Military Veterans call centre & database: DMV & SITA progress report; Committee Report on DOD Budget

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Defence and Military Veterans

24 May 2017
Chairperson: Mr M Motimele (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee considered Committee reports Budget Vote 19 on Defence and Military Veterans; Department of Military Veterans’ Entities: Department of Defence; and Department of Military Veterans Entities: Castle and Control Board, Armaments Corporation of South Africa, and the Military Ombud, all dated 23 May 2017. The three reports were adopted accordingly.

The State Information Technology Agency briefed the Committee on a number of issues, including a service level agreement entered into by the Department of Military Veterans with the State Information Technology Agency. The Service Level Agreement covered a number of areas, including a business process outsourcing), also known as ‘call centre’. Challenges with the call centre were highlighted. One such challenge was the length of time it took to resolve military veteran issues, due to the management of the call centre by State Information Technology Agency employees.

Three proposals were submitted in relation to the call-centre. However, Department of Military Veterans opted for the third option, which was to the effect that State Information Technology employees would run the call centre while the management processes of the call centre would be carried out by the Department.

A lot of work has been done on the integrated military database, part of the work was being done by a private company component. A new proposal has been developed by the Agency to the effect that all works already done would be used in redesigning the system to make it simple.

Some of the challenges facing the secured military veterans’ database were also highlighted. The unreliability of database information is one of such challenges.

The process of development of the database has been divided into phases: first phase to deal with online registration with secured database; and would be completed by the end of July 2017; second phase would deal with the integration of four benefits with the PERSOL system, which is the online defence integration system, to be completed by end September 2017; and the third phase which would focus on the integration of the remaining benefits, to be completed by December 2017.

A joint steering committee comprising of the Department of Military Veterans, State Information Technology Agency and ARMSCOR has been established to map out a way forward on the database.

The Agency was committed to resolving project issues from both the Agency and Department of Military Veterans. A consideration of the actual costing shows that a lot of investment was needed for infrastructure. The Agency was looking into cost benefit analysis of the platform that would be used for the database. This is to ensure that the database can be accessed online in the first half.

The timeline for the enablement of the Department of Military Veterans’ Information Communication Technology infrastructure has been set for end the end of July 2017.

Questions raised and comments made by Members of Parliament focused on the current status of the private company that was previously used; the value being added by the Agency to the speedy finalisation of the database; current status of Department of Military Veterans ’database and the percentage that has been verified so far; current status of the call centre and the integration process; the validity and functionality of the appeal board; litigation processes within the department; status of foreign members listed on the database; effectiveness of the communication strategy; verification process for qualification of benefits; timeframes for the implementation of the systems; and the percentage of verified database from manual inputs.

Meeting report

The Committee considered the budget vote reports. The first report considered was that of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCODMV) on Budget Vote 19: Defence and Military Veterans (DMV): Department of Defence (DOD), dated 23 May 2017.

Mr S Marais (DA) commended the quality of the report. He however, highlighted the issue of the security of infantry bases, and said this issue could be linked to issues around the possible evaluation of the risks of such bases within a city environment; and whether such bases have to be rationalised or moved.
Another issue was the need for a report to be given on flying hours. With the budget under pressure and moves being made to assist the Department in procuring money, it was necessary to determine whether the flying hours of leased aircraft have been factored into the report. He recalled that South African troops and equipment sent to Central Africa were transported with leased aircraft. It was therefore, necessary that the impact of such flying hours with leased aircraft was reported. His argument was based on the fact that the amount currently spent on leased aircraft could be accumulated and used to purchase aircrafts for the Department itself, instead of justifying the use of leased aircraft and putting the defence force at risk.

Ms B Dambuza (ANC) also commended the report. She however, expressed uncertainty on the recommendations. She highlighted the recommendation (l) (see page 10 of the attached document), and said that the statement made in that paragraph sounded like an update of the meeting. She requested that the said recommendation should be rephrased.

Mr S Esau (DA) noted a number of figures and typographical errors need to be corrected in the report, he would hand them over to the Secretary.

The report was adopted as amended.

The second report for consideration was that of the PCODMV on Budget Vote 19: DMV Entities: DOD, dated 23 May 2017.

Ms Dambuza said the department highlighted a problem with its Ombuds. She proposed a recommendation to the effect that the Minister should consider the amendment of the Ombuds Act, as this would assist the Department in carrying out its mandate effectively.

The report was adopted.

The third report for consideration was that of the PCODMV on Budget Vote 19: DMV Entities: Castle and Control Board (CCB), Armaments Corporation of South Africa (ARMSCOR) and the Military Ombud, dated 23 May 2017.

Mr Esau noted that a figure should be corrected.

Ms Dambuza said that the report should be page-numbered.

The report was adopted as amended.

The Chairperson handed over the coordination of the meeting to Mr Gamede before taking his leave.

Presentation of DMV and SITA report
Mr Max Ozinsky, Acting Director General (DG) of DMV said that the Department was present at the meeting with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). DMV has been working closely with SITA and has had a number of serious engagements with the Agency. The outcomes of such engagements would be reported. The Department was trying to speed up the implementation of the database and call centre based on the discussions held in previous meetings. The Department was also ensuring that proper governance process was followed and value for money was received from SITA. The Department was hopeful that it would be able to present a report on the progress of the work that has been done within a few months.

Mr Mboneli Ndlangisa, Deputy CEO, SITA made the presentation of DMV and SITA report. He highlighted the presentation layout and noted that SITA was given a deadline of end of April to complete the database but this deadline has not been met. The scope of the report would cover the progress on the migration of the call centre; as well as progress on the modernisation and implementation of the integrated database management system with 11 benefits.

The DMV entered into a service level agreement (SLA) with SITA, which covered a number of areas, including a business process outsourcing (BPO) or call centre. DMV has been dissatisfied with a number of services offered by SITA and one of the primary services was in relation to the call centre, which the Minister had instructed should be moved to the DMV. The Acting DG of DMV has written a letter to the CEO of SITA to say that this issue should be prioritised.
One of the issues with the call centre was the length of time it took to resolve the military veteran issues, which was due to the fact that the call centre was currently being run by SITA employees and not DMV. The previous agreement with SITA was to the effect that DMV would be allowed to handle all call centre-related duties. There was also an issue of integration of SITA systems and call centre with the military veterans.

Some challenges identified with the secured military veterans’ database include unreliability of database information. The database was not secured, and was based on old technology without security. The information of the database is required to be verified by officials. The manual processing of applications also leads to mistakes and fraud.

In terms of progress report on the call centre, it was noted that three proposals were submitted to the Department in April. The first proposal was to move the entire call centre, with the systems and staff to DMV. The cost implication of implementing that proposal was also submitted to the Department. The second proposal was to move the call centre employees only, while leaving the systems and operations to be handled by SITA. The third proposal was to allow the technology and integration to be supported by SITA while the management of the call centre will be handled by DMV. The SITA employees still running the call centre were integrated with DMV staff; and the management of these processes still fell within the department.
The department has opted for the third option, and has requested the Management Committee (MANCO) and Executive Council (EXCO) to approve the implementation of this option. SITA was yet to receive the final approved document from the department but there were indications that the said approval would be given shortly.

A lot of work has been done on the integrated military veterans database. When SITA appeared before the Committee at a previous meeting, its understanding was that the money spent in developing the systems over the years was sourced from SITA, and the resources managed by the Department was provided by SITA. Part of the database was also done by a private company component. A meeting was held with all stakeholders, private companies and SITA to resolve the issues surrounding these systems. Stakeholders were asked to present the work they had done and deliberations were held on the way forward. A cost benefit analysis was also carried out.
A new proposal was developed by SITA and it was to the effect that the work that has been done would be used in redesigning the system to make it simple. The proposed work would commence shortly.

There was also an element of cleaning the database, which referred to the business requirement of standard operation procedures (SOP). The department was working with the Defence Decision Support Institute (DDS) to clean the data, and ensure that the people coordinating the business intelligence behind the database were ideal. The Department was dealing with policy issues, the cleansing gap of the database, and integration of the database. SITA on the other hand, was dealing with the technology issues around the redevelopment of the systems.

The process of development of the database has been divided into phases. The first phase will deal with an online registration with secured database. Part of this has already been developed and presented to the Department. The entire registration process would be completed by end July 2017.
In the second phase, SITA would integrate four benefits with the PERSOL system, which is the online defence integration system. This phase would be completed by the end of September 2017. The Department was currently working on the prioritisation of services.
The third phase would focus on the integration of the remaining benefits. A timeline of end December has been set for the completion of this phase.
There was a need for DMV and SITA to finalise project details and financial implications before the end of May 2017. It has been proposed that the project would commence on 1 June 2017.

In terms of the way forward on the database, a joint steering committee comprising of DMV, SITA and ARMSCOR has been established. Meetings have been held to consider different systems developed by different organisations; and to observe and make recommendations on the systems.
The agency was committed to resolving project issues from both DMV and SITA. A consideration of the actual costing shows that a lot of investment was required for infrastructure. SITA was looking into cost benefit analysis of the platform that would be used for the database. This is to ensure that the database can be accessed online in the first half.
The timeline for the enablement of the DMV ICT infrastructure has been set for end the end of July 2017, if a new server would not be purchased the procurement process would not be long.

Ms Dambuza asked for the current status of the private company that was previously used. She said the issue of the database was very critical. The processes alluded to in the presentation gave a clear direction of what should be done. The Committee expects the highlighted issues to be resolved soon.

Ms N Mnisi (ANC) asked if SITA was adding any value to the speedy finalisation of the database; current status of the DMV database; and what percentage has been verified so far; and the current status of the call centre.

Mr Esau said the first issue to be monitored during data processing was the integrity of the data. Three institutions were working together and it was anticipated that the process would have to take place so that the database can be completed. The integrity, validity and accuracy of data is important and should be taken into consideration in the process undertaken by ARMSCOR, DMV and SITA.

He asked if South African National Military Veterans Association (SANMVA) and its affiliates had come on board and were fully supportive of the integration process and data cleansing of all members registered on the database. He also asked if the appeal board was in position and was fully capacitated to deal with any appeal that arises as a consequence of this process; especially since no report has been submitted by the appeal board to the Minister. SANMVA has partially submitted a report to the Department. The Committee was aware of the issue of lack of capacity of the military ombud to investigate complaints and grievances that had been flagged by members and formers members of SANDF. It was therefore, necessary to know if there would be appeals by that process or enquiries regarding active and retired soldiers.
He asked if the Department was open for Non-Statutory Forces (NSF) litigation and whether any consideration had been given to this option, as it could delay the process; whether other relevant departments that played a role in the verification of data; and the status of foreign members listed on the database.

He noted that the government departments connected to the verification process make use of different criteria, one of which was the qualification for housing for a person earning less than R125 000. He wanted to know how the verification process for the criteria was carried out.
He also noted that there were certain people recognised in rural areas that were not exposed to the happenings within the Department, and the benefits that accrue to military veterans. How effective was the communication strategy, since it has only been set at 50% target for the current year? It was important for the communication strategy to run alongside the systems for better results.

In commenting on the proposed plan to enlist all benefits online by the end of the year, he noted that the transport policy, memorandum of understanding (MOU) and SLA were yet to be finalised. All three spheres of government were affected by transport. The DMV Act and Regulations would also have a further impact on the implementation of the system because there may be a change in criteria and in the capping of certain benefits. He wanted to know when the above-mentioned processes would be finalised and submitted to the Committee for deliberation. A number of factors would impact the implementation of the database as the basis for determining the benefits of each military veteran.
He expressed satisfaction on the progress made in terms of SOP, and the completion of the policy in a not so distant time.

All above mentioned issues comprised of factors that relate to data integrity. These factors were necessary for the implementation and integration of the system. He asked for an explanation on the anticipated integrated system and whether the system was properly coordinated and networked.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) said the presentation by SITA and inputs made by MPs were clear. The only issue of concern was the implementation of the systems. It would be impossible to establish the systems throughout the year or throughout the current period of Parliament. A specific timeframe was needed for finalising the establishment of the system. More information was requested on the timelines for implementation; as well as the plan for implementation.

Mr Mbulelo Musi, Acting DDG: SES and HOC, DMV said the issues relating to database were twofold. One aspect dealt with the actual security and reliability of the systems to make sure they were not corrupted. The second aspect was the enabling factor for ensuring that the first aspect took place; and this referred to system infrastructure. In terms of the processes towards the reliability of the data, two aspects have to be dealt with. The data that was currently imbedded electronically into the system was in respect of 74 000 military veterans. Asides this, a verification process was also in place, focusing on the integration of the  systems. There was another category of systems yet to be integrated and whose files would be opened. SITA was however, comfortable that those in the electronic system were prone to less risks as they have been properly categorised. It was a risky task for SITA to go through files to ensure compliance with the requirements of the database. Challenges were recorded in this process for almost 2 700 files. Though SANMVA have been given the capacity to deal with those challenges, and were expected to complete and report to SITA by end June 2017. A major challenge with the database was the nature of the manual system, which was quite cumbersome. It was even more complicated by the lack of adequate internal capacity. However, SANMVA and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) have assisted in addressing the issue of capacitation; and also ensuring a faster speed in terms of the processes. The two institutions were engaged with on a weekly basis to ensure a submission of the report to SITA.

With regard to the implementation process, it was pointed out that the benefit provisions were uncoordinated. The 11 benefits are currently uncoordinated. Apart from managing the data and the file, SITA was looking into the prioritisation of certain benefits using the phased approach alluded to in the presentation.
The entire process cannot be completed without SITA working with SANMVA. SITA knows and understands the seriousness of the issue of data integrity and this was something that needed to be commended. The agency was engaging constantly with SANMVA. Interactions were also being made with individual military veterans that approached SITA to update and verify their data.

The DG indicated at the last meeting that SITA had a minimised standard operating system, which in the past, was vulnerable to crash and this would result in loss of valuable information or unnecessary delays. An SOP has been developed with tighter security, such that no data could be retrieved without the permission of the Acting DDG. The interaction with the DG highlighted details of the non-statutory forces, which included MK veterans. This process would be completed by the end of the year as long as the Department could solve the problem of data integrity. The process would help SITA in moving towards action. Interactions with SANMVA were ongoing to ensure the speedy implementation of this process.

In terms of qualifications for housing, it was pointed out that a task team comprised of SITA and Department of Human Settlements (DHS) has been established. The task team was supervised at the ministerial level and the level of DGs and DDGs. SITA was rest assured that it would be easy to integrate this issue into the database system. A meeting has been scheduled for Friday for the consolidation of a final project plan. A housing policy already signed by the DG has been obtained and this would make it easier for qualifications to be integrated. SITA was confident that the policy and problematic areas would be resolved shortly.

Mr Bangani Mpangalesane; Government Information Technology Officer (GITO): DMV said the requirement analysis of the database process commenced a long time ago. Some work had been done by different people and were yet to be integrated. The current approach however, was to integrate all works done independently and collectively into one system. A proposal was made for the completion of the manual processes by end July. The implication of this was that changes to policies would be addressed through change management process within the department for the purpose of rectifying the system. It was however, necessary for SITA to begin automation processes in order to eliminate a number of issues within the department.

Mr Musi said that the Department still needed to look all the issues that would affect the provision of benefits. SITA was also interacting with the Department of Home Affairs to ensure that there was cooperation in getting adequate information on verification of data. With regard to communication, it was noted that SITA had revised its communication strategy. Roadshows would be commencing in May and would be led by the DG. A schedule has been drawn up for roadshows in all nine provinces. The first roadshow would hold in Mpumalanga. Invitations would be sent to the Committee. The Department would be adopting the ‘service on wheel’ approach in the roadshows.

In responding to the issue raised on the company that was previously used by the Department, Mr Ozinsky said there were issues with the procurement of the company, which made it difficult for the Department to extend the contract. The department was dealing with those issues. A report would be made to the Committee after the issues have been sorted out.
The department had an MOU with SITA, and there were procedures to be followed in engaging services from SITA. The general approach adopted by the department was to make use of the services offered by SITA, since it was more cost effective to purchase services from the Agency. It was easy for the Department to work with SITA, instead of putting out tenders for services needed.

He confirmed that SITA added value to the process. SITA has been able to provide service advice in terms of what the Department can do and how service could be delivered. Numerous meetings have been held with SITA to deliberate on and resolve issues; and those engagements have been fruitful and helpful to the Department. The Department would give feedback to the Committee after the contract between the two departments have been formalised and the timeframes for implementation has been followed.

The database would be a work in progress over a long period of time. The first part was to put the actual hardware and software solutions in place but the verification of the database would be an ongoing process. The process has commenced but the Department cannot confirm the completion of the process by the end of the year, as it was an ongoing process. The Department would present timeframes for verification after finalising the policy process.
Verifying the integrity of the data was also an ongoing process.

It was noted that SANMVA was on board. The Department has met with SAMVA a number of times and has explained the process. Once a more clearly defined solution was identified, the Department would go back to SAMVA. SANMVA plays a key role, as part of the providing supporting document required for data verification especially since the database was sourced from the former armed force association.

The appeal board was functioning and was capacitated. However, the Department was busy with a process to create a secretarial capacity for the appeal board, advisory council and SANMVA, which would be a shared secretarial capacity in the Department. The officials would deal specifically with provision of support to the aforementioned bodies.

The department had an MOU with the military ombud but no case from the department has been dealt with by the Ombud. An engagement would be held with the ombud and all other bodies after the procedures have been finalised.

In terms of litigation and the attendant risks, it was noted that DMV had a case in court on the qualification of a person to be on the database. The case was still ongoing and has been postponed for the Department to provide more information. Mr Ozinsky suspected that other cases might be raised against the Department. However, the Department hoped that people would make use of the conflict resolution processes as a first option rather than going straight to court. Having the SOP and the policy would strengthen the arm of the department in dealing with cases.

It was also pointed out that the Act was clear on the need for an individual to be a South African citizen in order to be qualified to be on the database. This would be an issue to be crosschecked during the verification of the database. There might be situations where veterans who participated in the South African struggle might not be South African citizens or they may be holders of dual citizenship. This issue would be looked into by the Department.

In terms of the relationship with other departments, it was noted that a letter was sent from South African Revenue Service (SARS) to the Department on how the two departments could engage. The letter would be processed. The Department would need to seek permission from individuals who apply, so that it could access such individuals’ data from SARS. This process would also be finalised.

With regard to the benefit system, it was pointed out that the database would be at the core of a benefit management system. Applications for benefits would be done electronically through the database. The officials in charge of benefit approval would also be able to view the data for those applications electronically, check whether the applicants were on the electronic database, and grant approvals also through the electronic system.

The Department was working on the policies and was hopeful that a report would be submitted soon to the Committee on the transport policy.
In terms of the Act, it was noted that a draft Bill to amend the Act was available. The said Bill has been submitted to the executive authority for consideration, after which it would go through the governance process – Cabinet, Committee and for public participation. The Department however, needs to ensure that the draft that was prepared is what would be sent to the Committee.

In terms of the plans for implementation, the presentation already highlighted the proposed phases of implementation to which the department was committed.

Mr Ndlangisa said that simple approach to the benefit within the database was similar to the online banking system where a military veteran can view all benefits applied for on a system, as well as the status of those applications. The application would be on the military veterans’ website. The Department would also have a system with which it can determine if an applicant qualified for the benefit applied for.
He proposed that the department present a demo on how the system works at a later engagement with the Committee.

Mr Esau asked for the percentage of verified database from the manual inputs; and if the manual processes would be re-subjected to the entire system and processed again.

Mr Gamede said that the Committee held a strong view that the verification process for the database could be concluded in two ways. The first option was to reclassify or categorise because there are veterans that come from NSF and this group did not grow. The option of the Department could be to reclassify this group and deal with that and that can be closed. Then there are those that come in now and then because they were in the force. The Committee was of the view that the verification for the NSF could be closed. The verification for other veterans that were more frequent because of their involvement in the force may not be closed or could become complex and difficult.
He repeated the question raised by Ms Dambuza on the status of the company or service provider previously employed by the department. The Committee should be provided with detailed information about the service provider that was utilised by the Department previously in terms of its role would be different from the one that was being done by SITA.

Mr Musi replied that the categorisation of the military veterans was almost completed. The only complication was the fact that this process also requires the cooperation of associations like SANMVA. The issue of categorisation would require the Department to firstly deal with the issue of data integrity and this was the most important matter for the Department at the moment.

Mr Ozinsky noted that there was no contract with the previous service provider at the moment. Although some work was done by that service provider, but the contract was over and the Department no longer had a relationship with the service provider.

The point made on the issue of closing applications, especially for the non-statutory forces, was taken. It was important for the Department to consider the implications of the issue. There were a number of genuine military veterans who did not register in 1994 and were still not registered. It seemed those veterans did not feel that they would need the benefits and therefore, did not register. However, circumstances change and they sometimes come back to the Department to request such benefits. On the other hand, quite a number of applications have emerged from the non-statutory forces to the Department, and these applications required serious verifications to be carried out on them. The department would look into categorisation of the two forms of application and deal with verification processes.

Mr Esau asked if contingencies were built into the deadlines set for the implementation phases, and if the department was certain that the project would be completed by the end of December.

Mr Ozinsky replied that the department was certain about the deadline. However, the issue raised by Mr Esau was currently being considered before the final approval of the project. An audit committee meeting was held in the previous week and it was agreed that proposals would be submitted to the Committee for advice. This issue was raised at the meeting. The Department was therefore, considering the risks and would draw up a proper plan in that regard.

Mr Ozinsky informed the Committee of Mr Ndlangisa’s plans to leave SITA at the end of the month. The current meeting was therefore the last meeting he would be attending with the Department and before the Committee. He appreciated the efforts, contribution, commitment, and support of Mr Ndlangisa to the project. Mr Ndlangisa has been an important resource for DMV and SITA; and he would be missed in the continuation of the process.

Mr Gamede appreciated the information and extended the well wishes of the Committee to Mr Ndlangisa.

The meeting was adjourned.


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