The Military Ombud briefed the Committee on its status and functioning. It was set up as an independent, external mechanism to deal with the complaints and grievances of members and former members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and also as a place for the public to lodge complaints about the conduct of soldiers. It was faced with a number of operational challenges, including a high case load with backlogs accumulating from 2012 when it was very short-staffed and did not have a proper case management system. Delays were exacerbated by the lack of fully functioning ICT capacity and the lack of optimally functioning grievance processes, overall, in the Department of Defence (DOD). Legislative challenges cited earlier persisted and the Ombud did not feel that it had sufficient operational independence, although the Act required it to do so; it had a generally good relationship with the Department and reported to this Committee and the Minister but had no control over its budget. It had 257 active complaints at the end of the last year. Members stressed that several of them had fully supported the idea of independence of the Ombud and it might be necessary to bring a Private Member's bill to try to introduce this. Several members commented that they needed more detail on the complaints; one asked for a full schedule but others felt that more general comments on the nature and time taken were sufficient, and the Ombud answered briefly at the meeting but promised further information also. Most complaints related to salaries and promotions. A Member felt it important that reports on the situation in particular bases be sent to the Committee, which had been requested from the Minister but not sent, and asked if the Ombud could also request presentation of the reports, or at least an executive summary, to Parliament, as secrecy did not encourage integrity. There were also comments that perhaps a more unified communications strategy straddling the whole military structure was needed, to eliminate duplications and costs. The process of complaints was requested, as well as comment on how long it took. In regard to the ICT problems, Members appealed that the Department must employ competent people and that less budget should be put to administration and more to meeting the needs of the military and veterans on the ground, and asked for progress on the recruitment of staff. The Chairperson of the Commission pointed out that much of the under-spending was due to insufficient staff and conceded that lack of acknowledgment was a major problem, although weekly meetings were being held with the Minister.
The Defence Force Service Commission briefed the Committee, noting that it was set up to advise and make recommendations on a unique service dispensation, outside the ambit of the Public Service, in respect of members of the South African National Defence Force; to advise and make recommendations for amendment of the regulatory framework where necessary and to investigate, provide expert advice and make recommendations on remuneration and the conditions of service of members of the SANDF. The main problem was the structure; the Commission needed two more commissioners at least, and more researchers as it had recently lost two staff members. Its achievements in the year were highlighted, including the committees established, meetings held, reports submitted and visits to bases. Another challenge was that if the Commission was only an advisory structure, it inhibited its ability to enforce implementation of recommendations. Some of the processes and systems within the SANDF were in need of change. Members requested more detail on the challenges, and raised questions on the financial issues, and what was being done about the people who lost their benefits as a result of the transition. They were appreciative of the good work being done, and suggested that the organisational structure changes must be fast-tracked, and requested that draft proposals be submitted soon to this Committee for input. They requested an update on the ambulance service, asked for more detail on the problems with educators and health professionals in the military, and asked why more commissioners were needed, and what the main delays were. They also requested an update on disability targets. Other part-time members of the Commission amplified that some of the other problems related to security, outdated tools of trade, and the problem that reservists were trained but had no guarantee of employment and might end up unemployed, still having to support a family, and turning to crime, and discipline, upfront recruitment processes and proper communication on roles and terms of service all needed to be improved, as well as making better plans for use of reservists.
Military Ombud briefing
Lt General Temba Matanzima, Military Ombud, briefed the Committee on the status and functioning of the Military Ombud (the Ombud). This was set up as an independent, external mechanism to deal with the complaints and grievances of members and former members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and a place for the public to lodge complaints about the conduct of soldiers.
The mandate of the Ombud was to investigate complaints by:
- Members, regarding his or her conditions of service;
- Former members, regarding their conditions of service;
- Members of the public, regarding the official conduct of members of the Defence Force
- People acting on behalf of members.
The operational challenges were briefly outlined. The first related to the case load. Lt Gen Matanzima indicated that a large caseload had accumulated during 2012/2013 ,when there were not sufficient staff members to deal with the number of cases received. In addition, during that time, the lack of a case management system resulted in extra labour that did not add value. The backlog remained and was still having to be worked through. The delays were further exacerbated by the lack of fully functioning ICT capacity and the lack of optimally functioning grievance processes, overall, in the Department of Defence (DOD or the Department).
The Military Ombud also faced some legislative challenges. It did not have sufficient independence and impartiality, despite the fact that its governing legislation stated that it should be independent. The Military Ombud also still lacked institutional and operational independence.
He noted that the Military Ombud had 257 active complaints on the 31 December 2014.
Mr D Maynier (DA) thanked the Military Ombud for its work and the presentation. He stressed that he fully supported the idea that the Military Ombud must be independent, and he had previously proposed amendment of the legislation, which was not supported as the Committee was told that the intention of the legislature was for the Military Ombud not to be independent. If this was not remedied, then he would be proposing a Private Member's bill to amend the legislation.
Mr D Maynier found that the presentation did not really help the Committee in its deliberations, because it focused too much on processes and not substance. Slide 12 did not categorise the kind of complaints that the Ombud received, for instance. He requested that the complaints on slide 12 be categorised into the primary complaints, or a full report supplied.
Mr Maynier noted that copies of the two reports of the Military Ombud about the situation in the a particular SANDF Army Base had been requested from the Minister by this Parliamentary Committee on two occasions, but the requests not complied with. He would urge very strongly that the Military Ombud must now request that a copy of both reports were presented in Parliament. As long as the reports remained secret the integrity of the office remained in question.
Mr S Esau (DA) said that he understands the complaints should go through a certain process. He had received a number of complaints and wondered if he should give them to Military Ombud so that they could be dealt with and the people complaining would have closure on the matters.
Mr Esau wanted to know about the communication strategy applied by the Military Ombud, what it entailed and how it informed members and former members of the Defence Force. He commented that the Department of Military Veterans was apparently also speaking of an effective communication strategy. He did not understand why there should be duplication of strategies - and presumably of expenses to produce them - and suggested the need for a joint strategy for the whole military.
Mr Esau also wanted to know about the backlogs of the complaints. He asked for clarity on what was the criteria (when and where the complaints should be lodged), and what route the complaints would follow, as he would have expected thousands over a period of three years. He found that the turnaround time problem was one faced by the whole Department, and pointed out that the legislation required a period of ten days. Instead, it seemed that the response time stretched into months and months, which he found "pathetic". The independence and the non transfer problems affected the execution of the job.
Mr Esau also wanted to know what "recommending an alternative resolution after receiving complaints to the Minister", as cited in the presentation, actually meant.
Mr Esau referred to the problems with ICT and said that government paid millions, but the people and systems were still not effective which undermined all departments. He appealed to the DOD to employ people who were competent. More money ended up being spent on the administration of the Department itself, than in meeting the needs of the military and veterans.
Mr B Bongo (ANC) wanted to congratulate the Military Ombud on the good work that it had achieved, but noted that a real challenge was posed by the outstanding complaints, and the fact that the budget was still controlled elsewhere. He urged that the process of independence should be fast tracked so that the objectivity could be achieved. He also agreed with Mr Maynier that the complaints should indeed be categorised so that the nature of the complaints could be known. A process should be followed before the complaints reached the Ombud; surely those who were lodging complaints about the Department should be following the internal processes and not lodging these complaints to political parties.
Mr J Skosana (ANC) wanted to check the progress on the recruitment of staff under phase 4. He asked what the posts were, whether they were being filled, and the budget. He also wanted to know the mechanisms that would be applied to deal with problems. He believed that the complaints could not be administered at the Department itself, and he had sent through all the complaints he had received to the relevant body.
Lt Gen Matanzima answered the questions on independence. He agreed that the legislation required the Military Ombud to be independent and that it had started the processes to move towards independence. However, at this stage the Ombud was not independent. It was a new office, could not be compared easily to others and was in the process of capacitating quickly.
He answered that he could give a quick overview now of the complaints categorisation, but would also answer in writing. The complaints mainly related to salaries, allowances and promotions, where some members felt they were being overlooked.
Lt Gen Matanzima agreed that he would like the reports to be given to the Committee by the Minister. He too would like to see his office fully respected. The law required reporting annually but he admitted that the Ombud had been experiencing difficulties due to the office being new. From the current year the reports would go to the Minister ready for publication, and there would be annual reports controlled by members of the Department.
The report on the particular SANDF base had been submitted, and some members of the military would be facing court-martials.
He agreed that complaints about the procedures should not come directly from Members of Parliament but the complainants should follow procedures and should not undermine the channels by overriding the requirements set.
Mr S Esau (DA) asked what the procedures were, for former members.
Lt Gen Matanzima responded that there were no channels through the DOD for former members; they could report directly to the Ombud.
He emphasised that the Military Ombud Act, No 4 of 2012, which regulated his office, was different from the Defence Act. The Ombud was accountable to the Committee and reported to the same Minister of Defence, but it had to have its own systems in place, as the Ombud would account separately and differently to the Department. He said that there were areas where experiences could be shared but the logistics could not be combined.
Mr Maynier said that he recognised that a decision to make a document public was made by the Minister and not the Military Ombud, but he asked if it would be possible to suggest that at the least an executive summary could be made public, if not the whole document, by the Minister, and also urged that The Chairperson of the Commission summarised that lack of acknowledgment was perhaps the most frustrating point and pointed out also that the under-spending was largely due to insufficient staffing.
Defence Force Service Commission briefing
Prof Edna van Harte, Chairperson, Defence Force Service Commission, indicated that her presentation would present the structure, work done to date and challenges impeding the effective functioning of the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC or the Commission).
She indicated that the DFCS was to advise and make recommendations on a unique service dispensation, outside the ambit of the Public Service, in respect of members of the South African National Defence Force; to advise and make recommendations regarding the amendment of the regulatory framework in order to give effect to the unique dispensation; and to investigate, provide expert advice and make recommendations regarding remuneration and the conditions of service of members of the SANDF.
She noted that the structure of the DFSC did not help to fulfill the core business in the manner required. The two researchers attached to the Commission were not sufficient and the structure needed to be reassessed. In addition, two members who had been with the Secretariat were lost; one had died and the other had moved on to another position.
The work done by the DFSC was outlined as follows:
- Committees were established in terms of section 62G of the amendment Act
- There were eight plenary meetings held, and four committee meetings
- The DFSC also submitted all the reports required by section 62H of the Act to the Minister
- A number of units and bases were visited and there were a number of stakeholders consulted.
The challenges faced included the status of the Commission as an advisory structure, because this inhibited its ability to enforce the implementation of the recommendations. The Commission also commented that it felt that some of the processes and systems within the SANDF were in need of change.
Mr Maynier wanted more detail on the primary challenges that emerged and said this would give the Committee insight. He also wanted to question the financial issues. He asked what was being done about the people who lost their benefits as a result of the transition, and whether this was something that the DFSC was attending to.
Mr Bongo commended the good work done and felt that the organisational structure should be fast tracked so that decisions could be taken. He would also like to see a structure proposed, in the next meeting, so that the Committee could give input on how to improve it.
Mr Esau appreciated the inputs made and requested that the Committee receive the 1st Quarter report so that the problems would be dealt with. He commented that the Committee had visited the military hospitals and reviewed the ambulance service, so it was well aware of the problems, but would now like a progress report on that issue.
Mr Esau asked for the reasoning behind adding more commissioners, and asked how many commissioners were required. He wanted to know what the issue was with university educators and health professionals, and sought clarity as to what exactly the problem was. Speaking to the comment that the recruitment processes were slow because of the structures in place, he asked how long it would take to appoint, who qualified for appointment, and the reasons why there was a delay.
The Chairperson asked if the Commission did not need to have commissioners from the disability sector.
Prof van Harte responded that it would be found that similar issues existed at every base visited, and these were mostly of a structural nature, which impacted negatively on the execution of the mandate. Members were hired for a certain job but because of short staffing they had to do more than their posts entailed, which obviously impacted on the quality of the work they produced as they were too thinly spread across the organisation. Another problem was the budget constraints that were preventing the filling of vacancies. The Commission had been criticised for only catering for women and men in uniform, but the mandate required it to do this. Another major issue was to do with accommodation, but the Department of Public Works was responsible for this; some complaints had been referred to the Minister when women force members had been moved, to find themselves faced with lack of accommodation or facilities too small for their children. Some members lived in informal settlements and thus could not be the disciplined professional soldiers that they were expected to be, because of logistics; for instance they could not keep uniforms to the expected standard in the rainy season. Some of the complaints related to nepotism and favoritism, and some alleged that transfers and promotions were not handled well. The relationship however, between the Commission and the SANDF and DOD had improved greatly and the Commission appreciated the support it was given.
Ms R Magirly Mokoape, Part time member, DFSC, said that another problem was security; it had been found that civilians were able to walk into offices and steal. Their tools of trade were old, and needed to be upgraded. Requests for food or uniform took too long to process. Another problem was that the system would train members for two years, after which they became reservists, and that did not guarantee that they would find jobs elsewhere; their skills that they had acquired could possibly be misused if they remained unemployed.
Mr James April, Part time Member, DFSC added that budgetary issues, discipline and accommodation were all very important. He commented that the upfront recruitment is lacking. There was also too little clear communication on roles and terms of service, and many people were uncertain of their future and did not know for how long they could remain in the system.
Prof van Harte wanted to bring to the attention of the Committee the fact that the mandate dictated that the Commission should look after the regular and reserve force. The reverse force, however, was mostly members at the lowest levels. They were usually not called upon for most of the year and had no other employment elsewhere, and this was of concern to the Commission, particularly since most were also breadwinners for their families. The Commission did not want to hear these trainees later accusing the SANDF of having trained them but forced them to misuse, or not be able to use at all, the skills they had. It was important to utilise the reservists.
She agreed that indeed the organisational structure was a problem. It would help the current Chairperson to have two more commissioners, pointing out that the Commission had been working for the most part with only seven commissioners while ten were required; this would involve extra cost for one more, as at the best there had been nine. She thanked the Committee for recognising and praising the work done.
She added that whilst everyone had the right to belong to a military union, she thought that this would not be necessary if problems could be dealt with internally.
She added that the curriculum was a problem, according to university educators and often the staff was not equipped to deal with the curriculum, or some courses were not accredited, which discouraged the educators. The classrooms did not have cutting edge research facilities. The vacancies available for the commissioners took too long to fill and by the time it had been decided to appoint (which takes about 8 months) the likely candidates had often moved on.
The law did require that the DOD had 2% disabled staff, this had been raised with HR and the Commission was waiting for a report on the current status.
The Chairperson thanked all presenters and hoped that a follow up meeting to report back on issues raised would be arranged.
The meeting was adjourned
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