Members were briefed on the activities undertaken by the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) during the 5th Parliament, and were given an analysis of the defence sector. Following the presentations, there were few questions from Members, and discussion was largely given over to the scheduling of future JSCD meetings and on its upcoming oversight visit to the Cape Flats.
The Committee was told that various factors had led to a lack of JSCD meetings during the past five years, such the lack of a mandate, meeting quorum requirements, the number of Members, meeting days, times and venues. Transformation of the SANDF had been a major focus, particularly in relation to gender, ethnicity and so forth. There had been discussion regarding deployment of the military to the Cape Flats, and about issues relating to military veterans. The JSCD was working towards finalising draft benefit regulations for these veterans.
It was recommended that a space be found at the start of the 6th Parliament to compile a five-year strategic plan and an annual performance plan (APP), and thereafter to schedule a strategic workshop to be held at the start of every year of the 6th Parliament, with both being reviewed annually.
The Department of Defence (DoD) budget allocation for 2019/20 was R50.513 billion, but a key concern was the continued real reduction in budget allocation. Personnel costs ought to be aligned to the international best practice of 40% of the defence budget, but in 2017/18, 55.9% of total expenditure had been spent on personnel, and this would increase to 58% in 2019/20 and 63% in 2021/22. There were also issues with ageing personnel -- the average age of the lowest ranking personnel was 30 to 32. There were ongoing issues with ageing equipment, particularly in the case of SA army vehicles -- it was using vehicles built in the 1980s. Oryx helicopters were the backbone of the SA air force, but they were ageing and needed to be replaced.
There were issues with the housing of military veterans. The Department of Military Veterans (DMV) had built only 270 out of 1 000 planned houses in 2017/18. SA did not help Armscor and the declining national defence industry with its lack of defence spending, which had resulted in limited local procurement, an exit of skills and loss of employment. The Armscor dockyard in Simonstown needed to be maintained, as it was essential for SA’s naval capabilities.
It was suggested that the role of the JSCD needed to be clarified. Was its task to investigate and make recommendations, or to conduct oversight? If the mandate was to investigate, it must have the investigative capacity, and if it had to investigate an issue and then make recommendations, it must then ensure follow-ups. Members also debated what would be the most suitable day for meetings, as this had been an inhibiting factor for meetings in the past.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng suggested that the JSCD look at outstanding issues carried over from the 5th Parliament. Issues that had been left hanging needed to be addressed by the new Parliament. He wanted to ensure that the Committee sat regularly and was effective.
Mr Peter Daniels, Content Advisor: Portfolio Committee on Defence and the JSCD, said the presentation concerned the undertakings of the Committee during the 5th Parliament. He had just had a strategic planning session, which had gone very well. The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) ought to have reported to the Committee today, but this had been delayed until September.
Concerning special initiatives taken by the JSCD in the 5th Parliament, in 2015, there had been no strategic planning session and no oversight visits or study tours. In 2016, there had been no oversight visits or study tours. In 2017, there had been one oversight visit to the 9th SA Infantry division, which was notable for having had some arms stolen from it. In 2018, there had been an oversight visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo to ascertain the conditions of soldiers deployed there.
Internal matters had led to a lack of JSCD meetings in the 5th Parliament. Influencing factors included the lack of a mandate, meeting quorum requirements, the number of members, meeting days, times and venues. Transformation of the SANDF had been discussed, particularly in relation to gender, ethnicity and so forth. There had been discussion about letters from the President concerning the deployment of the military on the Cape Flats. There had also been discussion about issues relating to military veterans. The JSCD was working towards finalising the draft benefit regulations for these veterans.
There had been ongoing issues with funding. The JSCD needed to examine the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) funding options to ensure the primary task was not compromised and ordered commitments were maintained. Little progress had been made in implementing Defence Review funding options. Both the National Treasury and the DoD had been invited on several occasions to present to the JSCD on funding options. Several of the meetings had been cancelled by the Department, despite the urgency of the matter. Several oversight visits had been suggested, such as to Vietnam on the grounds of their reputation for their treatment of military veterans, and to Cuba for their expertise in maintaining and repairing existing military equipment. The Department of Military Veterans would soon come to the Committee to sanction the review of the military benefit regulations. There also needdc to be an examination of the database to determine and verify which military veterans -- and their dependents -- were entitled to benefits.
Key challenges emerging included the cancellation of meetings of the JSCD, for various reasons. There were also frequent cancellations of strategic workshops. A had been a serious dearth of oversight visits.
Some areas for improvement were highlighted. It was recommended that a space be found at the start of the 6th Parliament to compile a five-year strategic plan (2020-2025) and annual performance plan (APP), and thereafter to schedule a strategic workshop to be held at the start of every year of the 6th Parliament. An annual review of the five-year strategic plan and the draft APP should be conducted as well. It was also suggested that Members and speakers of the Committee be better prepared at meetings.
The Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng thanked the speakers for being so concise and for focusing on the most salient issues. He insisted that Members should get a document that highlighted the most important issues.
Mr Daniels suggested that the presentation for sector analysis be given, on the grounds of how inter-related its issues were.
Defence sector commitments
Dr Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, Researcher: Portfolio Committee (PC) on Defence and the JSCD, presented an overview of the Government’s defence sector commitments. The defence oversight structures were the PC on Defence and Military Veterans, the Select Committee (SC) on Security and Justice, and the JSCD. These structures oversee a number of departments. Information of individual organisational roles could be requested.
The DoD budget allocation for 2019/20 was R50.513 billion, or 0.93% of gross domestic product (GDP). The key concern was the continued real reduction in the budget allocation. There had been a yearly documented regression over the course of the 5th Parliament. The personnel costs ought to be aligned to the international best practice of 40% being allocated for personnel. However, in 2017/18, 55.9% of total expenditure was spent on personnel. This would increase to 58% in 2019/20 and 63% in 2012/22.
There were also issues with ageing personnel. The average age of the lowest ranking personnel was 30-32 years. There were deployment matters, including a lack of reimbursement from the United Nations (UN) for troops deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). More personnel were needed for border safeguarding. There were ongoing issues with ageing equipment, particularly in the case of SA army vehicles. The army was using vehicles built in the 1980s. There was a need to develop a strategic airlift strategy. as the army lacked lines between SA and troops deployed outside the country. SA’s Oryx helicopters were the backbone of the SA air force, but they were ageing and needed to be replaced.
There were issues with the housing of military veterans. The Department of Military Veterans (DMV) had built only 270 out of 1 000 planned houses in 2017/18. A skills audit suggested that the DMV needed to be properly staffed with skilled personnel to address this inefficiency.
SA did not help ARMSCOR and the declining national defence industry with its lack of defence spending. The limited defence allocation resulted in limited local procurement, an exit of skills and a loss of employment. The ARMSCOR dockyard in Simonstown needed to be maintained, as it was essential for SA’s naval capabilities. The Castle Control Board was self-sustaining, but would shortly deplete its surplus.
Members were reminded that the DoD constitution stipulates that “the Committee shall be competent to investigate and make recommendations regarding the budget, functioning, organisation, armaments, policy, moral and state of preparedness of the National Defence Force, and to perform such other functions in relation to Parliamentary supervision of the Force as may be prescribed by law.” There were ongoing issues with all these aspects of the DoD. A leaflet had been distributed that included a list of documents compiled over the past seven years that were recommended reading for Members. Members were encouraged to request and read the documents from this list in order to come to a better understanding of the current issues in the sector.
Mr Gxoyiya (ANC, Northern Cape), recommended that the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and the National Assembly moved to try to be on a par and equally informed prior to their meetings. He thought that both reports ought to be properly recorded, with the understanding that in doing so the content advisor should tease out outstanding issues. Members would therefore be able to discuss and address those issues more thoroughly moving forward.
The presentation had raised the challenge of the Friday meetings. Many meetings could not take place due to the absence of Members, so it would be proper for the JSCD to look into that matter and perhaps make a proposal that states that Members agree to move their meetings from Fridays. Tuesday afternoons were suggested as a more suitable time. The government also needed to look at defence as being as important as education and health. It was prepared to overstretch its pocket on these issues, and it needed to extend this consideration to defence. The country’s military capability, as it stood, was questionable.
Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) contended that the promotion of military personnel was still one-sided. He had a serious issue with the treatment of some military veterans. Some had never been paid. One would hear that some were unlawfully occupying houses. If these people did not get houses and were not working, they had no recourse for food. Lastly, when one went to the sick bays that had been designed for a small number of people, one would see that they were often overcrowded. There really was aneed to address the issue of the unemployment and the housing of military veterans.
Ms A Beukes (ANC) expressed her desire to make the 6th Parliament a more productive one.
Co-Chairperson Xaba said he wanted to play “Devil’s Advocate.” Looking at the provisions of the constitution, in order not to lose focus, the task of this Committee was to investigate and make recommendations. It was not an oversight committee. The other mandate of the Committee was oversight as may be prescribed by the law. The JSCD needed to check, in the law, whether it had any other function that was mandated to the Committee. It could then delineate its responsibilities. If the mandate was to investigate, it must have the investigative capacity. If it had to investigate an issue and then make recommendations, it must then ensure follow-ups. Going forward, the Committee needed to re-examine its role in the area of investigation. This Committee had a specialised role.
Mr S Marais (DA) said he had previously been a Member of the Committee in the 5th Parliament. There had been a lot of overlap between the committees in the previous term, and issues had been repeated. He felt there was a need to ensure that there was a clear separation between committees. He was confident that this issue could be resolved in the 6th Parliament.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng raised the issue of Friday meetings again.
Mr Marais maintained that the Committee had to look at what was convenient and what was not convenient. Some Members of other committees sitting on a Tuesday might agree to sit on a Friday. It may be a little inconvenient to travel in on a Friday, but Members nonetheless ought to do it.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng pointed out that Members whose constituencies were in other provinces would invariably have issues meeting on Fridays. He also stressed that it would be inconvenient for families. He suggested Friday evenings.
Mr Motsamai said he had no problems with Tuesday.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) was cautious about committing to a specific date. Extending meeting times that were already long on Tuesday seemed taxing. There may be some issues with transport if meetings finished too late in the evening. He maintained that the meeting was not a weekly one, and that therefore there may be an occasional need for Friday meetings.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) commented that Parliament would always arrange transport for Members if they had issues. That would not be a challenge. Having meetings on Tuesdays would ensure that all Members would be available to attend, given that they would be sitting on other portfolio committees.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng said that Tuesday meetings would obviously not extend until too late, and the Committee ought to meet on Tuesdays, should time permit. Members ought to ensure that the JSCD was flexible in order to ensure that it could be functional and deal with potential issues.
Ms M Mmola, (ANC, Mpumalanga) expressed her support for Tuesday meetings.
Mr Gxoyiya found it disconcerting that Mr Marais wanted to keep meetings on Friday, given the inefficiency of the JSCD in the 5th Parliament.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng interrupted and maintained that where it was necessary to meet on a Friday, the Committee ought to meet on Friday. However, where possible it ought to meet on Tuesdays.
Mr Marais said he did not have knowledge of other Members’ schedules. He did not have a problem with sitting on Tuesdays or Fridays.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng acknowledged Mr Marais’ position and maintained that Tuesday was a preferable day for meetings, but that the Committee would meet, if necessary, on other days. He then suggested that Members look at the committee programme.
Mr Gxoyiya moved the consideration and adoption of the draft minutes. Mr Marais seconded.
Chairperson Nchabeleng asked if there were any issues arising from the draft minutes of the JSCD on 25th July 2019. There were not.
Ms Mmola and Mr Marais moved their adoption.
The minutes were adopted.
Mr Marais had concerns with the Committee programme due to the obligation to attend party caucuses on a Thursday.
Co-Chairperson Xaba noted this concern, and said that Thursdays would be reserved for caucuses.
There was an oversight visit due the following Wednesday, 28 August, on account of the deployment of police on the Cape Flats. Where possible, they should talk to people, but should presently limit it to the security structures and the community police forum (CPF). They would be visiting three areas and would allocate about two hours per area. A security profile of the areas had been requested. In Philippi, the first area, Members would meet with staff deployed in all ten areas. They would then move to Nyanga. They would hold meetings and ask the police command to provide a broad overview of the situation, and then they would ask each CPF to present to them. Members would then discuss these presentations.
There were some limitations for Members in terms of meetings some had to attend. As and when issues arose, the Committee would add them to its programme and take them into consideration. Members would submit requests in order to comply with procedure.
Mr Marais commented that on Wednesday, when the need for the oversight visit had been discussed, it had been emphasised that Members should be given the opportunity to interact with the Defence Force in order to understand their grievances. There may be differences of opinions between the Defence Force and the police.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng agreed with Mr Marais. Part of the mandate was to assess the Defence Force’s morale. Issues with supply chain management (SCM) had been felt by soldiers in the DRC. Soldiers there had also had concerns over the environment there. Its tropical nature meant there was a real risk of tropical diseases, as well as ebola. They needed to be adequately provided for in order to ensure morale.
Mr Ryder said he would be unable to attend the oversight on Wednesday due to his attendance at a finance committee.
Co-Chairperson Xaba said he was unsure if Mr Marais was suggesting that the delegation break away from the schedule.
Mr Marais stated that there would be limited chances to do this again in the future.
Co-Chairperson Xaba acknowledged this and emphasised that Members would be given free reign to ask questions during the meetings. He closed the matter.
The meeting was adjourned.