Defence Force Service Commission and Military Ombud on their 2014/15 Annual Reports

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Defence and Military Veterans

21 October 2015
Chairperson: Mr M Motimele (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

[Documents awaited: Defence Force Service Commission 2014/15 Annual Report email]

The Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) highlighted the areas in which they had underperformed, why this was the case and what measures they have taken or will take in order to correct the situation. The Chairperson appealed to Members to assist them in discussions with the Minister of Defence with regards to increasing the Defence budget so as to improve the conditions of service within the military. DFSC said it was imperative to de-link salaries from rank which would enable a soldier’s salary to increase over time despite not rising in rank. This area requires research but DFSC is lacking research capacity. Until this issue was solved, the poor morale within the military would not improve

Members commended the delegation on their passion for their work and for applying their minds to their mandate. They asked about progress in discussions between the Minister of Defence and the DFSC around the move to make the DFSC an independent entity, about veterans, soldiers with disabilities who needed assistive devices, de-linking salaries from rank, and gender and racial transformation. The Chairperson acknowledged the contributions of the Commissioners and said that they would follow up on the issues they have raised and get back to them.

The Military Ombud focused on the structure and functions of the Office as well as its accomplishments. There was not much in the presentation related to the failures or areas of underperformance of the Military Ombud.

Members commended the delegates on the difficult task they are presented with. The Office of the Military Ombud noted that they also wished to have some level of independence from the Department of Defence and Members were interested in the progress in achieving this. Also of concern was the composition of the Office of the Military Ombud and  the Defence Force Service Commission with regards to employment equity as well as their hiring practices.

Meeting report

Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) 2014/15 Annual Report
Ms Edna van Harte, DFSC Chairperson, explained the mandate of the DFSC is to make annual recommendations to the Minister of Defence on the improvements of salaries and benefits of members of the Defence Force, on policies with respect to service in the Defence Force and to put in place measures to ensure the implementation of policies on conditions of service for members of the Defence Force. She outlined areas of weakness where the DFSC underperformed:
- It had been unable to de-link salaries from rank. This was attributed to the lack of research capacity in the DFSC and that its total model proved to be too expensive.
- In making recommendations on the conditions of service within the Defence Force and the reviewing of Defence Force related policies.
- Strategic issues owing to the slow bureaucratic process that has to be undertaken to carry out its mandate. To fix this issue an additional three commissioners were hired to help deal with matters in a more efficient manner.

In terms of achievements, the DFSC was proud to state that:
- The policy to award death benefits to the family of soldiers who had passed away in external or internal missions had been gazetted and initiated.
- It submitted a Cost of Living Adjustment report for members of the South African Defence Force to salaries of those ranked from Private to Colonel.
- DFSC members were able to visit numerous bases to observe first-hand the conditions of service of Defence Force members. This led to the submission of a report on their findings and the reviewing of ten policies which relate to the conditions of service of Defence Force members.

Mr S Esau (DA) commended the DFSC, for a job well done so far and for having applied their minds to their mandate. The Committee would like to aid the DFSC but how can they when they are not privy to all reports the DFSC write? How can they assist?

Ms van Harte replied that only the Minister can make decisions with regards to who gets to read the reports that they produce.

Mr Ian Robertson, Part-time DFSC Commissioner, asked the Committee to argue on behalf of the DFSC, and the military itself, for an increase in the Defence budget. He pleaded with the Committee to engage on this issue with other Members of Parliament and within other committees of which they may be a part.

Mr Bantu Holomisa, DFSC Commissioner, added that not all questions can be answered by the Ms van Harte and should be referred to the Department of Defence and the Minister.

Mr Esau asked the DFSC what the timeframe is on the policies and initiatives that they have proposed.

Mr N Khoza (EFF) expressed appreciation for the DFSC presentation and agreed that they should be an autonomous entity. He asked what the time frames were for the corrective measures proposed by the DFSC.

Ms van Harte replied that she and her colleagues would work together to produce a report in writing on timeframes to submit to the Committee. Over the past year DFSC has been very timeous in meeting the deadlines they set for themselves.

Mr Esau expressed concern about the flying hours of the pilots in the air force and the state of readiness of the Air Force.

Ms van Harte commended the Air Force for the great work being done there and explained that the pilots are extremely dedicated but are frustrated as they do not get enough flying hours to earn decent money and so often end up leaving to work for private companies. There is a need for better equipment as well.

Mr Esau asked the DFSC what the reasons were behind not attending proposed meetings in foreign countries and what leads to situations that result in irregular expenditure such as was experienced during their trip to Namibia.

Ms van Harte explained that she puts pressure on her employees to always be on time and to get feedback from other departments in good time to make the necessary arrangements to go abroad. With specific regards to the Namibian case, the irregular expenditure that occurred was beyond their control and was a result of the Namibians changing plans at the last moment.

Mr Esau asked about the progress in discussions between the Minister of Defence and the DFSC around the move to make the DFSC an autonomous and independent entity?

Ms van Harte requested that the Committee support the plea of DFSC for more power and autonomy. DFSC members often visit soldiers at their base and are confronted with the numerous challenges that the soldiers face but always warn the soldiers not to have too much hope as they do not have real power to make changes.

Mr Holomisa added that soldiers have expectations and they do not have the power to meet them. Soldier morale is low and DFSC could do more if they were empowered to do so.

Mr Esau said that he was aware of the slow moving bureaucratic processes within government and asked DFSC if they start processes earlier to account for these delays or do they also begin later?

Ms van Harte explained to Mr Esau that they have proper planning mechanisms in place and take care of their responsibilities timeously but once they go to Joint Operations they cannot know when they might receive a decision.

Mr Holomisa explained that the DFSC has limited power and often does not even get a response on the reports that they submit to the Department. Time and speed are important and this lack of response is disappointing. He suggested that the ruling party express these concerns to the Minister of Defence on behalf of the DFSC. The Committee should hold the Minister accountable for promises made to the DFSC.

Mr Esau condemned the current research capacity of the DFSC saying that it was not acceptable that they only have one researcher and that one remain on sick leave for months. The research capacity of the entity must not be compromised. One cannot have someone off sick without someone coming in to replace them.

Ms van Harte agreed with Mr Esau that it was a structural mistake to have so few researchers at DFSC and that she herself flew to visit the sick researcher to find out what the situation was.

Mr Esau said to the DFSC that there were numerous financial constraints as a result of the National Government mandate to reduce spending by 1 billion rand across all departments. This makes it difficult to improve conditions of military service by increasing the Defence budget.

Mr Esau asked the DFSC to speak more on the process of de-linking salaries from rank within the military.

Ms van Harte replied that it was difficult to solve the issue of de-linking salaries from rank but that they must find a way to do so. This issue is vital as it has led to poor soldier morale which is a security risk.

Mr Renfrew Christie, Part-time DFSC Commissioner, added that de-linking salaries from rank was a budgetary issue. There is a need for a new Defence Review because the old one was outmoded. There is a need to arrest the decline in the Defence Force by putting money in; the current budget is insufficient to achieve the needed changes. People are getting stuck earning the pay they earned as a rookie if they have not climbed rank, despite being in the army for years and requiring more skills. De-linking salaries from rank would enable a soldier’s salary to increase over time despite not rising in rank. They are unsure of how to go about this, which is another area that requires research.

Mr Robertson added that until this issue was solved morale within the military would not improve.

Mr Esau enquired about the death benefits initiative, how far will this initiative go?

Ms van Harte responded that every military service had a death benefit program and that they engaged with families and continually worked on this program.

Mr Esau said that some of the members of the Committee would like to visit some of the soldiers overseas. What are the vetting processes and procedures involved in going abroad?

Mr D Gamede (ANC) asked DFSC why, of the three newly appointed Commissioners, was one not a person with a disability? Soldiers with injuries and disabilities need to interact with someone who will understand their situation.

Ms van Harte committed to the Committee that if the need to replace one of the commissioners arises then she will appoint a candidate with a disability.

Ms N Mnisi (ANC) commended the DFSC on the good work that they have done and expressed concern over the gender representation within the military, particularly with regards to high level positions. What are DFSC's recommendations for gender equity and is there progress?

Ms van Harte replied that she was proud of the women who were in service to the military but that there were far too few at the top.

Mr B Nesi (ANC) asked the DFSC for their progress on other issues such as race and disability. What progress is being made towards army transformation to reflect the demographics of the country?

Ms van Harte responded that transformation was extremely important. There is an unequal racial distribution within the army in particular, comprising mostly of Black South Africans. In the navy and Air Force there are more White and Coloured South Africans but the distribution does not reflect the demographics of the country. There are a lack of researchers to probe into these issues and a need to develop a relationship with the Human Resources division of the Department, which they are in the process of doing.

Ms van Harte went on to add that there is an additional issue of age, and of not having an exit age within the army, this results in soldiers who are too old to be sent to war still drawing a salary.

Mr Nesi asked the DFSC what they do to aid disabled soldiers with the assistive devices they need, such as wheelchairs and he offered the numbers of disabled soldiers in Durban to the DFSC.

Ms van Harte said her desire is to start a Wounded Warrior project that would assist soldiers who have been injured in the line of work with the tools they need to cope with their new life situation.

Mr Holomisa added that the civilian oversight of military operations is problematic as they are unfamiliar with military issues and this causes many delays and problems.

Mr Robertson added to this that civilian oversight should not have to occur within a democratic society.

The Chairperson acknowledged the contributions of the Commissioners and said that they would follow up on the issues they have raised and get back to them.

Mr Christie advised the Committee to read a report on Defence Force medical resources that was produced by one of the DFSC commissioners in order to fully understand the current negative situation of the military.

Military Ombud 2014/15 Annual Reports
Mr Themba Mantanzima, Military Ombud, introducing his delegation.

Mr Moho Makhalemele, Chief Corporate Support Officer of the Military Ombud, explained the mandate of the Military Ombud is investigate and resolve complaints lodged with the Office under the conditions as set out by the Military Ombud Act (No 24 of 2012). The Military Ombud deals with complaints from current members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), complaints from previous members of SANDF and from members of the public regarding SANDF members. Since its inception the Military Ombud has finalised 647 cases. One of the main achievements of the Office of the Military Ombud has been the drafting of the Military Ombud Complaints Regulations 2015. The Office also has Memoranda of Understanding with various entities such as the Department of Defence, the Commission for Gender Equality and the Public Protector of South Africa. In an effort to raise awareness about the Military Ombud and its function many events were held at military bases throughout the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Mr Khoza expressed understanding for the difficult job that the Military Ombud has and asked the representatives to explain why not all the cases have been finalized and what kinds of cases are these?

Mr William Baloyi, DFSC Secretariat, explained that in the Act there are no cut-off dates with regards to cases which means that cases from 1990s can be brought to them as well. Cases this old present a challenge as it is harder to locate the necessary documents and witnesses. Also, there are four stages in the grievance process and the Ombud must sift through all of those documents from those proceedings as well. As soon as the Military Ombud was established it started receiving complaints even though it had not yet been staffed, and even during the next year they were not fully staffed. This too, has contributed to the backlog of cases.

Mr Khoza asked Military Ombud representatives why not all of the funded posts have been filled?

Mr Makhalemele explained that because ten people left during the year in question that influenced the number of filled posts within the organization.

Mr S Marais (DA) asked the Military Ombud to elaborate on the kinds of cases that they receive, are they purely administrative cases and how justified is expenditure of the kinds of cases being handled? Are technically skilled people needed to handle these cases?

Mr Esau asked if when they recruit new employees, do they hire people with the specialized skills to deal with the kinds of cases they receive.

Mr Baloyi explained that during the recruitment process they hire people with different kinds of backgrounds. Most of the staff has a Human Resources background as most of their cases are Human Resources related. They also have staff who have a background in labour relations, as well as lawyers and forensic auditors.

Mr Marais asked if the people that complain about the past are all veterans and how many veterans do they receive in total.

Mr Baloyi explained that they do receive a large number of veterans under the current Defence Act. Since the establishment of the Military Ombud there has been the establishment of a Department of Military Veterans and so they must refer veterans to the new Department. Often the complaints that they receive from veterans are about the difficulties they are having in registering as veterans. Unfortunately there is nothing they can do about that, it is not in their mandate to register veterans.

Mr Marais asked how many 'satisfied customers' do they have with regards to their finalized cases?

Mr Baloyi responded that this question was problematic as they do not see themselves as having customers, rather as an independent third party that adjudicates between people and the Department of Defence. However, they do wish to have researchers on staff who can conduct surveys on perceptions of the Military Ombud, both by the Department and by the public.

Mr Marais said that he did not follow the explanation given during the presentation on the financial expenditure of the Military Ombud. The R6 million spent on 'resettlement', was that of the Offices or the cases?

Mr Makhalemele explained that R6 million attributed to resettlement was related to recruitment processes. For instance, if they hired someone who was based in Cape Town, they would pay for the costs of moving them from Cape Town.

Mr Esau noted that there has been an incremental increase in the number of cases being dealt with by the Military Ombud and commended them for resolving so many. How much time is taken to complete a case on average?

Mr Baloyi explained that the time that it took to resolve a case varied from case to case. How long the cases take depends on the availability of witnesses and documents. When they receive cases they divide them into cases that are easy to solve and those that are not. A period of 90 days is set for cases that are deemed easier to resolve and a period of up to 180 days is set for those perceived to be more complex. The Military Ombud has in place a system to hold staff accountable for failures to resolve issues timeously, bearing in mind that sometimes it cannot be helped.

Mr Esau asked the Military Ombud how far the conversation with the Minister towards obtaining autonomy had progressed.

Mr Matanzima replied that progress has been made in that the Minister of Defence has made them the administrators of their own budget and that they are still discussing the issue.

Mr Baloyi added that the Department of Defence is a large department and thus often the Military Ombud is not a priority but a new arrangement should begin to take shape in the next few months.

Mr Esau asked the Military Ombud why they only hired 46 new staff members when they had been funded to have 61 and they have a need for 89.

Mr Makhalemele explained that had it not been for the loss of ten employees during the course of the year and the un-filled Deputy position they would have met the quota of 61.

Mr Mantanzima explained that the Deputy of the Military Ombud is a Presidential appointment and so this makes the post more difficult to fill.

Mr Esau asked why there has been no reference to the Employment Equity Act.

Mr Makhalemele responded that the Military Ombud was 48% male and 52% female; in terms of racial equity they had a good representation of all races but white.

Mr Esau asked what the reasons for the reported attrition was, why did so many people leave?

Mr Makhalemele said they had lost ten employees that year. He believes that this is because the Military Ombud attracts young people, who often do not wish to stay in the same job for long periods of time and so leave.

Mr Nesi expressed concern that the desire of the Military Ombud to be autonomous might be in contradiction to the Ombud Act under which it was formed. From what exactly did Military Ombud want to be autonomous?

Mr Matanzima explained that everything they do is founded in the Act, which Members of Parliament approved. The Military Ombud did not wish to be separate from the Department of Defence, it only wanted independence to make decisions on the cases they handle. This would save huge amounts of time.

Mr Nesi asked to whom do they promise confidentiality to, to the Ombud Office or to the cases?

Mr Baloyi explained that in accordance with the Protection of Personal Information Act, all personal information of the complainant was kept confidential as well as documents and reports from the Department of Defence. Confidentiality is therefore given to both the complainant and the Department of Defence.

The Chairperson thanked all delegates who attended the meeting and called the meeting to a close.

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