The Joint Standing Committee on Defence met to consider and deliberate on the South African Defence Review 2014.The three functions of the Committee were specifically to comment, make recommendations and investigate any aspect of the Defence Review.
A Member of the Democratic Alliance had submitted a document outlining an alternative programme of dealing with the Defence Review. He also requested the Committee to pause and reconsider its programme on the Defence Review and adopt a comprehensive programme that achieves two goals, include the additional public hearings and investigate the downsizing and rightsizing of the Defence Review. The Committee Members rejected this proposal suggesting that the Committee already had a strategic planning workshop and public hearings so as to catch up with most of the things that had been happening in the Defence Force.
A Committee Member wanted clarity on how long would the Committee take to conclude the whole process of the Defence Review. What would be followed for the whole process to be concluded? The Committee should be provided with more information on the previous submissions that had been made to the Commission and not to the Committee.
A Member of the DA requested that there should be a briefing on the cost estimator model as the Defence Review in the Defence trajectory chapter made reference to the total cost of each milestone and he was interested on how those figures were derived. There was a request for a briefing from the National Treasury (NT) on the affordability of the Defence Review so as to avoid a situation where the Committee would adopt a policy that would be unaffordable.
The Committee rejected the proposal for the merging of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and suggested that the status quo should remain. It was also generally supported that the Members of the Committee should be vetted as the Committee had been dealing with sensitive information. One Member objected to the vetting of the Members on the basis that the Committee had not been dealing with sensitive information anyway. It was then decided that the Chairperson should write the recommendations to the Rules Committee to consider the matter of vetting in a proper way and the modalities would be submitted by different parties and then debated at that level.
The Committee agreed that on page 2 of the draft report, paragraph 2.1 under “written submission”, the recommendations made on submissions that had been received should be enumerated as there were merits to some of the recommendations particularly from Institute for Security Studies (ISS).The Committee reached a consensus that the recommendations made by the DA would be factored in the next meeting where the Committee would be adopting the full report.
Opening Remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed Members to the meeting and indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to consider and deliberate on the draft report on public hearings on South African Defence Review 2014. He reminded the Members that Mr D Maynier (DA) had submitted a document outlining an alternative programme of dealing with the Defence Review. The Committee still needed to get a presentation from the Department of Defence (DOD) about issues to be discussed and considered in the Defence Review. There was an apology from Mr B Bongo (ANC).
Mr Maynier indicated that the initial programme that had been received by the Members provided for a meeting on Operation Corona today and the subsequent programme which the Members received last week provided for the Defence Review public hearings and deliberations. The Committee had been working on a draft programme and it was precisely for this reason that he had decided to submit proposals on 11 and 12 December 2014 and resubmitted them on 20 February 2015 focusing on how the Defence Review ought to be dealt with and then followed with a letter to the Chairperson on 16 March 2015. The legal opinion that had been received by the Committee in the last Parliament on the 12 February 2012 sets out the functions of the Committee in relation to the Defence Review. The three functions of the Committee are to comment, make recommendations and investigate any aspect of the Defence Review.
Mr Maynier emphasised that the Committee could not possibly achieve those goals with limited number of briefings, public hearings and deliberations which could not last longer than 60 minutes. He lodged a strong objection to the Committee for treating the Defence Review in this bad manner as the document was 344 page and it took three years to be compiled and costing the taxpayer nearly R11 million and required 436 stakeholder meetings.
Mr Maynier requested the Committee to pause and reconsider its programme on the Defence Review and adopt a comprehensive programme that achieves two goals, include additional hearings and investigate the downsizing and rightsizing of the Defence Review. The Committee could possibly adopt a policy that had major implications and may result in the downsizing of up to 20 000 soldiers from the Defence Force and therefore the Committee needed to be fully aware of the implications of the Defence Review. The Committee was also not aware of the implications of the policy for acquisition and most importantly the indications are that all the proposals contained in the policy were unaffordable and the Committee could not just adopt a policy which was likely to be unaffordable. It would be a great petty if the Committee could not be able to reach consensus on the very important document because of the process that had been followed by the Committee.
The Chairperson asked whether Mr Maynier had received and perused the preliminary report on the Defence Review and made recommendations.
Mr Maynier responded that he had received the preliminary report but wanted the Members to discuss his proposal for the Committee to pause and reconsider the programme.
Mr D Gamede (ANC) stated that the Committee realised the importance of the Defence Review and the first time when it reached the Committee it was decided that there should be a workshop and invite different stakeholders on the Defence Review so as to catch up with most of the things that had been happening in the Defence Force. It was then decided to have public hearings so as to engage with a number of different role players and add to the legitimacy and broader acceptance of the document. He believed that with the information that had been received from the workshop and public hearings the Committee was in better position to continue with the Defence Review. He had a different proposal to that of Mr Maynier.
Mr M Booi (ANC) failed to understand exactly what Mr Maynier was demanding as the purpose of the meeting was to consider all the proposals by the Members. He added that Mr Maynier should come up with his proposals on the downsizing and rightsizing of the Defence Review and this would be discussed and contested in the Committee. He was baffled by what Mr Maynier was requesting exactly as it seemed like the intention was to stall the whole process of the Defence Review. The Committee had been encouraging Mr Maynier to make his submission so that his proposal could be debated by the Committee.
Mr Booi pointed out that there should be a separation between the need to stall the whole process and the making of contribution but at the moment Mr Maynier had not been assisting anyone as wanted to have “every bite of everything” that he had been suggesting and this was completely unfair. The Committee Members had a constitutional obligation to assist the Defence Force and could not tolerate being “bulldozed” in every meeting by an individual who assumed that he was above the Constitution. He expressed anger that Mr Maynier had been making it difficult for the Committee to function properly as there was no legitimacy to the proposals that he had been making. It was totally unacceptable for the senior Members of the Committee to be treated like a bunch of children.
Ms L Dlamini (ANC) asked whether there was any specific person or an organisation that should had been invited to the public hearings as it was important not to generalise as if everyone had not been consulted to the public hearings. She also agreed that the 3 day workshop that had been provided to the Members was enough for the Committee to go through with the Defence Review.
Mr S Esau (DA) wanted clarity on how long would the Committee take to conclude the whole process of the Defence Review. What steps that would be followed for the whole process to be concluded? The Committee should be provided with more information on the previous submissions that had been made to the Commission and not to the Committee Members. This would help in assessing whether the submissions that had been made to the Committee were not already made to the Commission before.
Mr Booi highlighted that there were procedures in Parliament and in order for information that had been submitted by the Members to be authentic and avoid gossip and rumours then it should be placed in front of the Chairperson of the Committee. The matters that Mr Esau referred to were not even submitted to the Committee and therefore should not be regarded as the responsibility of the Committee. He reiterated that the Committee could not understand exactly what Mr Maynier had been soliciting to the Committee as a collective. The Members had spent the whole night reading the submissions that had been made to the Committee and could not in any way be interrupted by a person who did not even formally make his submission during the public hearings.
Mr Maynier indicated that Mr Booi mischaracterised him as the person who had dealt with the Chairperson in a bad faith and wanted to place it on record that he had never been invited to a meeting to interact with both of the Chairpersons. He had made the submissions to the Chairperson regarding his proposals as indicated earlier and the fact that the matter had been raised this morning could not come as a surprise to both the Chairpersons and the Members. He had requested the Chairperson to table his proposals to the meetings on 12 January and 12 February 2015 as it he had concerns about how Committee had dealt with the Defence Review and this had never happened. He responded that his proposals made a plea for the Committee to receive more comprehensive and chapter by chapter briefings on the Defence Review and this would be consistent with preparing the Committee for deliberations and making recommendations.
Mr Maynier also requested for three briefings from the Department so as to provide detailed information on the downsizing and rightsizing so as the Committee could understand how many members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would be affected by the Defence Review. It is likely that due to the policy that a large number of members of the SANDF would have to exit the system and the Members needed to be fully aware of these implications. The Committee should receive a detailed briefing on the defence acquisition as one of the implications of the Defence Review was that there would be a substantial defence acquisition programme and it was not exactly clear what it was that the Defence Force would have to acquire if indeed the Defence Review was to be approved.
Mr Maynier also requested that there should also a briefing on the cost estimator model as the Defence Review in the Defence trajectory chapter made reference to the total cost of each milestone and he was interested on how those were figures derived. The reason for the interest in that question is that it was highly likely that there had been a repeat of a major mistake made in 1998 Defence Review where it only considered the total cost of acquisition not the total lifecycle cost of each piece of capital equipment. The country now had major pieces of capital equipment acquired as a result of this strategic defence acquisition programme precisely because of this error that had been made in 1998. He requested a briefing from the National Treasury (NT) on the affordability of the Defence Review and Mr Booi had agreed with this suggestion in the previous discussions. The Defence Trajectory for the four Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) periods, proposed that a force structure would consume 2.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and R88 billion in 2014 and the indications are all there that this would be unaffordable.
Mr Gamede stated that the defence acquisition and the presentation of chapter by chapter had been to the Committee before.
The Chairperson added that indeed Members had a workshop where the defence acquisition was discussed chapter by chapter. He responded that the Committee had dealt with the proposals that had been made by Mr Maynier and it was decided that those proposals should be incorporated to the plans of the next term programme. The Committee had been engaging with the Defence Review since the last Parliament and the Defence Review Committee made a briefing to the Committee before the policy document was fully completed. After the completion of the policy document the Committee held a workshop in which Mr Maynier and Mr Esau were both absent but received apologies. The Treasury had responded that the cost in implementation of the Defence Review was still to be discussed with the NT, meaning the matter was still on-going.
Mr Maynier disputed that the proposals on the programme to deal with the Defence Review made on the 11 and 12 December were discussed in the Committee as the first opportunity to discuss the programme had only been today. He added that it made no sense for the Chairperson to propose that the Committee would deal with his proposals after the Committee had already adopted the Defence Review. The Committee should rather deal with his proposals before the Defence Review had been adopted. It was possible that the Committee may have dealt with chapter by chapter review in the strategic planning workshop but doubted if it substantially dealt with the downsizing and rightsizing, the cost estimator model and the affordability of the Defence Review.
Mr Maynier said the fact that the NT had indicated in the Budget Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) that the cost in implementation of the Defence Review had not been discussed should be a “red flashing light” to the Committee. The NT had never been consulted about the Defence Review other than in one meeting and that had been to deal with the functions of the Accounting Officer. Mr Maynier suggested that on page 2 of the draft report, paragraph 2.1 under “written submission” the recommendations made on submissions received should be enumerated as there were merits to some of the recommendations particularly from Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
Mr Gamede stated that the submission that had been made by the University of Johannesburg, Centre for the Study of Democracy was important as it dealt with gender representation within the SANDF.
Mr Maynier pointed out that the draft report provided was the summary of public hearings and not that of the deliberations.
The Chairperson responded that the full report would include the summary of the public hearings, Committee’s interaction with the Defence Review and the issues to be raised.
Deliberation on the South African Defence Review
Mr Mlambo rejected the proposal from the Defence Review for the merging of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and suggested that the status quo should remain. He supported the vetting of the Members who would be serving in the Joint Standing Committee as this was critical important. The issue of the Chairperson in terms of separation of powers should be left with Parliament to decide.
The Chairperson reminded the Members that the constitutional mandate of the Committee in respect of the Defence Review was to make recommendations to the Minister. Therefore, the proposal to enhance parliamentary oversight was not something that resides with the Executive but the Legislator and should be deleted in the report.
Mr Maynier also supported the proposal to delete the irrelevant chapters in the Defence Review but rejected the proposal that necessitated the Members of the Committee to be vetted and wanted Mr Mlambo to motivate the reason why such a proposal was necessary.
Mr J Skhosana (ANC) also supported the proposal that the status quo in the separation of the Committees should remain and the vetting of the Committee Members was important as the Committee had been dealing with very sensitive information.
The Chairperson said the vetting of the Members was important as in the Committee there might be information that should not get intothe “wrong hands” but did not know how that could be categorised.
Mr Gamede reiterated that defence by its nature deals with the defence and security of the country and therefore Members should be vetted to maintain confidentiality of the information that had been dispersed in the Committee. He added that in fact all Members of Parliament should be going through the process of vetting as it was morally right as Members were dealing with the issues of the State and to prevent the situation where sensitive information of the country would be “flying out to the media”.
Ms Dlamini also supported the vetting of the Members.
Mr Booi said vetting should be allowed but only to specific Committees as there was a precedent in the Constitution, it was not a new thing it had been done before. The recommendation of the Committee is simple, that the Members of the Committee should also be vetted as done in the JointStanding Committee on Intelligence. The Defence Force should be very comfortable with the Members of Parliament to assist in threat analysis that had been foreseen. The current environment throughout the world had been changing as there had been growing threats and the SANDF should be protected as their own safety was dependent on how they manage their own information.
Mr Esau stated that he had not came across any “sensitive information” that required the Committee Members to be vetted and he was ready to be vetted if the Committee had to be provided with any genuine sensitive information. The Department and management within the Defence Force had not been vetted and serving in the SANDF as those were people who had been sitting with highly classified information of the country. If the Committee had been serious about the issue of vetting then it should start with the officials in the SANDF.
Mr Gamede interjected and said Mr Esau must not present a general statement as it should not go to the public that the members of the Defence Force were not vetted and if he was aware of some members that that had not been vetted then the matter should be referred to the Committee.
Mr Skhosana mentioned that the matter of vetting was critical important and he wanted to see progress on the matter in the next term.
Mr Maynier was interested on the kind of sensitive information ought not to be in the public domain.
Mr Gamede responded that the issue of satellite that had been divulging secretive information of the country.
Mr Maynier maintained that the information that had been divulged in the recent “spy cables” had already been on the public domain.
The Chairperson reiterated that the general consensus is that there would be from time to time information in the Committee that should not get into the “wrong hands” and it was irrelevant whether that information had been in existence now or in future.
Mr Maynier stated that Members of Parliament had taken ought to uphold Constitution and the Members who had been legitimately attending the “closed” meetings were also subjected to that duty. Therefore, it was unnecessary for the Members of Parliament and even those of the JointStanding Committee on Intelligence to be vetted. He pointed out that the call for the deletion of the chapter dealing with parliamentary oversight in the Defence Review was correctly based on the argument for the separation of powers. However, this was a contradictory statement as the vetting of the Members was likely to be implementedby either the State Security Agency or Defence Intelligence and this in itself creates another separation of powers.
Mr Maynier emphasised that the practical effect of vetting of Members and the “closing” of some of the meetings was that the Department was likely to share information which in itself was not classified. The Committee would then not be able to share that information with the general public and the Committee would then be behaving in a way that would be contradictory to the Constitution.
Ms N Mnisi indicated that the Committee had now been moving towards discussing real sensitive issues and it would be important for the Members to be vetted as there was nothing to be afraid of.
Mr Mlambo indicated that the Committee needed to move on now and consider some issues as the Membershad been“rounding in cycle” as there had been general consensus on the issue of vetting. The Committee had been dealing with sensitive information as once taken to the headquarters of the Defence Force where Members had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It was unacceptable to have cases where if the JointStanding Committee on Defence was dealing with a sensitive matter related to defence then it needed be taken to the JointStanding Committee on Intelligence.
Mr Booi said indeed the Committee had agreed in principle about the vetting of the Members and the details of the vetting process should be left to the relevant structures and it was now not a matter of how to deal with the modalities as the Committee needed to have a principle first. He highlighted again that the sensitivity was that soldiers could not be pre-empted before they go to any operation.
Mr Maynier wanted to be clear that he did not agree with the proposal of vetting but if the Committee wanted to proceed with the vetting then he proposed that part of the Committee’s recommendations is that there should be clear guidelines on when it would be justified for the Committee meeting to be “closed” and what procedures to be followed. He contested that the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence often held meetings which were supposed to be open meetings.
The Chairperson said the modalities on the issue of vetting would still need to be investigated especially on guidelines.
Mr Booi suggested that the Chairperson should write the recommendations to the Rules Committee to consider the matter of vetting in a proper way and the modalities would be submitted by different parties and then debated at that level.
Mr Maynier agreed that the correct Body to deal with the matter was the Rules Committee and the matter should not be taken “lighter” than it is, as it was a very difficult problem to solve as needed to consistently consider the Constitution. He proposed that he had 12 other issues to discuss to the Committee but needed to rush to the Caucus meeting in 10 minutes.
Mr Mlambo then suggested that Mr Maynier should rather send those issues to the secretary so as to be circulated to the Members.
Mr Booi supported that proposal as it would allow the Members to engage with those 12 issues raised by Mr Maynier.
The Chairperson also supported that proposal and said those recommendations would be factored in the next meeting where the Committee would be adopting the full report. The report would be expected to be circulated by the latest Sunday (22 March) so that the Members could be acquainted with the report. The Committee would also deal with the programme of the next term in the next meeting.
Mr Booi suggested that the Committee Researcher should do more investigation on the issue of affordability of the Defence Review.
The meeting was adjourned.
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