Defence Force Service Commission on responses to questions raised previously; Findings on conditions of service since inception; with Deputy Minister

Defence

04 June 2020
Chairperson: Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC) and Mr V Xaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Audio: Defence Force Service Commission on responses to questions raised previously; Findings on conditions of service since inception      Part 2

The Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) took the Committee through the presentation on the questions of the Committee and the responses the Commission provided.

The Commission indicated that it requested for additional funding of R2.4 million, but the request was declined. However, R750 000 was granted to fund the Civil-Military Relations Conference. The activities of the Commission were re-adjusted in accordance with the applicable budget.

The Minister acknowledged receipt of reports on tabled findings and recommendations. The Secretary of Defence was required in 2016 to provide quarterly feedback to the Commission. However, the feedback process still needed to be revised and enforced.

The Commission was not able to provide an informed comment on the reasons for non-implementation of the recommendations.  All recommendations were submitted to the Minister for approval, with the expected implementation by Secretary of Defence (SecDef) and Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

The Commission tabled comprehensive reports since 2014 based on findings and recommendations on living conditions. The DFSC recommended interdepartmental agreements between the Department and a variety of external entities to ensure amongst others service delivery, maintenance and repairs of facilities, roads, and security. The Commission would appreciate the support and input of the Committee in the process to revise the Defence Amendment Act and its regulations. However, the Commission was acutely aware of the financial difficulties of the country and the necessity for financial constraints.

Members asked what percentage of the recommendations were accepted and implemented by the Minister. Why is the Commission not taken seriously? What did the Commission see it role as being and why is it being ignored? Is there a reason why the Northern Cape does not have a Commissioner?

Meeting report

Mr Hugh Robertson, Chairperson of the Commission, took the Committee through the presentation on the questions of the Committee and the responses the Commission provided. Below are much of the questions enlisted in the presentation document.

Question one

What informs the structure of the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC)?

Answer: The approved structure of 19 posts inherited from the Interim National Defense Force Service Commission. The structure of 19 posts that were graded lower remained inadequate.

Question two

Has the Commission received a response to their funding request submitted to the Departmental Planning and Budgeting Evaluation Committee (DPBEC) on 20 August 2016? If so, what was the response?

Answer: The DFSC request for additional funding of R2.4 million was declined. However, R750 000 was granted to fund the Civil-Military Relations Conference. The activities of the DFSC were re-adjusted in accordance with the applicable budget.

Question three

What are the reasons for non-implementation of DFSC recommendations by the Minister of Defence?

Answer: The DFSC was not able to provide an informed comment on the reasons for non-implementation.  All recommendations were submitted to the Minister for approval, with the expected implementation by Secretary of Defence (SecDef) and Chief of the SANDF.

Question three

Is there a feedback system in place where the DFSC can track the implementation of recommendations, and/or where the Department report on progress with the implementation of recommendations?

Answer: The Minister acknowledges receipt of reports on tabled findings and recommendations. SecDef was required in 2016 to provide quarterly feedback to the DFSC. However, the feedback process still needed to be revised and enforced.

Question four

The Committee asked whether the Commission was involved in resolving the issues in the military area of Thaba, Tshwane. Of particular concern to the Committee was that a number of soldiers residing in the area were living in unacceptable conditions. Members therefore wanted to know whether this was something that the Commission was dealing with and whether there were proposals regarding the area.

Answer: The Commission tabled comprehensive reports since 2014 based on findings and recommendations on living conditions. The DFSC recommended interdepartmental agreements between the Department of Defence (DOD) and a variety of external entities to ensure amongst others service delivery, maintenance and repairs of facilities, roads and security.

Question five

The Committee agreed with the Commission on their recommendation that remuneration and service benefits for SANDF members should be determined independently from the rest of the public service. Has this been discussed in other spheres of government?

Answer: The DFSC liaised with the Department of Public Service Administration in 2019.

Question six

The Committee enquired about the integration of Military Skills Development Systems (MSDS) members into contract or permanent positions in the SANDF and the role that the DFSC could play in this regard.

Answer: The Commission recommended targeted intake or recruitment of MSDS members, which could possibly result in the awarding of contracts and/or permanent appointments.

Question seven

Can the security incidents at military bases be linked to the morale of soldiers and has the DFSC made any investigations in this regard?

Answer: It did have because security was fundamental to health and safety in the working environment. The DFSC tabled findings and recommendations regarding dilapidated and broken fences around military bases, absence of effective base security, amongst others.

Question eight

Continuous training is necessary for force morale and efficiency.  Is this effective in the SANDF? Has the DFSC made inquiries in this regard?

Answer: The DFSC concurred with this notion. The DFSC tabled findings and recommendations regarding functional, military, and continuous training; instructors; training equipment and facilities; accreditation of courses; international training opportunities; nominations and acceptance of courses, to name but a few.

Question nine

The DFSC should also provide the Committee with its expectations of the role that the Committee could play to address some of the issues as listed above.

Answer: The Commission would appreciate the support and input of the Committee in the process to revise the Defence Amendment Act and its Regulations. However, the Commission was acutely aware of the financial difficulties of the country and the necessity for financial constraints.

Discussion

The Chairperson said that this report was not received by the Committee; Members were seeing it for the first time, and it was difficult to follow. What percentage of the recommendations were accepted and implemented by the Minister? The recommendations from 2016 and 2017 appeared to be adding up and they all affected the SANDF.

The Committee visited the navy, air force and the military hospital. Issues of unfair labour practices, promotions and dismissals caused frustration. It was understandable that the commission’s formation was an indirect response to discomfort. The wisdom of the Department leadership decided to establish the Commission to make recommendations; it was worrisome that some of them were ignored. If value was not attached to what the commission was mandated to do and yet money was still spent, there needed to be a discussion. The Deputy Minister was present and he had heard everything.

Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) commented on what the Chairperson said. The Committee was a watchdog body that controlled and made recommendations, but they were ignored. The Department would not even acknowledge the receipt of recommendations. Why is the Commission not taken seriously? The Department officials had to give an account on whether they applied their minds. They need not respond directly; they just needed to apply their minds. What is the role of the Commission and why is the structure being ignored?

Mr S Marais (DA) emphasised that the Reserve Force was part of this. The Committee had to request the Chief of the Reserve Force to come forward because they were also affected.

He opined that the living conditions at the accommodation in Thaba, Tshwane, were appalling; equipment was a problem. On the previous day, the Department had spoken of how soldiers were affected by the pandemic and there needed to be an extension of the commission in all of that. 

Concerning staff and promotions – he received queries about promotions which were approved a long time ago but have not been implemented. What is your extent of improvement?

Mr T Mmutle (ANC) said that it was unfair to interact with recommendations that were not shared before. The Committee should take a posture that would be backed by legislation because the Commission reports to the Minister and it was the Minister who had to take Members into confidence on challenges during the implementation of the recommendations. If he did not agree with the Commission he must provide reasons. If there was anyone to be held accountable it must be the Minister, unless there was a delegation.

The Chairperson said that section 62 of the Act stated that the Minister must make determinations in consultation with the Finance Minister. So, the Minister was the client and must determine the conditions of service with the Finance Minister because there would be financial implications.

Ms A Beukes (ANC) said that Mr Marais raised an important issue on living conditions. It was about humanity and the Committee could not allow people to live like that. What oversight mechanisms do you have? Can the Committee get a report on whether the Department applies its mind? Is there a reason why the Northern Cape does not have a Commissioner?

Mr Robertson responded that all the questions were useful in developing a better understanding of the concerns of the Committee and it showed that it really wanted to provide assistance.

Ms Sebina Hlapolosa apologised for the late report. The Commission was in the process of making amendments to the Act. Approval by the Minister and Committee was given to determine whether what the Commission submits was accepted and if not, why and what the alternatives were. The Commission visited Thaba Tshwane and interacted with soldiers and submitted recommendations, but no feedback was given. The pandemic fell squarely with the Commission’s work but it had not directly involved. Recommendations were sent to be directly involved. Promotions were also part of the Commission’s work and it remained an issue. It became frustrating when there was no implementation. The findings and recommendations were specific, but the feedback did not reflect that. This was addressed with the Minister and a way forward would be found. On tools to monitor and evaluate – those functions had been set but it had not gone forward.  On the Northern Cape, she indicated that appointments were made by the Minister and the Department, but appointments were not made on a provincial basis.

Mr Robertson said it had been a useful engagement and parties involved needed to find a way that would be a win-win situation for everyone. The Members’ comments on revisiting the Act were important. It was suggested to the Minister and she gave the go ahead. Most Commissioners were not permanent and this came with some limitations. Over the last few weeks documents were sent to Mr Daniels but maybe they were not forwarded to the Committee.

The Defence Act established the Commission and its function was to make recommendations annually on the improvement of salaries, policies in respect of conditions of service and promotes measures and standards. The Commission must perform oversight on their recommendations so that was why they were asked to come. The Committee visited the navy, the army and the air force and communicated with the soldiers and heard their issues ranging from integration, discrimination, ranks and non-promotion. These coincide with the recommendations of the Commission. What is holding the Department back? Some of the issues date back before the Commission was established and the Commission had hoped that they would have been addressed.  Some of these issues really went into conditions of service.

The Deputy Minister thanked everyone. He started by issuing a caveat that the comments he would make have limitations because the commission reported directly to the Minister and he had assumed that coming to the meeting he would not have to comment.  He was leaning on the presence of the Minister. Having said that, he was under no doubt that unsatisfactory performance around the Commission on implementing may well be a function of the low level of resources in the ministry of defence. That was appreciated by all stakeholders. The defence budget had been on a downward spiral or else all these issues would not arise. He was encouraged by what had been said to improve the conditions. The Commission previously did not have a monitoring mechanism but this was addressed, although not in the number required; this spoke to capacity. The Ministry and the Committee must worry that the commission was not enjoying the importance of its mandate. When it was established, it was part of an institutional design to obviate the need for armed forces in bargaining. It would be civil to have a professional body to address such needs without the soldiers engaging with their employer. It was wrong if the recommendations did not gain traction. The Ministry must draw sufficient attention to this unacceptable situation.  In his observation, the commission was directed to matters that did not fall within its purview. These were functions of the Department – for example, rejuvenation of the force, putting in credible mechanisms and ensuring that the organisation took a paradigm shift. All these were better dealt with by the Department.

Salaries were an important matter, but it was better dealt with by human resources. The Commission had an interest but it should be anchored within the Department.  As a result of lack of movement by the Department, there was now an opportunity to direct this to the Commission. A workshop between the Department and the Commission was agreed upon and his office would follow up on this.

On the lack of funding to solve issues, the Department had to explain because this was objective reality. The workshop must also address subjective failures.

On Thaba Tshwane, it was originally assumed that the municipality was responsible for the provision of services but it was actually not, because this place was a private settlement. The Department had to be responsible for that village. He would find out what the conditions were because people could not be expected to sacrifice what they should be paid for. They could not execute their mandate under such bad conditions.

The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister and stated that the Deputy Minister would share the outcome of the meeting with the Minister. Based on the vision and mission of the Commission, it was clear what it was in existence for. He stated that the Commissions website should reflect its independence.

The meeting was adjourned.

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