wording or language into a report that might open the way for a possible attack on the AG. He repeated that he was entirely satisfied with the work done by the AG.
Mr Booi stated that reflecting on the work done by the AG was not an attack on the AG. If Mr Maynier was not concerned with the security of the country, then that was fine. No institution was perfect and the Committee was happy with the previous progress of the Department. If the AG could simply explain the Committee’s concerns and reveal their audit methodologies, then the Committee would be satisfied. He reiterated that the sentence was not an attack on the AG and it was simply an expression of concern. He stated that no Schedule 9 institution was immune to criticism. He wanted to know the methodology, and that was not an attack. The AG had not been able to give a satisfactory answer and the Committee should express that in the report.
Mr Mlambo said he concurred with what Mr Booi had just said. Mr Maynier was speaking as an individual, not as part of a Committee.
A Member stated that Mr Maynier was not willing to compromise. Mr Maynier thought that the Committee should not remove things from the document that had been previously discussed and agreed upon. If Mr Maynier was not prepared to shift, then why was the Committee wasting its time. Why did the Committee not vote on the issue? He had personally asked the AG how they had audited missiles that were unknown and they had stated that they could not answer his question. If that was the case, what were the implications and how did the AG reach a qualified report? The Committee should not take it out of the report because the AG could not answer satisfactorily. He suggested that the Committee vote on the matter.
Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) said that Mr Maynier was not interested in rephrasing or leaving the sentence as it was. Mr Maynier was clearly not going to be part of it and that no matter what the Committee discussed about the sentence, to Mr Maynier it would appear as a possible attack.
Mr Maynier stated that, remarkably, he agreed with the last two speakers.
Mr L Diale (ANC) said that the Committee could not just accept anything that came before it. The Committee had to provide checks and balances in relation to the nation’s security. Whatever came to the Committee should be checked for weakness. The sentence was there for the purpose of checks and balances, and it was not an attack.
Mr Booi stated that he supported what the other Members had expressed.
The Acting Chairperson stated that Mr Maynier was in a very difficult position and proposed that the Committee moved for adoption of the report as it was.
Mr Booi moved for adoption of the report.
Mr Maynier objected, but Mr Mlambo also moved for adoption.
The Acting Chairperson stated that the report had been adopted and that the secretary would take it through the necessary processes.
The meeting was adjourned.
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