The Committee engaged with the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), which focuses on themes of security, stability and prosperity at the grand strategic level. The College will be in Africa for a number of weeks for private research and study. Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng), co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, was present at the meeting.
Delegates asked how South Africa linked its security and defence policies. They asked for details around the Defence Review, what the Committee sought to gain out of it, what the main issues the Defence Review highlighted, and what logic the Defence Review had adopted financially. They asked how the Committee was ensuring that the Defence Force was representative of the population, professionalised and modernised. The Committee was asked questions on South Africa’s deployment process and how the country managed the contradiction between deployment and domestic security.
Policy and ideological differences over transformation and the role of military institutions between the ruling party (ANC) and the opposing party (DA) were highlighted. It was revealed that the financial implications of the Defence Review had not been considered or reviewed, and that the government may not be able to implement it due to a lack of funding.
The Chairperson welcomed the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) delegates and wished them well during their time in South Africa. Mr Jeremy Jarvis, the Senior Directing Staff for the College, thanked the Chairperson and explained that the RCDS course focused on themes of security, stability and prosperity. They would be visiting a number of countries in Africa, including Kenya and Uganda, as part of their research.
The Chairperson explained the structure, role and function of the Committee. He explained that the Committee dealt with legislation related to defence, state security, deployment and the South African military force. It held Parliament accountable in terms of the budget, annual performance plans, strategic goals and plans, and quarterly reports. The Committee debated on legislative issues. He was the co-chairperson of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, while Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng) was as the other co-chairperson. The Joint Standing Committee dealt with deployment, and he explained the process of deployment. The President was constitutionally obligated to inform Parliament of any deployment plans, a letter of request was sent to the Joint Standing Committee, and the Committee deliberated the request. It was currently focusing on the Defence Review.
The floor was opened for questions. The Chairperson said that questions that they could not answer due to classification, would not be discussed or answered.
Group Captain Johnny Stringer, for the Royal Air Force, asked how South Africa linked defence policy and security policy, and what those policies said to South Africa’s national interests.
Mr D Maynier (DA) said that defence and security policy was classified. Currently there was a draft Foreign Policy Bill that had been served before the Portfolio Committee on international trade and communication. The Committee had no guidance from any foreign or security policy, and this had made it difficult to operate as a Committee on various issues.
Colonel Marcin Fitas, for the Polish Military Gendarmerie, asked what the Committee wished to achieve and get out of the Defence Review, and what the main challenges and priorities of the National Defence Review were.
Mr Maynier explained that the priority areas for the Democratic Alliance were military preparedness and acquisition. He said that in the last six years, the Committee had never received a briefing on these issues. He spoke about a special defence account that funds had been secretly transferred into -- the amount in this account was about R30 billion and nobody knew what it was being used for. Acquisition was a great priority because of the corruption prevalent within government.
The Chairperson spoke on the military skills development strategy (SDS), which recruits young people to serve in the army. After undergoing training these young people were given the choice of joining the army. A challenge being faced was the lack of enrolment and interest in joining the force.
Group Captain Nick Lloyd, of the Royal Air Force, asked whether the President’s constitutional mandate to inform Parliament about deployment was just an obligation to inform Parliament, or did the President need the authority of Parliament to go forward with deployment.
The Chairperson said that the Defence Force’s constitutional mandate is to defend and protect the state and its people. The country deployed forces in the African region due to international obligations.
He explained the process of deployment. The President was constitutionally obligated to inform Parliament within a reasonable period of time. Parliament did not have the authority to say yes or no to deployment.
Mr Maynier elaborated on the process of deployment. The relevant Committee needed to be informed within seven days, if Parliament was in recess. The relevant Committee debated the authorisation of the President’s request and had the authority to recommend to Parliament to deny the President’s request if it felt that deployment was not justified. This authority was not given by the current constitution, but resided in the interim constitution.
Mr Gus Jaspert, of the United Kingdom Civil Service, asked what the public perception of military deployment was, and whether the public supported this practice or not.
The Chairperson said that there was public support.
Colonel Raimundas Matulis, from the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithunia (Air Force), asked who approved the Defence budget, who constructed it and what it was informed by.
The Chairperson said that currently the budget for Defence was R44 billion, and commented that it was not enough. It was approximately 1.1 % of the Gross Domestic Profit (GDP), which was less compared to other countries. The Committee had been making efforts to convince Parliament to allocate more money to the Defence budget, because at the moment it did not allow the force to adequately carry out its constitutional mandate. He mentioned that Parliament might reconsider their plea after the Defence Review.
Mr Maynier said that the Defence budget was inadequate to a certain extent. The problem that they currently faced with regard to the budget was the funding framework. Currently, personnel costs were using up most of the budget and that needed to be reviewed. Over 54% of the budget was spent on personnel. There had been a massive reallocation of expenditure to personnel after a Defence Force protest march. The challenge was to balance expenditure within the funding framework. The Defence Force and the Committee also needed to take responsibility for the budget, especially with the number of challenges and issues surrounding the budget and expenditure. He spoke about the problem of wasteful expenditure, where money was spent on items that had no bearing on the core business of the Defence Force. The Defence Force was spending too much money on personnel. The government had given the Department a reasonable increase, but the problem was that it had been allocated to military veterans, not to Defence. He spoke about the Defence Force’s reluctance to disclose the large surpluses maintained in the special defence account. As a result, the status of Defence accounts was not very clear. He felt that it was problematic that the Defence Force was willing to disclose the fact that they spend under 1%, but was reluctant to disclose the huge surpluses present.
Mr Mlambo explained that the special defence account brought up by Mr Maynier could not be discussed, because it could not be in the public domain. He said that it was top secret and he cautioned the RCDS Delegates not to be taken in by what Mr Maynier had shared. He said that the Committee would not be able to discuss some questions because of the confidential nature of the issues. The public was able to apply for special closed meetings, and there were non-disclosure agreement which attendees had to sign.
Mr Jarvis assured the Committee that the meeting was off the record and that this session was simply for research and private study purposes.
Mr S Esau (DA) spoke about the peace missions that had been conducted on the African continent and the key issues that the country faced. He referred to the consequences which xenophobia had had on the country’s image and on attracting foreign investment. The country currently faced challenges in funding and increasing the number of countries involved in peace missions. He emphasised the importance of peace missions. The country depended on exports in order to grow its economy and as a result it was crucial to grow the country’s exports, especially on the continent. South Africa contributed and played a role in peace-keeping in a number of countries, such as the Congo. South Africa was always involved in peace missions and extended its help. He spoke of the challenge of securing investment and South Africa’s democratic trade policy, and piracy issues on the west and east coast.
Group Captain Lloyd asked what the threshold was when it came to the responsibility for protection and humanitarian intervention -- was the threshold genocide, or lower? He also asked who intervened -- whether it was the countries which were part of the African Union (AU) or other bodies, such as the United Nations (UN).
Mr Mlambo (ANC) said that the AU and other countries facilitated humanitarian intervention. The threshold was low in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. He said that as one moved further up in Africa, countries such as Congo, experienced severe atrocities. There was a need for a joint process to find a solution to these problems.
Mr Esau said that humanitarian intervention was a joint effort. It was in the best interests of South Africa and the continent to assist and intervene in other African countries, because exploitation was very common when there was great instability in a country -- resources were exploited and black markets emerged.
Colonel Kevin Admiral, of the United States Army, asked what the Committee was doing in its oversight role to ensure that the Defence Force was truly representative of the population, professionalised and modernised. He also asked if the Committee could comment on why other African nations were reluctant and hesitant to receive assistance from South Africa.
Mr Mlambo said that there was difficulty in modernising the Defence Force, and giving the example of the equipment the Force currently used. The equipment was outdated and could not compete equally with equipment from other countries. This was one of the main reasons why Parliament needed to adopt the Defence Review, so that South Africa could compete on an equal footing. The Defence force was moving towards a professional space.
Mr Esau said that the Defence Force was representative of the demographics of the country. The majority of the force was black, but there was a need to make the it more attractive and appealing to other racial groups, such as white people. This was a great challenge, and Milestone 1 of the Defence Review focused on it.
Mr Maynier said there was evidence that over the last 20 years there had been under-investment in capital equipment for the Defence Force. There was also evidence that the equipment that had been acquired was not necessary for the core functions and mandate of the Force.
Both the ruling party and opposition party agreed upon the fact that redress and diversification was necessary, but they disagreed on how to achieve it. The government had instituted a very rigid quota system which had led to the Defence Force’s current problem. The personnel structure was skewed and not diversified. There were very little white people in the Defence Force.
Captain Martyn Williams, of the Royal Navy, asked how South Africa managed the fundamental contradiction found in the deployment aspect and using military forces for domestic security. He asked to what extent the Committee saw the role of the military in domestic security and whether they saw the role of the military evolving into a much more domestic context.
Mr Mlambo said that the military force was constitutionally mandated to guard the country’s borders.
Mr Maynier explained the difference between the old Defence Force under apartheid, and the new force. The old force had focused on domestic affairs, while the new force had a more external focus and had no involvement in domestic affairs. This had been established in the Constitution and the contrast and shift had been established intentionally. Due to limited capacity, a provision had been made for the deployment of the Defence Forces in support of the South African Police Services. He said that the military force provide perimeter security domestically. There was an agreement that the deployment of military forces should take place only under exceptional circumstances.
Mr Maynier was concerned that operations of deployment would become more and more of a routine. The problem was that these troops were not trained for domestic law enforcement. This concern was compounded by the difference in ideology between the ruling party and the opposition party. The ruling party favoured the human defence ideology, which gave military institutions the legitimacy to be involved in non-military activities, such as development. It also encouraged these institutions to be more involved in training and infrastructure. The opposition believed that military structures should stick to their traditional role, and not be involved in development.
Mr Maynier spoke about Operation Corona, which involved 13 sub-units. These sub-units has plateaued at 13 because of limited resources, and suggested that the sub-units should be extended.
He highlighted government’s priorities by saying the number of soldiers deployed was 1 245, and the number of soldiers in the Defence Force was over 5 000.
Brigadier Tim Carmichael, of the British Army, asked which logic the Defence Review would be adopting. Would it be that of designing the Defence Forces according to the amount of money it had, or that of designing it according to the protection of national interests and the warding off of external threats, and then finding the budget to pay for it?
Mr Esau said that the financial implications of the Defence Review had not been discussed, considered or reviewed.
Mr Maynier said that the Defence Review Committee structured its 13 tasks very liberally, and they were derived from the Constitution. He found it remarkable that of the 486 stakeholder meetings the Defence Review Committee had had, only one had been with the National Treasury, and that was to seek clarity on the powers of the Secretary of Defence. The process of drafting the Defence Review had taken place over a number of years, and R11 million had been spent on the process.
My Maynier spoke about the fiscal deficit of the country -- about 3.9% of the GDP --and the debt ratio, which was about 40% of the GDP. He also spoke about the slow growth and high inflation prevalent in the South African economy. Because of this, there was no fiscal space to implement Milestone 1 of the Defence Review because it was not affordable. The overall Defence Review was not affordable, and if the Minister of Defence were to implement the Defence Review, she would need to either choose aspects of the Defence Review which were not too costly or downsize personnel in order to decrease expenditure and free up funds. The problem with the second option was that such a decision could not be taken because of South Africa’s high unemployment rate.
Mr Maynier said that the minority had proposed, at the Committee level, that the Defence Review be withdrawn from Parliament in order for it to be properly costed and reviewed, and then re-tabled in Parliament. This proposal had been rejected. There were possible problems with the costing, especially with regard to acquisitions.
Commodore Ajay Kochhar, of the Indian Navy, commented that South Africa’s Defence Force was relatively in better shape than most African countries. He asked if there were any other plans of capitalising and liberalising the in-house defence industry in order to meet certain requirements that gave way to laws of access to equipment, and liberalised the defence industry to export to other nations.
The Chairperson said that the Defence Force should be funded adequately so that they could meet their constitutional mandate. Milestone 1: Personnel and Training, was the priority. Transformation was a problem at the executive level, as it was not representative of the population -- majority of the executive was made up of white people. No exit mechanism had been put in place for the white people in power so until that had been introduced, representation at the executive level would continue to be skewed.
The Chairperson thanked the RCDS for joining the Committee and engaging with them.
Group Captain Stringer thanked the Committee on behalf of the RCDS delegates. He said that the meeting had been very insightful and interesting and that it had helped to bring clarity and awakened areas of interest.
The meeting was adjourned.
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