Department of Defence Equal Opportunities Directorate; Public Protector on Appointment of a Military Ombuds: briefings

Defence

26 August 2003
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Meeting report

DEFENCE JOINT COMMITTEE

DEFENCE JOINT COMMITTEE
27 August 2003
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES DIRECTORATE; PUBLIC PROTECTOR ON THE APPOINTMENT OF A MILITARY OMBUDS: BRIEFINGS

Acting Chairperson:
Mr Dlali

Documents handed out:
Department of Defence (DOD) presentation on Equal Opportunities Chief Directorate
Briefing on Military Ombudsman by the Public Protector

SUMMARY
The Equal Opportunities Chief Directorate briefed the committee on its mandate and programmes that facilitate the implementation of Equal Opportunities and Affirmative Action policies. The briefing catalogued its successes and how inroads for change had been made within the SANDF.

The Public Protector briefed the Committee on his views on the position of Military Ombuds and whether it should function from within the Office of the Public Protector. This position has recently functioned from within the Office of the Public Protector. However the previous ombuds had close ties with the Department. The Minister did not want this mistake to be repeated. Much discussion ensued and the matter remained unresolved.

MINUTES
Equal Opportunites Chief Directorate (EOCD)
The presentation was made Major General P Mdluli Sedibe, Chief Director of Equal Opportunities. Brigadier General J. Lizamore, Brigadier General A. Somdaka, General Matanzima and Chaplain General Gqiba were some of the other senior directors who made up the delegation.

Major General Sedibe presented the committee with a comprehensive overview of the Equal Opportunities Chief Directorate and the impact it has thus far made on the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). She touched on its structure, its vision, mission and mandate.
Much of the presentation covered the successes of the EOCD. Major General Sedibe was especially proud of the Equal Opportunity Policies that had been formulated and instituted by the Directorate. Some of the policies include the annual review of Equal Opportunity (EO) and Affirmative Action (AA) policies, the prevention and elimination of unfair discrimination against disabled persons, revised policies on sexual harassment and pregnancy. The committee was impressed by the fact that the Directorate annually conducted a survey in order to gauge how much change has taken place within the Defence Force. Major General Sedibe provided the committee with some statistical data on the outcome of the latest survey.

The Committee was also informed of certain limitations that hampered the EOCD in the performance of its core functions. The most notable constraint being the lack of finances. Major General Sedibe noted that the Directorate was well aware of the challenges that lay ahead. Development and the empowernment of women in the SANDF being amongst those that were currently being dealt with.

The presentation was concluded on the note that there needs to be commitment by the leadership and management of the SANDF to implement EO and AA policies at all levels.

For a detailed look at the presentation, please refer to the attached document.

Discussion:
Mr K Morwamorche ( ANC) asked the following questions:
- What policy was in place to deal with the problem of a senior officer having an affair with a junior officer?
- What criteria were used in implementing AA policies?
- What criteria were used in the appointment of chaplains?

Major General Sedibe responded as follows:
- The issue of relationships between senior officers and lower ranked personnel has yet to become a problem in the SANDF. She did however concede that it could lead to problems.
- Major General Sedibe noted that the criteria used in applying AA policies were previously disadvantaged designated groups ie blacks, coloureds, Indians, women and disabled persons.
- Chaplain General Gqiba noted that one chaplain was appointed for every 500 soldiers. A chaplain was normally appointed based on the denomination that comprised the largest number in a unit. However true this may be, the chaplain has a duty to administer across various denominations.

Mr R Jankielsohn (DA) asked for an outline of the Directorate's budget. He also asked whether geographical factors were taken into consideration in applying AA policies. The question was posed as it is often the case that service members in the navy live near to their naval bases.

Major General Sedibe responded that it was difficult to place an exact figure on the budgeted expenditure of the Directorate. She was prepared to say that the single greatest expense was salaries.

She said that it was a fact that some racial groups tend to dominate certain geographical areas. She however noted that one needs to look at the broader picture of representativity. The aim was to get all members of the SANDF involved in decision-making processes. Chaplain General Gqiba commented that many sea-faring coastally located communities who are in the navy often oppose re-deployment to other areas. From a military perspective, he felt that this to be very unacceptable.

Mr Blaas (NNP) said that it was evident from the survey done by the Directorate that the old SADF members felt that the Department of Defence does not offer equal opportunities to everyone. He asked whether the survey included new SANDF members or was it restricted to the older members.

Brigadier General Lizamore explained that the survey was conducted across the board. It included old and new members.

Ms P Daniels (ANC) asked whether there was a substantial decrease in racism in the SANDF.
She also asked what was being done to alleviate problems relating to language barriers.

Brigadier General Lizamore noted that since 1998, racism has decreased by up to five percent.
Major General Sedibe responded that key documents such as the Defence Act have already been translated into Zulu. She made the point that it would not be practically possible for various languages to be used in the SANDF as it could lead to confusion, which in the end could have disastrous effects.

Mr Jankielsohn asked how the Department envisaged solving the problem of the negative perceptions on affirmative action that was held by the old SADF members. Some of the older white members of the SANDF feel threatened by Affirmative Action programmes.

General Matanzima pointed out that the problem was evident especially amongst the ranks of brigadiers up until majors. It was therefore a problem predominantly at middle management level.
Major General Sedibe reiterated her point of representativity in the SANDF and an Affirmative Action policy is one way of achieving it.

Appointment of a Military Ombudsman
The Public Protector, Mr Lawrence Mushwana, asked for guidance on exactly what the Committee wanted him to address. He noted that he had prepared a synopsis of the types of military cases that were referred to the Office of the Public Protector.

Mr Motumi, Chief director: Policy and Planning from the Department, gave some background to this matter. He explained that the Department had intensely deliberated the issue and agreement had been reached that the position of a military ombudsman would be a high ranking one (for example, deputy director general) and that it would be situated within the Office of the Public Protector. Advocate D Scroobe was subsequently appointed as the Military Ombudsman operating from within the Office of the Public Protector. Mr Motumi noted that the issue has once again arisen due to the resignation of Adv Scroobe. He emphasized that the Department fully supports the appointment of a Military Ombudsman.

Mr Mushwana commented that the Department's input had shed light on what was required in his briefing. He informed the Committee that the post for a Military Ombudsman had been publicly advertised. Interviews had been held and a possible candidate was being considered. He referred to his written briefing which outlined the type of complaints received which ranged from unfair military court decisions to delays in pension payouts (see document).

Mr Mushwana felt that a Military Ombuds would not be the quick fix that it was expected to be. He noted that it was the policies of the military that were outdated and inflexible. Despite this, he did not have any objection to the appointment of a military ombuds.


Mr Mushwana was however concerned that the appointment of an ombudsman in the military would spark off appointments in every government department. This was the very scenario playing itself out in Great Britain. British government departments are now backtracking as the departmental appointments of an ombuds had become superfluous.

Discussion
Mr Morwamoche asked the following questions:
- What criteria if any had been used in advertising the post of the Military Ombudsman?
- Were there processes within the military that allowed its members to lodge complaints given the constraints of rank and protocol?
- Does the Office of the Public Protector represent persons suing the SANDF?

Mr Mushwana responded as follows:
- The Military Ombudsman has to have a law degree and knowledge of the inner workings of the military. The potential candidate for the position has a masters in law and has six years experience as a legal advisor in the military.
- The question remained unanswered.
- The Office of the Public Protector does not provide legal representation but that it investigates maladministration.

Ms Daniels observed that the Military Ombuds needed to have access to information in the SANDF in order to perform the mandate of the position.

Mr Dlali said that the Committee supports the idea of a Military Ombuds but only if the person is totally independent and knowledgeable about military matters. The Office of the Military Ombuds should preferably not be linked with that of the Public Protector.

Mr Mushwana commented that the issue of where the Office of the Military Ombuds should be located is indeed a serious one. It cannot be located within the Department as the person will lose all sense of impartiality. The previous ombuds had close ties with the Department. Mr Mushwana said that the Minister did not want this mistake to be repeated.

Mr Motumi commented that Adv Scroobe had expeditiously handled the complaints referred to him as Military Ombuds. He added that it might have been the impression that he was in cahoots with the Department but this was in fact not the case.

Mr Jankielsohn felt that if indeed a Military Ombuds were to be appointed, this information should be communicated to SANDF members. This will enable them to direct their complaints to the proper person.

Mr Dlali said that the issue was a complex one and that it would not be resolved in the present meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

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