The Defence Force Service Commission briefed the Committee on its Annual Activity Report and Financial Statements for the 2019/20 financial year.
Members questioned Commissioners of the lack of implementation of their recommendations, one of the main challenges reported by the Commission. The Committee asked which recommendations the Minister had determined to fall outside of the Commission’s mandate.
The Committee asked if the Commission had experienced any overlaps between the work that it conducts and that of the Military Ombudsman. MPs are aware that there are case backlogs in the Ombudsman’s office and that soldiers oftentimes resort to presenting their individual complaints to the Commission. The Committee asked how the work of the Commission will be impacted by the proposed budget cuts.
An overarching issue that was raised was the force design and structure of the military and the challenge of rejuvenating the force. MPs had noticed that the average age of military personnel continues to increase each year with fewer younger members being recruited. This is an issue that the Committee and Commission will discuss further at a later date.
The meeting was scheduled for the Committee to receive a presentation by the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) on the activity report and financial statements for the 2019/20 financial year. The Committee would also be dealing with the adoption of its fourth term programme.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) announced that the Co-Chairperson, Mr V Xaba (ANC) would be joining the meeting at a later stage. The Committee had tried to reach Co-Chairperson, Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo) without success. Mr Mmutle would preside over the meeting as Acting-Chairperson.
Apologies were read for the Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans.
Mr W Mafanya (EFF) expressed concern on the absence of both the Minister and the Deputy Minister.
Briefing by the Defence Force Service Commission on its Annual Activity Report and Financial Statements for Financial Year 2019/20
Mr Ian Robertson, Chairperson, DFSC, gave a presentation on the Commission’s annual performance. He was joined by a full delegation of members of the Commission.
Highlights the 2019/20 financial year are as follows:
DFSC had a total budget of R16.6 million for the 2019/20 financial year
Total expenditure of the allocated budget was 81.25%
R3 million of the total budget was surrendered [because it had not been possible to spend it], subsequent to this, total expenditure on Operational Budget was 92.47%
Total expenditure on Human Resources budget was 77.67%
Mr Robertson explained that the reasons for surrendering funds include changes in the remuneration of a part-time chairperson, changes in the remuneration of three Commissioners who were already serving as full-time government employees, not staffing a researcher post due to a pending labour court outcome, delays in the outsourcing of an actuarial consultant service intended to conduct a comparative study, and the cancellation of follow-up visits to military training units.
The DFSC did not incur any virements and rollovers for the FY2019/20. No unauthorised, irregular, or fruitless and wasteful expenditure was recorded.
The DFSC had no audit performed on its performance for the 2018/19 financial year. The Commission submitted its FY2018/19 Annual Activity Report to the Minister on 23 July 2019 as per the Defence Amendment Act, Sec 62H(1)(b). This was tabled in Parliament on 27 July 2019.
The Commission did not table a recommendation on the Conditions of Living Adjustments (CoLA) as the three-year agreement on salaries and service benefits for soldiers will reach its third year only during FY2020/21.
30 visits were conducted to military bases and units across the country to research and table recommendations. The DFSC submitted two reports to the Minister subsequent to consultative visits to Air Force Base Langebaanweg and 2 Military Hospital. Six out of 31 recommendations submitted subsequent to the visit to Air Force Base addressed the revisions and amendment of policies in respect to Conditions of Service. The Minister responded on 14 January 2020 that some of the recommendations tabled fell outside the Commission’s mandate. The Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and Chief of the Air Force were instructed to consider those which could be accommodated. The Commission did not receive any feedback with this regard.
The DFSC Policy Review Committee initiated investigations on the reasons why approved military patients are outsourced to Intensive Care Units of private hospitals as this comes at a great expense to an already inadequate budget. Mr Robertson reported that the investigation is almost complete - a comprehensive report will be tabled to the Executive Authority once finalised.
A DFSC Monitoring and Evaluation Committee was established to monitor the effective implementation of Conditions of Service Policies and any progress on the implementation of tabled recommendations.
Mr Robertson highlighted that it is particularly important for the DFSC to focus on maintaining good governance in this current financial year. The Commission attended an orientation session in February 2020 for this purpose. In addition, a DFSC Ethical Committee was established in March 2020 to develop, promote and maintain high ethical standards and address any arising issues. The DFSC did not record any incidences of fraud and corruption during the reporting period. All procurement processes were executed in alignment with Department of Defence (DoD) Procurement policies and National Treasury regulations.
Human Resources Management
The DFSC complied with the Performance Management and Development System implemented within the DoD. It currently has 12 positions (63.15%) on the approved structure of 19 staffed. The main challenge it has concerns delays in the process of revising the structure and appointment levels of members of the Secretariat due to cost containment measures on staffing as per the Minister of Finance’s pronouncement in February 2016.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) said that the DFSC’s presentation was a reflection that the Commissioners were generally doing what they are supposed to be doing. However, the question is, is the DFSC achieving what it must, given that it appears as if its recommendations are not being executed. Has the Commission felt any improvement in its relationship with the Ministry as far as achieving outcomes is concerned?
The documentation indicated that the DFSC spent approximately R900 000 on 110 flights which amounts to an average of R8 700 per flight. Are these domestic flights or international flights? The average cost of a domestic flight usually does not exceed R3 000.
He asked if there are any grey areas between the operations of the Commissioners and the work of the Ombudsman [Military Ombud]? On paper there are none, however, have there been experiences in the DFSC’s functions that have led to overlaps?
The Chairperson of the Joint Committee [Mr Xaba] apologised for joining the meeting late. He said the report reflects significant improvement in the work of the DFSC. In a previous engagement, the Committee had urged the DFSC to develop an independent website to prevent it being clustered or confused with other entities. Additionally, an independent website would ensure that stakeholders such as Parliament and soldiers have easy access to information. The Public Service Commission has succeeded in this regard and provides access to previous reports. How far has the DFSC gone in developing its website?
Secondly, has the DFSC made any recommendations to the Minister concerning common challenges such as obsolete equipment and the serviceability of vehicles? This is an issue that was previously raised in a report from FY 2019/20.
The DFSC had indicated that the Cost of Living Allowance is a three-year agreement and that 2021 would be the final year of the current agreement. He recommended that negotiations must start now in order to ensure that a new agreement is finalised for 2021. Has the DFSC started this process and if so, how far have these negotiations gone? If not, when does the Commission aim to start with the negotiations?
Ms A Beukes (ANC) said when the Committee previously met with the DFSC, it was clear that there were challenges with the implementation of recommendations. This is an issue that has been raised again in this report. The DFSC reported that it has established a Monitoring and Evaluation Committee. When was this Committee established and has there been a positive change in the communication with the Department?
In the DFSC’s view, were there any challenges faced by soldiers during the lockdown period that could have impacted their overall morale?
The Acting Chairperson asked the DFSC to clarify what it meant regarding the recommendations it has made regarding the South African Air Force that the Minister determined fell outside of the Commission’s mandate. What were these recommendations? What caused the DFSC to make recommendations to the extent that the Minister reprimanded the entity for acting outside of its mandate?
Mr Robertson said the questions asked by MPs are useful and will assist the Commission in understanding the thinking of the Committee.
The DFSC is currently not achieving all of its goals because some of its recommendations are not being implemented. However, this is a work in progress. The main challenge is that the DFSC has not received any proper feedback during any quarter as far as its recommendations are considered. This is an issue that the DFSC wants to follow up on, after having met with the Minister two weeks before. The Commission will have another session for the Strategic Plan and hopes the Minister will attend to unpack some of the challenges around the implementation of recommendations. Frankly speaking, the Commission has not fully achieved what it set out to do; however, progress has been made.
All of the flights relate to four Commissioners who live outside of Gauteng and have to fly in to the DFSC’s headquarters in Pretoria. Other flights are related to visiting various bases across the country as well as attending parliamentary engagements in Cape Town. Commissioner M Motsepe added that the flights have all been domestic flights. At times the DFSC is invited by the DoD to attend relevant activities such as parades, Armed Forces Day and hospital visits. These have all been included in the report.
Mr Robertson indicated that he does not see any grey areas between the work of the DFSC and the Ombudsman. The roles and responsibilities of the two entities are clearly defined. Any complaints received by the DFSC are directed to the Ombudsman’s office.
Ms Sebina Hlaposola, Deputy Chair, DFSC, agreed that there are no grey areas but at times soldiers do not fully understand the difference in the role of the DFSC and the Ombudsman. The DFSC does not entertain individual complaints however, if a single complaint is presented on behalf of a group of soldiers, DFSC will address the issue. In the event that the Commission receives individual complaints, these are forwarded to the Ombudsman’s office and the relevant soldier is informed of this process.
Commissioner Motsepe replied that the development of an independent website has been a longstanding task for the DFSC. The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and DoD have committed to finalise the website by 13 November 2020. This commitment has been put in writing and confirmed.
The DFSC has not made serious recommendations around obsolete equipment. However, this is an issue that has been previously raised.
The DFSC has set up the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee and has developed a framework document. However, the work of the Committee links up to the implementation of recommendations. If recommendations are not applied, it is difficult to make any progress as far as monitoring is concerned.
Commissioner Siphelele Zulu added that since the establishment of the Committee, the DFSC has been tasked to set up the governance framework regulating the functions of the Committee. The DFSC continues to consult with the Minister to determine whether or not its recommendations are being implemented.
The DFSC developed a questionnaire for SANDF soldiers to determine how well the DoD has complied with COVID-19 regulations and its own health and safety standards. The DFSC also would like to establish what the overall impact of COVID-19 has been on the SANDF staff morale. This is currently in progress and can be presented to the Joint Committee once the survey has been finalised.
Commissioner Hlaposola said that the DFSC conducts annual research on cost of living allowance. This ensures that it is ready to submit any recommendations when needed in order to meet deadlines. The DoD then initiates the negotiation process.
Commissioner Marlene Loots said that although the Minister had indicated that the DFSC had made recommendations outside of its mandate, it was never indicated which these were. The DFSC assumed that these have to be those relating to the pilot training. The DFSC recommended that this must be based on civil military relationships and that the initial pilot training must be outsourced to a private Airforce [service provider] subsequent to military training. Secondly, the DFSC had recommended that pilots should obtain more flying training before reaching another platform. Additionally, the DFSC recommended that the Minister engage with government to look into more economical aircraft which can be locally procured and maintained. Finalisation of the national procurement bill and the DoD supply chain management policy will enable the Airforce to procure commodities from local suppliers and small and medium enterprises. The DFSC also recommended for the civil military pilot training contracts to be negotiated, signed and implemented between the SANDF and private flying schools. The DFSC also recommended that together with the DoD, they must approach the Department of Environmental Affairs and South African National Biodiversity Institute to negotiate for SANDF members to attend certain conservation and environmental courses. These are presumably the recommendations that the Minister said fall outside of the DFSC’s mandate.
Follow up questions
Ms M Modise (ANC) asked how the DFSC addresses situations were a common complaint is raised by different individuals from different units, however, they have not organised as a group to present the complaint. How does the DFSC give attention to a common complaint that is not presented by an organised group?
Commissioner Hlaposola replied that in the event that a similar complaint has already been lodged, the DFSC shares what is has done and the recommendations which it has tabled. The DFSC makes a standard presentation when visiting units on how they can collectively present issues that cut across units as an organised group. The Commission facilitates a way to make sure that issues are submitted to the DFSC or forwarded to the Ombudsman.
Commissioner Motsepe added that when the DFSC receives individual complaints, it makes sure to advise members on the prerequisites that must be followed prior to forwarding to the Ombudsman. Members are advised to make sure a complaint has firstly gone through the grievance procedure. If not, the Ombudsman will not be able to attend to the complaint.
Mr Xaba commented that in a previous meeting with the SANDF, the force design and structure was high on the agenda. However, it was concluded that it is important for these issues to be informed by an analysis of the security and threats in the country to better provide context. There is currently a standoff between the SANDF and Treasury, because Treasury has placed a budget ceiling on the Compensation of Employees (CoE). SANDF has continuously overspent on its budget over the previous financial years due to CoE. For this reason, it has had to cut spending in various programme areas.
The government has also made it possible to allow people to withdraw from service without penalty. The Department did not opt for this tool, ultimately it has been stopped. Mr Xaba asked if this had not raised concerns within the military. Has this also been expressed to the DFSC, if so, what has the DFSC done?
It appears as if the average age of the SANDF keeps increasing each year. This is concerning because the force needs to recruit younger soldiers to guarantee the future of military. As the average age continues to increase, is this not an area of concern or has it not been raised by soldiers? Have older soldiers not expressed concern that they are no longer deployable but state continues to do so? Although this is not an issue emanating from the DFSC’s report, it is a relevant challenge currently being debated by HR.
Mr Mafanya said there is currently a backlog of cases with the Ombudsman which has negatively impacted soldiers. As a result, some of them have resorted to presenting their individual complaints to the DFSC. Oftentimes, the grievances procedure fails them and there is not much they can do about this. There are also vacancies within the DFSC. On many occasions, Departments go through budget cuts. With the present situation and proposed budget cuts, how will this impact the DFSC?
Response from the DFSC
Commissioner Robertson responded that the questions posed by Members are pertinent. The DFSC is aware of these challenges but has not had the opportunity to get to the bottom of them. The Commission hopes to return to have concrete responses to some of the issues raised.
Vacancies in HR
The DFSC has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Reserve Force Council of South Africa RFC), which allows the DFSC to get researchers from them. These employees are then paid from the DFSC’s budget for a limited period to do specific work. The DFSC can also see if there are full time employees within the SANDF who have the requisite research expertise to do work for the Commission. These members then work as detached employees and are paid through the SANDF budget.
Military fit for purpose
DFSC will have to revisit past reports to better pick out some of these issues. The DFSC has not visited any bases in 2020. Conditions will hopefully allow visiting bases before the end of the financial year.
Commissioner Hlaposola said the Commission is aware of current challenges and that until something is done, all of the entities serving the DoD by way of the Commission will be impacted. The Defense Review is one of the outputs of the Commission. The first interim commission was inundated with the production of the Defence Review. The DFSC takes interest in making sure that even though its recommendations may not be implemented, it finds ways to see what it can do. The DFSC understands its advisory mandate however it also understands its mandate for ensuring that the defense force gets funding and that effectiveness and efficiency are ensured. The DFSC has interacted with soldiers who have expressed that they are aware they are no longer deployable however, because they do not have any other qualifications, they are not attracted to other offers.
Following an interaction with the Minister, the DFSC is aware that most of its recommendations are unlikely to be implemented given the current financial pressure. The DFSC has resolved to rethink its work to target different means to be solution oriented. One of these includes the MoU with the RFC. Similarly, the reserve force has been working on repositioning itself and working on a core model that will allow a partnership with the DFSC.
Unless there is a way of ensuring that soldiers who leave the force are able to lead sustainable lives, it is unlikely that they will leave.
The DFSC is aware of the backlog of cases however the DFSC’s mandate is advisory. The DFSC cannot implement any actions, therefore, whatever issues are presented to the Commission are analysed and tabled as recommendations to the Minister. Unless internal processes have been exhausted, members cannot take issues directly to the Ombudsman. It is therefore important for the DFSC to ensure that these policies and processes are adhered to. This is the first thing that the Minister will address when an issue or recommendations are tabled. It is important for the DFSC to adhere to all of these processes in its functions.
Mr J Maake (ANC) said there is a very thin line between the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and the Portfolio Committee on Defence. The service must fall into the Joint Standing Committee. If they are to advise the Minister they must know the force design. If the DFSC’s recommendations are not implemented, can they take it further to the President?
Commissioner Robertson said Commissioner Hlaposola was trying to explain the process that the DFSC would like to follow in order to assist the Defense Force Council as far as recommendations are concerned. The DFSC needs to do more research in order to come up with more recommendations that can be put forward to the Minister. The DFSC looks forward to having a further discussion to address some of the core issues of rejuvenating the defence force.
The Acting Chairperson thanked the DFSC for its presentation and the responses it gave to the questions posed by the Committee. This concluded the agenda as far as the DFSC is concerned. He handed over to Chairperson Xaba to preside over the outstanding items.
The Committee looked forward to having a further engagement with the DFSC to discuss the general issues that were raised.
Internal matters of the Committee
Mr Ryder commended Acting Chairperson Mmutle for doing a great job presiding over the meeting.
Chairperson Xaba went over the Committee’s fourth term programme. The Committee intends on calling in the industry to have a discussion as the situation is deteriorating, particularly with Denel and the DoD failing to budget for the Special Defence account. The Committee may want to do a site visit to see what some of the industry stakeholders are doing.
The Chairperson said he is starting to better understand what the role of the Joint Standing Committee should be versus that of the Portfolio Committee. Military veterans should not appear before the Joint Standing Committee; however, the lines have become blurred.
Mr S Marais (DA) apologised for joining the meeting late. If the Committee wants to deviate from the rules on who is included in statutory forces, it is a question of changing legislation and resources. As far as the programme is concerned, members are in support of what has been planned. The oversight visit to the defence industry is critical as it will provide firsthand experience on challenges on the ground.
The protection of the integrity of the country’s borders is very important, particularly land borders, this is crucial for understanding the situation on the ground.
Mr Mafanya urged the Committee to address the issue of military veterans. There is a clause that allows members who have served for [only] two years to qualify for veteran status. This is an area that the Committee must look into.
The Chairperson agreed that this diminishes the status of military veteran.
Mr Maake said the amendment of the Military Veterans Act is going to address this issue. This issue will come before Committee for comment.
The Chairperson thanked the Committee for its contributions.
The meeting was adjourned.
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