Defence Amendment Bill [PMB8-2013]: Departmental response; Regulations to Military Veterans Act: Departmental briefing, Department of Military Veterans June-December 2013 performance, Committee Report on Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted

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Defence and Military Veterans

26 February 2014
Chairperson: Mr M Motimele (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Mr D Maynier presented his Private Member’s Defence Amendment Bill to the Committee. This Bill sought to amend the Defence Act 42 of 2002, to enhance Parliamentary oversight over the armaments acquisition process. He noted that the Bill was presented in response to concerns recently expressed by the Minister of Defence that the armaments and equipment acquisition had compromised the operational capabilities of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and cited other projects on the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan which had missed their scheduled completion dates by more than two years. The Bill included a new and specific definition for armaments acquisition in the Defence Act. It would require the Department of Defence (DoD) to table quarterly reports on all armaments acquisitions in Parliament, containing limited information. It also provided also for ad hoc reports, which would also provide limited information, in the event of an acquisition project going over 15% of its initial budgeted expenditure or experiencing a schedule slip of more than six months, and required the DoD also to detail the plans to deal with the problem. A new section 2A would require the tabling of quarterly reports, and section 80 amendments would provide for the ad hoc reports and the triggers for these. The Department of Defence indicated that it was not in favour of the Bill. It believed that the information required to be disclosed was sensitive and would have serious negative implications for national security and the South African defence industry. It felt that there were already sufficient oversight mechanisms in place through the variety of reports submitted to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and its ability to call the department to report on any acquisition project in a closed session. The Department was asked to be present when the Committee debated the Bill.

The Department of Military Veterans (DMV) then noted the gazetting, on 19 February 2014, of the Regulations to the Military Veterans Act. Members raised several concerns, and questioned why the regulations had not come back to the Committee for comment, asked what the Committee could do if it was not happy with the regulations and pointed to a number of issues on the application form for benefits and the guide which were incorrect or unclear. Several Members said that there was confusion over who was regarded as a “bona fide” veteran, and who may qualify for benefits. The accuracy and completeness of the database was called into question, saying that it led to confusion and the way in which the dishonourable discharge provisions were handled meant that some members who were in need of psychological services may not be able to access them. There was insufficient clarity on burial costs, and the rise in the payouts, and whether it was dependent on a spousal or customary union relationship, was unclear. The point was made that many people were in possession of military veterans healthcare cards, but were denied access to hospitals because of an additional authorisation required from the DMV, which was not contained in the Regulations. The procurement policies needed attention to reduce the opportunities for fraud. The Committee needed to be informed about the education policy, whether there was recognition of prior learning, how people were placed, and whether the Revenue Service informed it of people accessing other pensions.

The Department of Military Veterans presented a report on its performance in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2013/14. Members wanted to hear more about the contributions to the National Development Plan, employment of military veterans, what pensions were included, and why the Department was pursuing a wellness centre when there were apparently facilities available at Military One Hospital. Members repeated their concerns about the inadequate database, lack of progress in updating it, and lack of communication both to veterans and the Committee. The office space problems were highlighted, and more detail was required on equity and transformation, with a specific focus on why no disabled people were recorded, and the Department was urged to ensure that its toll-free line was functioning. More detail was sought on the housing policy, information being provided by other departments to the DMV, bursaries, and the figures were questioned, both for the total database and the percentage of those employed. Members asked about the funding for the parades, the cost of the new building and its refurbishment, and the cost of the nine provincial buildings, and why certain entities were not complying with timelines. The DMV was asked to respond to these questions at another meeting.

The Committee adopted its report recommending the ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Meeting report

David Maynier: Private Member’s Defence Amendment Bill [PMB8-2013]
Mr D Maynier tabled his Private Member’s Defence Amendment Bill [PMB8-2013] and opened his presentation by referring to media reports quoting Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, to the effect that armaments and equipment acquisition had compromised the operational capabilities of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He then cited several examples of projects on the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan which had missed their scheduled completion dates by more than two years, which included projects Porthole and Swatch. Issues such as these had led Mr Maynier to submit this Bill, in order to enhance the scrutiny and oversight of Parliament over acquisitions of the Department of Defence (DoD or the Department).

He explained that the Bill sought to enhance Parliamentary oversight by introducing a specific definition for armaments acquisition. It would require the Department to table quarterly reports on all armaments  acquisitions in Parliament, containing limited information. It also provided also for ad hoc reports in the event of an acquisition project going over 15% of its initial budgeted expenditure or experiencing a schedule slip of more than six months, and such reports should also provide limited information on the project, but also set out the plans to deal with the problem. He noted that the amendments would thus comprise an amendment of section 1 of the Defence Act No 42 of 2002, by inserting a definition of 'Armaments acquisitions', the insertion of a new section 2A to require the tabling of quarterly reports, and amending section 80 to provide for the ad hoc reports and the triggers for these.

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) wanted to know whether the proposed definition included anything being acquired by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), including, for example, basic arms and ammunition.

Mr Maynier replied that the definition was drawn from the Defence Armaments Acquisition Policy, referring to category one equipment. This dealt with major equipment acquisition by ARMSCOR, which was different from the procurement of equipment or parts of equipment that were dealt with under the General Defence Account. The purpose of the proposed definition was to limit the scope of the acquisitions, which would be captured under the Bill, to major and acquisitions projects rather than day to day procurement.

Department of Defence responses to Defence Amendment Bill
Lt Col Wiseman Mashego, Department of Defence, gave the responses of the Department of Defence to the proposed Bill. Firstly, he stated that the DoD rejected the baseline premise from which Mr Maynier had been working, that the 'procurement of armaments has been a subject of serious maladministration and malpractice'. He pointed out that the DoD had in fact received unqualified audits from the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA). The Department believed that the Bill should not be supported, because there were five major issues centreing around the implications, for South Africa and its defence industry, of publishing sensitive information for South Africa.

Commenting firstly on the implications in relation to the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan, he said that this was a projection of South Africa's future required military capabilities that provided critical intelligence that could be used to deduce the country's defensive capabilities. This was information which was therefore sensitive and should not be for public consumption. Secondly, the DoD believed that it could be detrimental to the South African defence industry if acquisitions were detailed in the manner proposed, because this might require disclosing of military contractual negotiations and project details, which could harm the industry's competitiveness. Thirdly, the international standing of South Africa’s defence industry strategic partnerships and third party agreements could be degraded through the publishing of 'commercial-in-confidence' acquisition details. Fourthly, the publication of information as suggested by the Bill would in the long term compromise national security, due to the threat implicit in having these details of the weapons components, systems and technologies publicly accessible. Finally, given these implications already outlined, the Department believed it would be 'impossible for the South African National Defence Force to fulfil its constitutional mandate'.

The Department's presentation ended with a summary of the accountability mechanisms already in place to monitor the matters that the Bill sought to achieve. The Joint Standing Committee on Defence was established, in terms of 199(8) of  the Constitution, to ensure that the principles of accountability and transparency were adhered to by all the Republic's security services. The mandate of the Committee is therefore to investigate and make recommendations regarding the budget, functioning, organisation, armaments, policy, morale and state of preparedness of the SANDF. This Committee could therefore call the Department, in an appropriately constituted closed session, to report on all acquisition projects. This information was contained in the Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) for each Medium Term Expenditure Framework period. The detail of these allocations was contained in the Approval for Expenditure from the Special Defence Account, as approved by the Minister of Defence. Furthermore, the final appropriations and actual expenditure of the Special Defence Account were contained in the Department’s Annual Report as required by the Public Finance Management Act.

In conclusion the Department stated that it already reported extensively to Parliament, which had the power to call on the Department to report on anything. It thus did not believe that any purpose would be served by requiring further reports on matters that could compromise the security and financial interests of the country, and for these reasons the Department submitted that it could not support the Bill.
Mr Maynier asked for an opportunity to question the Department on its responses.

Members debated whether this was procedurally correct.

The Chairperson said that he was unable to grant Mr Maynier’s request but asked that the DoD be present at the deliberations of the Committee on the Bill at another meeting.

Regulations to the Military Veterans Act, No 18 of 2011: Department of Defence follow up briefing
Mr Tsepe Motumi, Director General, Department of Military Veterans, advised the Committee that the Regulations made under the Military Veterans Act were gazetted on 19 February 2014 following engagement with the National Treasury and the Minister of Finance.

Mr S Esau (DA) asked why there was no indication given of the engagement with and input of the Committee on the draft regulations, which had been presented in approximately May 2013. He pointed out that section 24(3) of the Military Veterans Act (the Act) required the tabling of the Regulations in Parliament 30 days prior to their publication.

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) asked why Regulation 2, in clause 2 seemed to imply that any military veterans who had been convicted of rape, robbery or murder prior to 27 April 1994 could still qualify for benefits, as it seemed to regard these people in the same category as those convicted of high treason prior to this date.

Mr Groenewald raised a point previously touched upon by the Committee, about the language used in the application form for benefits, saying that it was inaccessible and unclear. He said, for example, that it was not clear what a “bona fide military veteran” would be.

Ms P Daniels (ANC) also spoke to regulation 2, in clause 2 and asked whether the definition of “dishonourable discharge” in the Act had been qualified, for the purpose of military veteran's benefits. She used the example that a member of the defence force might have absented himself without leave (AWOL) and been dishonourably discharged as a result, but the reason for going AWOL in the first place might be that the member had psychological problems, a problem faced especially by the statutory forces, which led the person to need mental health benefits.

Mr A Maziya (ANC) wanted to know about the powers of the Committee in relation to regulations which had already been gazetted.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee could submit a report to the National Assembly outlining its concerns with the regulations.

Mr E Mlambo (ANC) supported Ms Daniels’ point concerning statutory forces dishonourably discharged, and stressed that this could indeed be a symptom of psychological problems faced by these forces and the resulting disqualification from the benefits which they needed for treatment.

Mr Esau then asked about the allegations made in the media that about 16 000 people were being taken off the Department's database of 46 666, because they had been statutory, rather than non-statutory forces. He questioned if there was not supposed to have been one national database, which comprised all military veterans, and whether there were criteria set out in the regulations to deal with this, particularly in relation to what might be “bona fide” veterans, and what the definitions were.

Mr Esau referred to page 5 of the application form which asked the applicant to indicate if s/he was a South African Defence Force (SADF) or South African National Defence Force (SANDF) member, with a yes/no option. There were requests for employment particulars. The applicant may also be self employed and/or have a private medical aid, yet there was no space provided for these options. 

He also had concerns about the reimbursement for costs of burial on page 6 of the application form, because there was no clear statement that this would be capped at R25 000. The section on proof of spousal or dependent relationship was another concern, because there were insufficient details surrounding the affidavit which must be submitted to prove customary unions.

Mr Esau then pointed out that in relation to the regulations, there were complications concerning the database of military veterans, and asked why the Department of Military Veterans (DMV) was unable to get its information and communications technology under control and functioning efficiently. All military veterans were supposed to be on the database, and the determination of veterans who did not qualify for benefits should be done from there, and  these people should be informed of their status.

Mr Esau then raised the issue of the high number of people who had military veterans healthcare cards, but were denied access to hospitals because of an additional authorisation required from the DMV, which was not in the Regulations. He also reiterated the concerns raised by Ms Daniels and Mr Mlambo about veterans with psychological issues, focusing on veterans who had been receiving treatment but who were now excluded because of changes in the Regulations.

Mr Esau wanted to note his concern on the facilitation of business opportunities, because this could be exploited by people who were not military veterans, where a qualifying military veteran could be used to access the benefit through an entity which the veteran only owned in part, and he believed it was necessary t write something into the procurement policies. He also wanted to know about the income limit for people to qualify under the indigent policy, which had changed from approximately R49 000 (or R90 000 together with a spouse) to R125 000 with no relationship or total asset value stipulation. He pointed out that all departments’ indigent policies differentiated on the basis of spousal relationships. Finally, he asked if the reimbursement for cost of burial was standard, or varied based on the deceased’s liquidation and distribution account, and the purpose for requiring this.

Mr Esau shared Mr Groenewald’s concerns on the form, asking whether both non-statutory and statutory members were “military veterans”. He believed that they were, and the real point was to disqualify those who did not qualify in terms of the Act. The guide also was not clear on whether it was explicitly limited to veterans, and clarity was sought on the process for the reimbursement, including whether funeral costs would be paid out depending on whether the dependants of the deceased had the means to bury the person before the benefit was paid.

Mr Esau expressed his regret that the education policy had not been submitted to the Committee, and said that if bursaries have been allocated the Committee would need to be informed. Linked to this were questions of the employment placement and the provision of skills and qualifications, and in this regard he felt that skills audits ought to be done by appropriate institutions and recognition of prior learning must be focused on, as part of the greater transformation project. He then asked whether the DMV had any arrangements with the South African Revenue Service to ensure that it was made aware whether pension recipients were receiving any other pensions. Finally, he asked what people were supposed to do if they were unable to sign the application form; he believed that this needed to be specified in the guide, that a cross-marking would not be acceptable, but fingerprints should. He pointed out that there was a variety of typographical and stylistic issues which he would like to see cleared.

The Department of Military Veterans pleaded for the Committee’s support the DMV's request for the roll over of R300 million and said that these regulations would facilitate spending of the money.

Department of Military Veterans 2nd and 3rd Quarter 2013/14  Performance Report (June - December 2013)
Mr Tsepe Motumi, Director General, Department of Military Veterans, presented the report (see attached document), focusing on the DMV's contributions to the National Development Plan, its Medium-Term Strategic Framework Outcomes and Executive Authority priorities. He gave a comparison of the indicators and the DMV’s performance in the two quarters, and outlined the main achievements and challenges.

Ms Daniels asked for more details on the pensions which were stated to be finalised, on Slide 1, and asked about the DMV’s contributions to the National Development Plan, and other indicators, and wanted to know what pensions the 400 military veterans qualified for; whether, for instance, they were military or special pensions. She also wanted clarity on the purchasing of the military veterans’ health and wellness centre, because she was under the impression that there were facilities at Military One Hospital, and felt that the DMV ought to prioritise caring for the veterans rather than upgrading facilities at this point.

Ms Daniels asked about the interaction between the DMV and other departments concerning the employment of military veterans. Much as she appreciated the news that twelve military veterans had been trained in welding, as stated on Slide 3, she wondered what the DMV had done about the 600 jobs which had apparently been available at the Department of Home Affairs, and asked whether the DMV had liaised with the veterans themselves about these jobs.

Ms Daniels expressed similar concerns as her colleagues earlier, in relation to the military veterans’ database and the lack of progress in this regard. She asked what was happening with the bona fide members who were not recorded in the database. Connected to this was the lack of information being provided to both the veterans themselves and the Committee, and she stressed that the DMV's Chief Communications Officer was supposed to liaise with military veterans. She stressed that it was important for the Committee to be given the information in light of the fact that the roll out of the database was a statutory injunction in the Military Veterans' Act.

Ms Daniels noted the statement that 951 veterans were employed, but wanted to know where they were employed and in what way Recognition of Prior Learning was used to ensure the veterans were employed in positions that could utilise their capabilities to the full. She said the DMV's problem with its office space was also worrying. Whilst she understood that there were problems with the Department of Public Works, the preoccupation with this was unfortunate. She added that the DMV was paying for rates for buildings which were registered in its name yet unoccupied.

Ms Daniels finally asked for an explanation of the statistics contained in the table headed Transformation/Equity Statistics.

Ms H Mgabadeli (ANC) commended the DMV for populating its organisational structure, but hoped to see these people on the ground being involved with military veterans. She wanted to know how military veterans were invited to the Beachwood Hotel workshop, especially disabled military veterans. Related to this, she was concerned that, despite that workshop, there were no disabled people recorded in the transformation statistics. She was disturbed by the fact that the toll free line was not functioning,

Mr Esau asked about the adjustments made, between the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and Minister of Human Settlements, to the criteria for the housing policy and wanted to know more about its implementation. He pointed out that provincial line departments were supposed to be providing information to the DMV, and he wanted to have sight of it, pointing out that it was a requirement under section 6 of the Military Veterans Act. He asked if the work that had been ongoing, by Alexander Forbes, on the veterans’ pensions had been completed and whether the remaining qualifying veterans could receive state pensions in the interim.

Mr Esau was also interested in hearing more about the current education policy and what the situation was with disbursements of bursaries. He also asked about the media reports which stated that SAMVA was responsible for the R300 million which had recently been transferred to the Department. In regard to the database, he noted that there was a definition who qualified as a military veteran, but repeated that the real issue was for the DMV to determine who qualified for the benefits. He pointed out that the figure of 56 666 was an incorrect reflection of the number of people in the National Military database, because the statutory forces were recorded on disparate registers. He also asked about  the 955 veterans who were employed, pointing out that this was only 3%, against a target of 6%, and asked how the number of 13 700 was arrived at, and specifically how the 56 666 veterans in the database were filtered. He had a major concern with the presentation of the performance against selected trendable indicators, because he could not reconcile the baseline performance and its comparison to the targets and what was actually achieved, and there were inconsistencies in the figures. He would also like the report on transformation to reflect the Equity Act and asked why this was not already the case. He also stated that the figures in the budgetary overview were skewed by the late transfer of the R300 million for the military veterans’ benefits. He asked where the money for the three medals parades had been sourced, and why it was not included in the report. He was pleased that the DMV had been frank about its challenges and problems, but asked that the DMV start dealing with these, especially the filling of funded posts and attending to the proper functioning of the toll free line .

Mr Maynier wanted to know what the total cost of purchasing the new building in Pretoria, and the total cost of refurbishing this building, and also asked what was the estimated cost of opening the nine provincial buildings.

Mr Mlambo sought clarity on the continued non-compliance to timelines by the ESM, SESS and various other entities, and whether this required the intervention of Parliament.

The Chairperson, with the full support of the Committee, noted that the Committee was short of time and ruled that the DMV must respond to the concerns raised by the Members at a future sitting.

Committee's draft report on its deliberations on the Convention on Cluster munitions: Consideration and Adoption
The Chairperson read out the draft Report of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (the Report) recommending the ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Committee adopted the Report.

The meeting was adjourned.

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