The Department of Defence briefed the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on its performance for the 2017/18 financial year; and the South African national Defence Force (SANDF) briefed the Committee about the recommendations of the Interim Defence Force Service Commission.
The Department reported it has approved increased access to healthcare services through the South African Military Health Services (SAMHS) to 16 673 military veterans. Challenges were being experienced in the level of services provided by SAMHS, transporting of military veterans, provision of medication, delays in invoicing and provision of accurate invoicing. In 2017/18, 2 832 military veterans and their dependants were provided with Social Relief of Distress (SRD) to mitigate their suffering. The implementation of the assistance had problems due to policy guidelines which state that military veterans must be assessed by a social worker before receiving the assistance for a period of12 months. Military veterans receiving SRD were encouraged to access skills development support to create sustainable solution to their status.
The Department also stated the Department would launch a Service Delivery Model which would include service centres in all provinces. The service centres would bring the delivery of benefits closer to military veterans. This would be strengthened by stronger intergovernmental relations where other organs of state have pledged to serve military veterans in their respective jurisdictions. The Department would increase its engagements with its key stakeholders. This year the Department would prepare for an elective conference of SANMVA.
The DMV has signed a protocol agreement with the Eastern Cape provincial government. A provincial roadshow cemented this agreement in February 2018. It also engaged Mpumalanga, Gauteng and North West Provincial governments to enter into written agreements to create alternative service delivery models to strengthen service delivery to military veterans. Provincial and local governments that have allocated and provided support to the military veterans and their businesses were commended. The reason why focus was on Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape it’s because these provinces have got the largest number of military veterans.
The Committee also received a briefing on the recommendations of the Interim Defence Service Commission. In terms of the budget allocation and composition, the Interim Commission noted that the defence budget allocation is currently inadequate for the task. In addition, there are severe imbalances between the funding of operations, training, personnel, material acquisition and maintenance and base structures. Further, the Interim Commission noted that the balance of funding between the various Arms of Service may well need to be reviewed. The situation has not improved due to budget cuts. This was also expressed in the 2018 Budget Vote Speech. The Interim Commission recommended that a much improved iterative budgeting process be developed for defence. This would involve a constant methodical engagement amongst the Military Command, the Defence Secretariat, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, National Treasury, Cabinet and the parliamentary committees. Further, the Interim Commission recommended that within the constraints of the world and South African economies, the defence budget be increased to a level which is approximately 2% of the Gross Domestic Product, noting this has become a world norm for developing countries in peace time. This would require a substantial increase in the defence budget.
Concerning the state of defence infrastructure, the Interim Commission recommended that the inter-departmental process at ministerial level, which has been started, be expedited with a view to rapidly improve the situation. The Interim Commission also recommended that serious consideration be given by ministers to transferring the ownership, custody and repair of defence property completely from the Department of Public Works to the DOD. The Interim Commission further recommended that the new DOD Works Regiment be expeditiously expanded and properly funded.
A well-maintained transport fleet is an essential prerequisite for the effective, efficient and productive execution of the SANDF’s mission, whilst also serving to enhance morale and dignity. The transport needs of mature professional soldiers and their families, often living off base, are substantially different from the transport needs of a conscript force normally comprised of teenagers living on the base. Much of the current infrastructure was developed at a time when South Africa had a conscript force. The present transport arrangements for the SANDF simply do not meet the present and future requirements.
Members asked if the Department thought the military veterans were dignified and self sufficient because there was no uniformity in terms of benefits regarding non-statutory forces. Members wanted to know why other provinces did not have military hospitals while the other three provinces had military hospitals; wanted to understand why the organisational structure was not reviewed because the structure that was presented in the Committee was developed in 2010; asked if the Department was getting support from the Department of Public Works regarding the erection of the new building; wanted to find out about progress in terms of opportunities given to women; and wanted to understand why the turnaround strategy was not implemented because a number of negative things have come to the fore.
Major-General Michael Ramantswana, Chief: Military Policy, Strategy and Planning: SANDF, briefed the Committee about the recommendations of the Interim Defence Force Service Commission. On the relationship between the Military Command and the Defence Secretariat, the Interim Commission noted that the delicate balance between civil oversight and military command was so important that a process needed to be established to determine how this balance was to be achieved in South Africa. It was recommended that the Minister Defence Secretariat and SANDF find ways to produce a definitive statement on civil-military relations in SA.
On the disempowerment of Officers Commanding, The Interim Commission recommended that the current process within SANDF in empowering Officers Commanding with appropriate delegations be expedited. Further it was recommended that the Public Funds Bill and the Military Discipline Bill, once enacted, be rapidly expedited. The Military Discipline Bill has served in Cabinet recently where certain concerns were raised. It was expected that it would be served again in Cabinet in August 2018. The Interim Commission recommended that the Military Command vigorously ensured that all SANDF members do what was required to maintain a properly disciplined force. This also involved ensuring that communication in both directions seriously improved.
In terms of the budget allocation and composition, the Interim Commission noted that the defence budget allocation is currently inadequate for the task. In addition, there are severe imbalances between the funding of operations, training, personnel, material acquisition and maintenance and base structures. Further, the Interim Commission noted that the balance of funding between the various Arms of Service may well need to be reviewed. The situation has not improved due to budget cuts. This was also expressed in the 2018 Budget Vote Speech. The Interim Commission recommended that a much improved iterative budgeting process be developed for defence. This would involve a constant methodical engagement amongst the Military Command, the Defence Secretariat, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, National Treasury, Cabinet and the parliamentary committees. Further, the Interim Commission recommended that within the constraints of the world and South African economies, the defence budget be increased to a level which is approximately 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), noting this has become a world norm for developing countries in peace time. This would require a substantial increase in the defence budget.
On the state of defense infrastructure, the Interim Commission recommended that the inter-departmental process at ministerial level, which has been started, be expedited with a view to rapidly improve the situation. The Interim Commission also recommended that serious consideration be given by Ministers to transferring the ownership, custody and repair of defence property completely from the Department of Public Works (DPW) to DOD. The Interim Commission further recommended that the new DOD Works Regiment be expeditiously expanded and properly funded.
With regard to professional health support, the Interim Commission noted that the military health capacity has a dual function, firstly, of supporting the soldiers and their families in order that the national goals of defence could be achieved, and, secondly, be a backstop to the national health system in times of trial. This implied that its quality must be of the highest; it cannot be second rate. The Interim Commission further noted that the current health provision in the Defence Force was deeply compromised despite the valiant efforts of those involved. A major cause of the present unsatisfactory situation was insufficient funding. The Interim Commission, therefore, recommended that a substantial review of the budgetary requirements of the SAMHS be undertaken at once with a view of improving the funding. One of the recommendations was to audit all the files of members who are remunerated in terms of Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD). The audit has had desired results and SAMHS was in the position to retain health professionals who previously left the DOD as a result of the incorrect application of the OSD or non-awarding of grade progression since July 2007.
The Interim Commission noted that a well-maintained transport fleet was an essential prerequisite for the effective, efficient and productive execution of the SANDF’s mission whilst also serving to enhance morale and dignity. The transport needs of mature professional soldiers and their families, often living off base, are substantially different from the transport needs of a conscript force normally comprised of teenagers living in the base. Much of the current infrastructure was developed at a time when South Africa had a conscript force. The present transport arrangements for the SANDF simply did not meet the present and future requirements. The Interim Commission recommended that a radical audit be undertaken by the SANDF of the transport needs of its members and that a completely new system be put in place to ensure that the nation’s soldiers have a 21st century transport system that enabled them to live and work properly. The Interim Commission also recommended that SANDF carefully examined the potential for using external public and private sector transport systems which would involve free or subsidised use by the soldiers and their families.
Pertaining to career management, the Interim Commission noted that the current career management system in the SANDF was both dysfunctional and impractical. It was not achieving the goals of the SANDF nor has it any respect amongst the soldiers. The Interim Commission recommended that a total revamping of career management policies and practices be carried out immediately. An effective career management system has to be systematic and have a methodical system of education, training and development for all levels. The SANDF has policies in place with regard to ETD. Career paths for the different rank groups and functional environments have been developed that prescribe the required ETD for members. Career management in the SANDF has improved by considering and accommodating members’ aspirations as far as possible. At the officer level, in order to retain world class capacity, the Interim Commission strongly recommended that programmes of exchange with other countries be intensified as part of a deliberate plan for leadership development and to resolve existing legacy challenges. At the technical level, much articulation should be explored between the requirements of the SANDF and the offerings of our tertiary educational institutions and leading edge research applications. Cuba and Russia are the most prominent examples and about 200 students are currently undergoing training in Cuba. There are formal relations with institutions such as the Universities of Stellenbosch and Johannesburg. Relations with research institutions such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) existed.
The Interim Commission noted that all good defence forces are used as development agencies in order to uplift, educate and train members of society who, very often, otherwise would not be enabled to contribute fully to society. In South Africa there was a massive need for leadership and the development of youth. Not all of this can be achieved by tertiary education because it was inevitable in a developing country that only a small proportion of the youth would be able to attend universities or colleges. It was the duty of the SANDF to play a significant role in the development of youth, especially those who do not get to university in the conventional way. The Military Skills Development System (MSDS) remained the primary system to rejuvenate the SANDF, and other programmes are aimed at youth upliftment. The Interim Commission recommended that the SANDF reviewed the MSDS in order to make a distinction between youth upliftment programmes and career soldiering. It may be that separate systems may be required, one of which feeds new members into the SANDF and the other achieved the goals of youth upliftment.
The Interim Commission recommended that the SANDF conduct a systematic audit of its transformation achievements, in particularly with regard to the match between the force and the demographic characteristics of the country. Recruitment policies are directed to achieve transformation targets and equity. Audits have been done and regular feedback was given to Parliament. The Interim Commission further recommended that the relevant parts of the legacy decisions with regard to ranking and utilisation be reviewed by the SANDF. This is currently being addressed through Career Management and the Grievance System.
The Interim Commission further noted that the current system of promotion and utilisation of members was dysfunctional and lacks respect by a large number of SANDF members. Not everybody could be promoted, but a transparent and fair system of promotion and utilisation together with a proper exit mechanism into jobs in the rest of the public service or the private sector would go a long way towards mitigating dissatisfaction. Guidelines were promulgated and implemented on an annual basis. Members’ career questionnaires and interviews formed the basis for consideration of utilisation and promotion. It was recommended that the SANDF review its whole system of promotion and utilisation in order to develop radical, effective measures to achieve a fair, transparent and efficient method of using the services of all its members optimally, and of ensuring that those who leave the service are properly trained and counselled in order to get rewarding jobs in society. DOD provided re-skilling to exiting members and members have the choice on what skills they want to obtain.
It was requested by the Minister to give urgent attention to the question of whether injustices or error still remained with regard to the rank audit done at the time of integration. Due to the size and complexity of the task, the Interim Commission has been unable to finalise the whole matter and recommended that the outstanding matters be transferred to the proposed National Defence Force Service Commission for further attention. However, the Interim Commission noted that it was able to finalise questions relating to the rank audit of demilitarised finance functionaries and that it has proposed a detailed way forward which was currently in the hands of the Defence Secretariat. After a very lengthy process via DPSA as employer of the demilitarised finance officials to re-instate their pension benefits they enjoyed as military members this was finally ratified in the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council on 28 February 2018. The Principal Executive Officer was informed in March 2018 that DOD has adhered to all the requirements to re-instate the pension benefits and administrative processes would follow.
In terms of the total wellness of the DOD, the Interim Commission noted that if the Department of Defence, and in particular SANDF are to be looked at as an organisation, because its overall wellness leaves much to be desired despite the sterling efforts and positive attitudes to be found in the vast majority of employees. The Interim Commission noted that notwithstanding the many drivers of low morale which have been observed in the current report, it remained a fact that despite everything, soldiers and their civilian counterparts continue to perform remarkably. An interim instruction was developed and approved by the Defence Secretariat and SANDF (Interim Instruction 70/2016: Employee Health and Wellness for officials of DOD dated 31 August 2016. The intent was to ensure that officials in the DOD and their immediate families’ needs are taken care of and to participate in health and wellness programmes. The Interim Commission recommended that the SANDF leadership undertook a programme to improve the resilience and social, emotional and spiritual wellness of all the employees in the Department. The Resilience Programme has delivered the results. Over the past three years huge numbers of interventions have taken place reaching members and their dependants.
Mr D Gamede (ANC) asked if the Department thought the military veterans were dignified and self sufficient because there was no uniformity in terms of benefits regarding non-statutory forces. He also wanted to know why other provinces did not have military hospitals while the other three provinces had military hospitals.
Mr Ozinsky said the general conception was that the focus of the Department should be on the non-statutory forces. Unfortunately, the definition of that was not covered in the Act. For example, within the statutory forces there were whites who were conscripted into the SADF. In terms of the current definition, they are registered as military veterans. Former SANDF and MSD members who have been defined as military veterans have applied to be included in the benefits, but many have been rejected and had taken the Department to the Public Protector. For example, some have served for only 2 years, but were applying for life benefits. He also noted that the reservists continued to serve in the army though they come and go, but the legal opinion said they were not considered military veterans. He said they have not been able to submit the draft Bill on this matter up until political and legal matters were attended to. Regarding hospitals, he stated they have engaged with provincial departments, but the speed with which this was moving was very slow.
Ms L Dlamini (ANC), first, wanted to understand why the organisational structure was not reviewed because the structure that was presented in the Committee was developed in 2010. Second, she wanted to establish if the Department has achieved on what it planned for because there is an increase in its expenditure. Third, she asked if the Department was getting support from DPW regarding the erection of the new building. Lastly, she wanted to find out about progress in terms of opportunities given to women.
Mr Ozinsky explained there was little that officials could do to ask for more money from Treasury. There were also other external bodies like SANMVA and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence that may interfere. There were issues of financial compliance within the Department. He said it must be understood they have moved from non-compliance and now there was a need for consequence management for non-compliance. The Department was of the view that officials should be given space to implement policies without interference from the Department. Officials believed in compliance, but there were situations where military veterans wanted to interfere. The whole thing required political intervention. There were certain interventions that officials could take in terms of the Act, but that puts the department in close conflict with other stakeholders. He said most of the concerns that Ms Dlamini raised were around these problems. Progress has been made but it was not enough. He further stated they have made a detailed presentation on TSI to the Committee though they have not met the time frames, but the outlines have been made. The Department has been looking at the implementation of the structure. Regarding the new building, he stated the problem was with Public Works and, unfortunately, the DOD has to go through Public Works. The request was made five years ago. The reports that have been received from Public Works are bad. The same applies with regard to the request for a building for the head office. They do not know what the outcome would be. Whether they buy or rent it did not matter to him, but what was important is to get an office immediately. On the issue of women, he said three deputy director-generals were women and there is one who is an acting deputy director-general. At Exco the Department needed only one or two females while at senior management level there is 34% of women and some of them were military veterans.
Mr S Esau (DA) remarked that money allocated to the education programme constituted a third of the budget. The gap was big between private and public schools. Private colleges are very expensive. The matter needed to be addressed. He further indicated there was under-performance in the housing programme. Alternatives should be in place so that military veterans could start building their own houses and not rely on the housing scheme that forced them to relocate to other areas where houses for them were being built. He commented that numbers for the beneficiaries of military veterans were growing. Many military veterans who were still in the system have got their children as beneficiaries whereas those who were in the non-statutory forces were not benefiting from the system.
Mr Ozinsky pointed out they have taken a decision to fund public education. Most military veterans want to take their children to private education because they felt it was better. Some of them have taken their kids already to private schools before funding could take place, even though the policy has not yet been finalised. Regarding housing, he stated that money was allocated through fiscus dumping. The process was stopped. In some provinces that money went back to National Treasury because they could not use it, except Mpumalanga. In Gauteng, some houses were built, but were illegally occupied by other people. This was largely a political problem. More resources were needed for military veterans to build their own houses but the process was complex. He said there was a housing cooperative in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality but in-fighting started to happen and the project never materialised. This also showed as the Department they do not have good project management capacity internally.
The Co-Chairperson wanted to understand why the turnaround strategy was not implemented because a number of negative things have come to the fore. Everything seemed to have gone down the drain.
Mr Ozinsky indicated the turnaround strategy implemented by the Minister in 2015 showed the appreciation of trying to solve the problems of the Department. Resources were not structured to meet the demands. He said some issues required political interventions while others needed ministerial interventions. Systems in place within the Department did not meet what was required. That has created a problem. Change management was difficult in most situations. In any situation you feel the issues are entrenched and change management is going to cause discomfort. Even change management was resisted by external stakeholders, not from within only.
Due to time constraints the Chairperson asked Members to submit their questions in writing to the Defence Force Service Commission.
The meeting was adjourned.
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