The Department of Military Veterans (DMV) presented on dashboard issues that has been raised and identified at a previous meeting in November 2016 on the work and structures of the Department. Although the Department was continuously working to align the funds available for supporting military veterans, there had been an increased need for funding in the education benefit where beneficiaries had increased from 5 300 to 8 700 (over 50%) against the budgeted number in this financial year alone. The Department had engaged the Defence Decision Support Institute (DDSI) to assist in the technical issues on verifying the military veterans’ database particularly on:
- conducting a comprehensive diagnosis of the database
- revamping the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and establishing verification process
- verifying the database against other databases e.g. the Departments of Home Affairs and Defence
- advise on a new definition of military veterans to better realise the government imperatives to prioritise the provision of benefits and services to Non-Statutory Forces (NSF) members
The verification of the database will ensure that only deserving military veterans are supported by the Department.
The Department explained that it was assessing the contents of MoUs that have been signed by SAMNVA and the Department itself to match the undertakings with the capacity of the Department. The DMV also engaged in performance assessments of its employees and interns to improve skills development and ensure that the best candidates are employed. Further, the Department informed the Committee that it had changed its communication strategy from communicating through mainstream media to now producing leaflets for each benefit and conducting road shows to get direct contact with military veterans and to better understand their concerns.
Members emphasised that the verification process must be concluded urgently to remove claimants who do not deserve the benefits to the detriment of qualifying military veterans. In addition, the members noted with concern the lack of DMV offices in all the provinces as this meant that veterans have to travel long distances to access Department programs and assistance. The Department reassured the Committee that it was working with provincial governments to procure offices.
Committee members requested the Department to provide the Committee with a report on the different means tests for the Committee to interrogate it where necessary. Members also asked about the role of the South African National Military Veterans Association (SANMVA) and the proper alignment of benefits to allocated funds.
Briefing by DMV on the on the implementation of its turnaround strategy
Mr Max Ozinsky, Acting Director General, DMV, said that unlike other years, the Department is facing a problem due to inadequate financial resources. There was increasing demand for benefits especially the education benefit where the beneficiaries increased from 5 300 to 8 700, i.e. more than 50% increase in a year. This created pressure on the administrative abilities of the Department. The budget for education had been greatly exceeded the R26.4 million budget. R100 million had been spent and R140 million will have been spent by the end of the financial year. The Department therefore had to borrow from other budgets to cover the deficit.
This presentation was a follow up on the implementation of the Turnaround Strategic Initiative (TSI) recommended by the Committee in December 2016. The Department’s implementation of programmes was continuously informed by the analysis given by the TSI on the timeframes and issues presented to the Joint Committee in December. The aim was to report on issues identified by the Committee and the implementation of corrective actions on those matters.
In terms of the Dashboard issues, the Department was asked to enhance efforts to address the under spending and underperformance to improve the lives of military veterans. There were programs being implemented by DMV informed by this diagnoses such as the delivery of the housing benefit which will be rolled out in the next few months. A significant number of houses will be given to military veterans and DMV explained the financial deficit to the Minister of Finance. Some money allocated to housing might be redirected to education support and the Department of Finance agreed.
The Department had procured offices in three provinces in North West, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape. DMV would have preferred offices in more provinces than the three mentioned as that could save military veterans the expense and time to travel to access DMV offices just to make a simple application. The lack of offices puts pressure on officials who had to work out their car boots to service veterans. There was a plan to secure six more provincial offices as a matter of priority.
DMV was strengthening its recruitment process to ensure the best candidates are employed as outlined in the Public Service Act. Performance assessments were introduced for contract workers and interns for possible recruitments on a permanent basis based on the performance assessment results to fill vacancies in the Department. The Department had 99.5% of performance agreements signed and only one for Chief Director is outstanding and it will be resolved in due course.
The Department had engaged the Defence Decision Support Institute (DDSI) to assist on the following technical issues with regard to the military veterans’ verification process:
-conducting a comprehensive diagnosis of the database
-revamping the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and establishing verification processes
-verifying the database against other databases e.g. Departments of Home Affairs and Defence.
-advise on a new definition of the military veterans to better realise the government imperatives to prioritise the provision of benefits and services to Non-Statutory Forces (NSF) members.
The database currently had 73 733 military veterans and the process of verification was ongoing as well as registration and categorisation of new applicants.
The funding challenges the Department was facing are beginning to turn around. The Executive Committee (EXCO) developed detailed plans per branch to support implementation of programs within the budget for the Department to achieve targets in service delivery to military veterans. The Department was working with the Department of Defence to investigate alternative funding models for implementation. Further, DMV was working on policies to have SOPs for access to education support and housing benefits.
There were gaps in the benefit regulations and the Department has identified those gaps and made proposals to EXCO to improve the regulations. In addition, DMV has developed a Beneficiary Communication Plan which is awaiting approval and will be implemented during the 2017/2018 Financial Year.
To address leadership concerns, the Department advertised vacant posts for top and middle management on Sunday 5th March 2017 to fill critical posts. In addition, a change management consultative process was ongoing since it was implemented in December 2016 and the DMV had developed a risk policy and strategy to improve risk management.
EXCO was discussing the development of a risk register as well as the establishment of a risk management committee to work on governance and risk issues. To clarify the role of the South African National Military Veterans Association (SANMVA), the Department had organised a workshop on 15 and 6 March to discuss the roles and functions of SANMVA and how its functions related to the DMV. The Department’s opinion was that DMV should manage the benefits and administration of veteran issues while SANMVA should be the advisory body to DMV on policies and handle communications to veterans.
The Department will develop a Change Management Communication Plan by the end of the second quarter of 2017/18. The Department was also working to address matters raised by the Auditor-General. In compliance with the Auditor General’s report, DMV introduced collective discussions in the Department and has had a number of meetings with the Auditor- General on the audit findings. This had resulted in progress such as providing documented evidence for each decision taken by the DMV. The aim was to shift money from administrative functions to service delivery.
In conjunction with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), the Department conducted an analysis of the effectiveness of a call centre which should be manned by military veterans as a frontline for communication with other veterans. This plan will be approved by the Department once finalised.
Mr S Esau (DA) expressed concern that it had always been known how many people require the actual aid against the amount of support available. Since the total number of beneficiaries was unknown, it would be difficult to ascertain the amount to manage the money available for those who deserved support. The financial balance within the budget has never been stable. Last year there was under spending by 50%. He asked if there will there be an alignment of the benefits against funds and what will be the impact? He advised the Department to prepare a proper report taking into account every risk attached to each benefit so that the Department’s programs are realistic. For the education benefits, he noted that some schools require payment upfront. The issuing of the benefit must therefore be processed quickly within the Department to avoid children missing school deadlines. There should indeed be more ideas on finding alternative funding options and the Committee can help on that. At the conference arranged with SANMVA, he hoped that there would be a legal advisor in attendance to clarify provisions that are misunderstood by military veterans. He commended the skills audit but advised that the Department should indicate whether each Department employee had a skills development plan. Further, the Department should communicate to military veterans on the criteria for getting benefits on how one qualifies, on the means test, including the income threshold and whether the amount is depended on a single income or a joint income.
Ms N Mnisi ANC) noted that provincial offices were very crucial as it was the only way for the Department to get in touch with military veterans. The Department should prepare a clear plan on the establishment of offices with timelines. It was unacceptable that there were provinces without DMV offices. On the database, the committee was still in discussions and the presentation showed a clear plan for implementation. She advised however that the plan should be implemented urgently. She acknowledged that the vacant positions were being given due attention although the pace of recruitment should improve.
Co-Chairperson Mlambo asked how far the Department was on implementation against its targets. He advised that there must be a balance between the targets and implementation. On the procurement of provincial offices, the Department must involve the provincial government, work with the Premier’s office and also collaborate with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to speed up the establishment of the offices. He also asked how the Department was involved in Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) signed by SANMVA. SANMVA was a statutory association and it was not supposed to do things alone. He advised that the MoUs signed by SAMVA with various companies should be tracked down and the Department must assess who benefited under the terms of those MoUs. There were a number of undertakings in the last report by the Department of Transport and even provincial departments who committed to help DMV by going to municipalities to reach out to veterans and establish offices. The Department must follow up on those commitments. He wanted to know if there had been proper handovers from the previous Director-General on things done by the Department and if not, how far the handover process was. He asked why the money allocated to housing money reduced so drastically from R170 000 to R125 000. He wanted to know what informed the DMV to reduce this amount when the Minister had been quoted as saying the housing benefit was over R170 000. Lastly, he asked how the Department was assisting disadvantaged military veterans who might have the skill and experience but may not have matriculated and whether the Department helping them to get back in school.
Mr Ozinsky replied that the Department needed to work out the benefits each veteran required and would report this to the Committee. Once the database was working properly, the Act required the Department to make a proper assessment of the benefits required per person. The Department will therefore work this out once the database was completed and verified.
The Co-Chairperson asked if there was a possibility that there were people who have received the benefited unduly if the verification was not done. He asked what the consequences would be if undeserving beneficiaries are discovered?
Mr Ozinsky continued his response and said the Chief Financial (CFO) would respond on budgeting matters. The underperformance was 40% last year and not 60% as stated by Mr Esau. The Department had made an impact assessment report to the portfolio committee and the same presentation can be made to the Committee if required. The Department will consider the use of an actuary to compile the database, however, aside from hardware and software used to put together the database, the verification which was done by human resources was most complicated. People should follow procedure but there could be undeserving people who have benefited from DMV. These incidences will be reduced once the database verification was complete. For example, there was a court case where a person’s application was rejected by DMV and the claimant appealed to the court. DMV discovered that military records indicated that there was someone else using the number that the person was claiming on who is not the claimant and it showed that it was possible to have false claims.
To source alternative funding, the Department has had discussions and engagement with the Department of Defence who had systems that helped to alleviate the funding problems. The Department had also discussed with the Secretary of Defence on the possibility of setting up a trust for active military servicemen which could help the veterans once they leave the military service.
He stated that the meeting with SANMVA scheduled for 15 and 16 March was only for clarification of the roles of all the Department and SAMNVA functions. The issues of MoUs or other issues are not on the agenda. On the means test, there was no one test for the benefits. The Act stated that each application should be subjected to a means test and the different applications are subject to different tests. For example, the test for education was R400 000 while for housing it was at R125 000. The Department was of the opinion that the R125 000 set for housing was too low as the amount is the same for ordinary citizens who wanted to qualify for housing. Military veterans should have a lower rate in recognition of their sacrifice to the country. The issues raised by Mr Esau on the means test are also of concern to the Department, because when a veteran who was married dies, the wife or husband and children are no longer entitled to benefits when the whole family made sacrifices during the struggle. This was because the benefits can only be given to a living military veteran and not the surviving family. The means test should therefore be revised and the DMV was hopeful that Parliament will engage in discussions to avoid disqualifying deserving families.
The lack of provincial offices was indeed unacceptable and the Department will come up with a report and clear timeframes for implementation. Some provinces such as North West had been proving office space for DMV on its premises. The Department was in discussions with other municipalities for more office space as it engaged with DPW. The Department agreed that the database needed attention.
On the success of implementation of targets, there was a lot of ground work that had been done and hopefully results will show soon. At present, the Department cannot quantify the successes although management was continuously working on team building and delivery. The Department was of the opinion that SAMNVA did not have capacity to sign MoUs which binded the Department. The Department was therefore moving to sign necessary MoUs on its own and issuing of benefits for which the Department was responsible. SAMNVA represented military organisations and can assist DMV to communicate the benefits to military veterans. It was important for SAMNVA to be on board on communicating the benefits as sometimes a person has gone to occupy a house which was allocated to someone other veteran. Therefore SAMNVA has a key role to play and must buy into the programmes such as housing allocation to reduce the risk of unallocated occupation and other problems. The Department cannot hand over allocations to SAMNVA but SAMNVA will provide oversight. There needed to be a concrete strategy in the signing of MoUs by considering the capacity to implement the MoUs and assess who to partner with in the implementation.
There had been proper handover from the previous Director-General who continued to work closely with DMV as the Secretary of Defence. The Acting Director-General was in continued discussions with the previous Director-General, for both guidance and clarification.
He further pointed out that there has not been any reduction in the housing money but an increase to R180 000 from R178 000. DMV provided R75 000 while the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) provided the balance. The Department was of the view that the R180 000 needed to be reviewed to take inflation into account.
Mr Sibongeni Ndlovu, CFO, DMV replied that the Department was undergoing a budgeting process to strengthen accounting systems by cost tracking. This will improve service delivery and meet the recommendations made by the Auditor-General for improved service delivery in the coming financial year. While analysing its budget and expenditure, the Department noted that it will have shortfalls in money available for programmes and the Department will engage Treasury to increase budget support and ensure that funds are available to cover all key benefits.
Ms Nontobeko Mafu, Deputy Director-General: Empowerment and Stakeholder Management, DMV said that the Department noted the Committee’s concern on MoUs signed by SAMNVA as well as the DMV. Going forward, the Department will look at not just the quantity of MoUs, but also the quality of the contents even for those already signed. On recognition of prior learning (RPL), the Department provided education support within its programmes as well as skills development to benefit military veterans without academic qualifications. DMV also facilitated higher learning for veterans. The Department needs to do more to create awareness and provide more support. DMV had placed veterans to work in provincial offices and at departmental level although the targets have not been achieved as planned.
Mr Mbulelo Musi, Chief Director: Communications Services, DMV replied that the Department had reviewed its communication strategy and had undertaken seven road shows in this financial year accompanied by the Deputy Minister. The road shows have been assessing how the veterans feel about the support from the Department. DMV’s communication has shifted to benefit-oriented engagement and it was developing pamphlets per benefits ranging from compensation to education. The Department will provide the samples to the Committee. The change in communication strategy was implemented recognising that the military veterans might not have access to mainstream media and therefore the marketing must be direct and conclusive on each benefit through the road shows and leaflets. The leaflets have been presented to EXCO for approval. There was indeed a possibility of people getting into the database who are not supposed to benefit. DMV was engaging with security agencies to assess the database holistically. The database had been linked to associations to which veterans belonged for verification as these associations may be aware of the people in their group to remove undeserving applicants. He further confirmed that the Department was emphasising the aligning of MoUs to the Department’s strategies for the disbursement of benefits and expenditure. Where the issues will require the work of more than one government Department, DMV will draft Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and MoUs for SOP on engagement.
Mr Esau acknowledged that there will need to be further engagement and skills development for people who were working in the military without qualifications. For the MoUs and SLAs, the quantity was not important but quality and the Department should consider signing a standard MoU with all institutions of higher learning institutions across the country for military veterans to access education. These institutions did not need under the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) or mainstream university sectors, but even those that could be easily attended by the veterans. The Department should consider institutions that offer skills training for veterans to obtain qualifications which will help them get better jobs to avoid being exploited in the jobs market. He asked the Department to provide the committee with a report on the different means tests for the Committee to be advised and interrogate it where necessary.
The Chairperson informed the meeting that the Committee was not quorate and therefore could not adopt the minutes. He thanked everyone for attending the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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