The Defence Service Commission presented its mandate, challenges and achievements to the Committee. Its mandate is to make recommendations on a number of matters for the Department and the Minister. Some of those matters include, annual improvement of salaries and service benefits for members of the SA National Defence Force, policies in respect of conditions of service, and promotion of measures and standards to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of policies on conditions of service.
Challenges facing the Commission included:
- The lack of permanent office accommodation.
- Poorly aligned DFSC Secretariat structure.
- Protracted departmental procurement processes which contributed to the under-spending of the Commission’s budget
- Lack of powers to implement recommendations. The action plan was to propose an amendment of the Defence Act to enhance the effective execution of the Commission’s mandate.
Commission achievements included the Defence Review; recommendations on the conditions of service as well as pay and service benefits; and reviews of policies on promotions, career management and transfers, amongst others.
Members asked about implementing the long-standing decision to delink salary from rank. They queried how to address low morale of the members of SA National Defence Force and raised the concerning issue of the Thaba Tshwane Army Base, where soldiers continue to live in degrading conditions. They asked whether the Commission received any feedback on the implementation of its recommendations by the Department; the role of the Commissioners; their allowances and term of office; and the Commission’s annual budget. The discussion included the need to upgrade defence force technology and equipment, absorb members of the Reserve Force, develop exit strategies to get rid of the bloated top management of the SANDF and how to address the problems created by the Department’s protracted procurement processes.
There was no time for the Commissioners to respond to the discussion. Members had a time constraint as they had to attend the House sitting at two o’clock. The Commission agreed to respond in writing to the questions that had been raised.
Members decided they will invite the Commission along with the Department of Defence to a future Committee meeting for further engagement.
The Co-Chairperson, Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC) (LIM) welcomed everyone present, submitted apologies and asked the Chairperson of the Commission to introduce his delegation.
Mr Ian Robertson, Chairperson of the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) took members through the presentation and reported on the mandate of the Commission. He stated that the legislative mandate was inaugurated in 10 October 2013 in terms of Section 62 A to L of the Defence Amendment Act. The Commission is mandated to make recommendations on:
- annual improvement of salaries and service benefits
- Policies in respect of conditions of service
- promotion of measures and standards to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of policies on conditions of service
The Act allows the Minister to appoint between eight to ten Commissioners. Currently there are nine Commissioners appointed and the one is yet to be appointed. The Chairperson and Commissioners are all appointed on a part time basis and their term of three years will be ending at the end of April 2020.
The DFSC Secretariat has an approved organizational structure of 19 Public Service Act Personnel (PSAP) posts. The Secretariat was established to provide research, secretarial or administrative, logistical and technical support to the Commission. Currently, 12 posts are staffed; one advertised, one researcher post has been vacant since 2015, awaiting a Labour Court decision, and three posts are not funded. There are three Reserve Force members augmenting the functions of the Secretariat.
The achievements of the Commission included:
- Defence Review - the interim Commission recommended a review which was approved by Cabinet in 2014 and Parliament in 2015. However, the review is not being funded, thus the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is in an accelerated decline and cannot fully implement the first milestone of the review, which outlines five milestones.
- Conditions of Service - recommendations were made to the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans (MV) regarding the eradication of asbestos; uniforms and a military skills development system which were endorsed by the Executive Authority. These were forwarded to the Chief of SANDF to compile implementation plans. In addition, ongoing recommendations were tabled on a variety of matters.
- Pay and Service Benefits - recommendations on remuneration for Military University Educators (MUE) were implemented in 10 November 2014. The outcome was improved remuneration for MUEs. Improved medical benefits and Group Life Insurance Scheme Benefits for Reserve Force Members were also approved and implemented.
- Reviews of policies on promotions, career management, transfers; nominations for military courses, amongst others were tabled within visit reports on findings during consultative visits to the Military Units and/or Bases.
- Benchmarking visits and follow-up visits
- Signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Military Ombud which outlined a co-operative framework to enhance effectiveness on matters of common interest. Another MOU was also signed with the Reserve Force Council (RFC) which outlined a partnership aimed at improved service conditions for Reserve Force Members.
Some of the challenges facing the Commission included:
- The lack of permanent office accommodation. The Commission is currently co-locating with the South African Military Health Services. This imposes limitations on the ability to renovate and install security measures.
- The DFSC Secretariat structure is poorly aligned [with its mandate]. The Secretariat is graded low in relation to Core Function posts such as research.
- The Department’s protracted procurement processes contribute to the under-spending of the Commission’s budget
- Lack of powers to implement recommendations. The action plan is to propose an amendment of the Defence Act to enhance the effective execution of its mandate.
Going forward, the Commission plans on pursuing the following:
- An effective and sustainable exit mechanism [for Members of the SANDF].
- Monitoring implementation plans and progress on recommendations submitted within the Department or SANDF.
- Delinking salary from rank
- Improvement of Group Life Insurance Scheme benefits
- Evaluation of the effectiveness of the Commission, in relation to its mandate on King IV Principles [code of corporate governance], and
- Obtaining representation on the Department’s Policy Board.
Mr D Ryder (DA) (GP) wanted to know about the role of the Commissioners and whether each Commissioner has an individual portfolio they focus on and whether they are geographically split across the country. Three Commissioners will be finishing their terms at the end of April but he was uncertain about their term of office and asked about it.
He indicated that he was concerned about the Thaba Tshwane Military Base and the complexities around it. He asked whether the municipality could play a role in terms of providing basic services to the Base. Currently there are soldiers living in degrading environments every month, surely something could be done to improve the state and conditions of the Military Bases. He believed that this was a systematic problem across the country but wanted to know the Commission’s plans on it.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) wanted to know whether the Commission had a mechanism to scrutinize whether its recommendations to the Minister are implemented or whether the Commission receives any feedback on the implementation of its recommendations from the Department or Ministry.
He indicated that the Department seems to be struggling with the rejuvenation of the force versus an exit mechanism. So he wanted to know to what extent the Commission has made funding available in developing an exit mechanism strategy for the older troops that resist retirement.
Ms T Legwase (ANC) asked about the appointment dates of the Commissioners and their term of office. It is quite evident that the Commission is constrained financially. She asked the Chairperson of the Commissioner to confirm whether it has received a response on its funding application. Lastly, on the areas that will be pursued, what is the status on the delinking of salaries to rank?
Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) wanted to know whether the Commission had any influence over the Department to look into getting new equipment for the SANDF. He believed that the current technology and equipment was outdated and that it is critical for the military to be ahead with technological advances. A significant portion of funding goes towards salaries, but what is the role of the Commission in influencing the Department to ensure that the new members of the SANDF were well looked after?
Mr J Maake (ANC) concurred with the recommendation that soldiers’ salaries should be independent from the rest of the Public Service employees. He went to ask what was expected from the Committee in terms in terms of making that possible, in as far as legislation or regulations are concerned. If something has been done already, he would like to be furnished with the details.
Mr N Matiase (EFF) suggested that it would benefit the Members if the Commission would take Members through some form of an orientation regarding its legislative provisions. He asked who paid the Commissioners’ allowances and how much are they paid. It would also benefit Members to understand how the annual budget of the Commission was distributed and how much of it goes towards allowances or salaries.
He was also interested to know about the exit strategy of the old soldiers. Research indicates that the military is bloated at the top by old guards refusing to retire. So are there any incentives that can be introduced to encourage them to retire?
There are a lot of complaints received on the Reserve Force soldiers, because when their services are no longer required, they go back to resorting to crime when they are unemployed. Mr Matiate reminded the Committee that these are trained soldiers and they could be dangerous. So, he asked, is there any strategy or plan to absorb them as permanent members of the SANDF considering that they are already skilled?
Ms A Beukes (ANC) commented on the low morale in the SANDF. She wanted to know whether there was any progress in addressing it and whether it has had any impact on the integrity of the SANDF as a whole. Perhaps, the Commission could tell Members what could be done to address the low morale of the SANDF members?
Ms M Modise (ANC) said the delinking salary from rank is an issue that has been raised since 2001. It is important that it is implemented and the process is fast tracked. This was recommended so long ago but there is still no clear indication on its status. She also lamented on the matter of the low morale, and said it is disturbing that there is no mention on the security measures at military bases. There have been allegations that weapons have been stolen from the bases and such incidents are borne by the low morale of staff members of the SANDF. As miniscule as low morale as it may seem, it does lead to unpleasant activities.
She suggested that the reduction of training hours should be revisited because it is pointless to reduce the training hours for soldiers if they end up making mistakes.
Mr Nchabeleng (the co-Chairperson) said that he was worried about the fact that the Commission lacked decision making autonomy. Its role is only to make recommendations to the Minister and the Minister then makes the decisions. He found that to be worrisome. He failed to understand why the Army was not utilizing its skills and capacity to address challenges in the army bases such as plumbing, mechanical issues and grass cutting. The capacity is available but why is it not being utilized?
Referring to slide 29 of the presentation, he asked what needs to be done to ensure that the protracted Department of Defence (DOD) procurement processes do not contribute to the under-spending of the DFSC budget. On slide 28, what causes the inability to acquire the necessary skills and competencies befitting the expectation of the DFSC mandate? The world is moving towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, perhaps the SANDF needs to move along with the times. The equipment, personnel and its overall capacity needed to be brought up to the level the current technology advances.
Mr Maake interjected and suggested a full presentation from the Commission. He felt that Members were not being fully capacitated about the role of the Commission in its entirety. The presentation lacked some flesh and some of the points outlined do not substantiate further on some of the challenges presented. In addition, the time constraints would be doing this engagement an injustice.
Mr Mmutle said that the suggestion was correct but perhaps the Committee could invite the Commission with the Department. This will assist Members to ask the Department questions directly Members need responses directly from the Department to some of the questions asked.
Members agreed to invite the Commission with the Department for further engagement. Questions would be responded to in written form due to time constraints as the Members needed to attend the House sitting at 14h00.
The Chairperson of the Commission said that he was appointed from 2013 to 2018 but he was re-appointed up to January 2019, when his first term ended. The Minister then re-appointed him permanently as the Chairperson. He indicated some of the Commissioners have full-time jobs and may not be able to come back to engagement with the Members. However, the Commission will make itself available to engage again with the Members.
The meeting was adjourned.
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