Policy on Recognition of Non-Statutory Forces for Pension Benefits; SANDF Response to Interim Report of the Setai Commission

Committee: Defence

Date of Meeting: 07 Mar 2001

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Minutes

JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE

JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE
7 March 2001
POLICY ON RECOGNITION OF NON STATUTORY FORCES FOR PENSION BENEFITS; SANDF RESPONSE TO INTERIM REPORT OF THE SETAI COMMISSION

Documents handed out:

Recognition of non statutory force provisioning of pension benefits
Setai Commission Interim Report (see Appendix)

Chairperson:
Mr J Mashimbye

Defence delegation: Minister Mosioua Lekota, Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) General S Nyanda, Chief of Staff of SANDF Gen. Ramano, Gen. Matanzima, Gen. Pepani, Brigadier Gen. A.L. (Dries) de Wit, Colonel de Wet, Colonel H. Zobane, Defence Secretary Mr J. Masilela and Mr Z Ngema

SUMMARY
Minister Mosioua Lekota, accompanied by senior members of the South African National Defence Force, asked for a postponement for the comprehensive briefing he will give on how the SANDF is meeting its constitutional obligations. Due to national security issues, this meeting will most probably be closed to the public.

The Special Pensions Act will be amended to allow former Non Statutory Force members to receive pensions based not from 1994 but based from the time the person joined the Non Statutory Force. The Department said that they do not anticipate spending more than R100 million in payouts for this pension scheme project.

The Chief of the SANDF made a few comments on the Setai Commission Interim Report.

MINUTES
The Chairperson recognised the presence of the Minister of Defence and commended him for keeping the promise he had made two weeks previously of intensifying contact with the Portfolio Committee.

State of the SANDF with regard to its constitutional obligations
The Minister of Defence requested a postponement of this briefing, stating that they need time to prepare a comprehensive report on this. He pointed out that certain issues that might be included in that report are sensitive to security.

The Minister said that this should not be perceived as a means of keeping information away from Parliament. He said the department has a responsibility to give a report to Parliament, but in doing so they have to ensure that the security of the country is not compromised.

Mr Smit (NNP) said there is a constitutional position which regulates when information is of national security interest. So with regard to the Minister's request it would be better to know the nature of the briefing so as to decide if constitutional obligations are not violated.

Ms Modise (ANC) in response to Mr Smit, commented that the Constitution provides that levels of transparency should be weighed. She said the onus is on the Committee to ascertain whether certain information is a danger to national security interest or not.

The Chairperson concluded that the Minister would have to consult him and the leaders of all parties in the committee in order to assess the impact of the report to the security of the state. However, he pointed out the possibility of meeting behind closed doors if necessary.

Policy on the recognition of Non Statutory Force members for provisioning of pension benefits
Brigadier-General de Wit told the Committee that the defence force has encountered disparities concerning the recognition of service of Non Statutory Force (NSF) members with regard to pensions. He said members who decided not to join the SANDF received their compensation in terms of the Demobilisation Act. Since April 1994 to 31 March 2000, a total of 21 123 former NSF members joined the SANDF. He said it is a constitutional imperative that the department provide legislation that will address these disparities between the statutory forces and NSF.

Gen de Wit reiterated the fact that members who qualify for this type of arrangement are those members of NSF (i.e. former MK and APLA) who entered into agreement with the Department Of Defence (DOD) or SANDF. These members joined the SANDF or DOD as uniformed members under the Defence Act or as civilians under the Public Service Act. From a financial point of view, they do not anticipate spending more than R100 million in payouts for this pension scheme project.

He said those members who joined the defence force and later demobilised will choose whether to enter into this dispensation of special pensions and receive benefit starting from the time they joined SANDF. If members decide to take this dispensation they will have to pay back the money that they received for demobilisation so that they do not benefit from both dispensations.

General de Wit said issues that will be looked at are years of service and age. This means the year that the member joined the NSF and their age at the time.

Colonel Zobane continued saying that the project would be implemented in two phases: the preparation phase and the implementation phase. The preparation phase would entail three main activities: the amending legislation, the securing of funds to finance the project and process making. There will need to be amendments made to the Special Pensions Act (Act 69 of 1996) and to the Rules of the Government Employees on Pension Law. Once these amendments have been drafted, they will be given to the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Chamber for approval. Colonel Zobane said that their concern is that formal legislative amendments normally take some time and this will have an impact on the time frames set for this project.

The Colonel said the National Treasury is exploring alternative ways of financing the project. Feedback from the Treasury is expected not later than April 2001.

She said process-making means the processes that will be carried out in implementing the project. This will be done by the Department of Defence in conjunction with the Pension Administration.

The Chairperson commended the DOD for recognising the contribution that veterans of the liberation struggle have made towards the new dispensation. The government should not repeat the experiences of World War Two African veterans who were given knobkierries, bicycles and coats.

Discussion
Prof Mabeta (UDM) asked about pensions for those people who did not join the Non Statutory Forces but were involved in the liberation struggle and are now feeling that their contribution in the struggle is not recognised. The Chairperson replied that it would be difficult to measure what Prof Mabeta refers to.

Gen de Wit said those who did not enter into an agreement with the DOD and SANDF, took the route of demobilisation. If members suggested that the DOD should look at other categories, perhaps that could be the second phase. As of now the Department is looking at members who have an agreement with the DOD.

Minister Lekota added that in addressing the discrepancies of the past, one should always bear in mind that the Department has to do so with the limited resources that it has. This is also what is happening in other areas such as land restitution, the Truth Commission and other similar government projects. Though it may be done to only a limited extent, the government does identify it as a problem and is looking at ways of addressing it. He said it is the responsibility of political leaders to see to it that wounds of the past are healed. Mr Lekota said there are people who lost their lives and nothing will ever bring them back, even money cannot do that. When approaching this issue, members should be informed by such factors.

Mr Smit (NNP) commented that it is very insensitive for millions of rand to go to members of the Defence Force in additional benefits whilst there are reports that Ysterplaat Airforce Base will be closed due to lack of funds. He said that the focus seemed to be on those who were involved in the armed struggle, what about those who did not fight but were involved in other forms of struggle? What additional benefits are they going to get?

The Chairperson replied that it is regrettable that there are people who still think the way Mr Smit does. He said the DOD is trying to address a very important issue and the Ysterplaat matter is something else altogether.

Mr Ngculu (ANC) added that such comments detract from what is being discussed and certain people seem not to be aware of the subject matter. People have to be sensitive because this is a matter of serious concern. He pointed out that former members of the South African Defence Force got pensions amounting to millions as retirement packages. On the other hand the NSF members get nothing when they retire. For Mr Smit to counterpoise the issue of Ysterplaat with special pensions is a display of ignorance. He added that members should not address political issues in meetings of this nature. It has been said already that this is an issue of addressing disparities from the past.

Mr Morkel (NNP) asked about the children and next-of-kin of those who died in the struggle?

Mr Schalkwyk (DP) noted that the Chairperson had mentioned that Second World War veterans had been given bicycles and coats. He said that some of those veterans are still alive and they are raising their voices as well. Veterans are veterans, whether they fought along side A or B, and the fact is they should also be considered. He added that the former Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr Ronnie Kasrils, was deeply concerned about this but nothing has happened.

Ms Modise (ANC) asked about medical benefits for people from the NSF who demobilised and those who resigned. She said some of them are sick and there is no medical care for them, whereas former SADF members do have such benefits. This should have been discussed during the negotiation process.

The Defence Secretary responded to the questions by Morkel, Modise and Schalkwyk, saying that everything was approached in line with DOD policies. The Military Veterans Act is the legislation upon which everything is based. All people who fall within that category will benefit. The next-of-kin of the deceased will definitely benefit from the project. They are trying to unify all veterans under one structure, that is the Military Veterans Act, so that all issues could be addressed, including medical issues and the like.

General Nyanda said the other issues that have been raised by the Committee could cause organisational problems. For example people who demobilised and would like to go back to the DOD. Presently they are sitting with a situation where there are people who integrated into the defence force who are at retirement age, i.e. above 60 years of age, but the department cannot force them to retire because this will be like sending people onto the streets to starve.

Deputy Minister N. Madlala-Routledge pointed out that the department has integrated seven military establishments into one national defence force - which is a great achievement. She said the department could not allow long serving NSF members to have their retirement package assessed only as from 1994. The Deputy Minister further said that they would welcome any submissions or contributions relating to veteran issues.

SANDF Response to the Interim Report of the Setai Commission
General Nyanda reminded the Committee that they are responding to an interim report. A full response will be made when the entire report is finalised. He pointed out that the evidence in the report has not been made under oath, so it still needs to be placed under oath. Nevertheless, the problems that have been identified are known to many people inside and outside the defence force.

Racism
General Nyanda said racism is very much alive in the defence force as it is all over South Africa. He added that it is not true that they are not able to control it.

Lack of Medical Doctors
Gen. Nyanda said Doctors in the defence force opted to demilitarise because they do not want to be sent on missions to rural areas nor to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Language
He said in the SANDF the official medium of instruction is English, but a commander can issue an order in a language of his/her choice provided that the subordinate understands it. However he pointed out that language should not be used to prejudice other people.

Absence without leave (AWOL)
Gen. Nyanda said certain people in the defence force go to work only when they want to. He said they have decided that a person who has not gone to work without a report or medical certificate is not going to be paid. Gen. Nyanda said the only reason they do not dismiss these people immediately is because they have invested so much in them.

Resistance to Transformation
The General said some senior officers do not allow their subordinates to go to certain courses, especially those that have something to do with transformation.

Discussion
A Committee member asked how many allegations has the department investigated. For example, on the issue of payment, certain soldiers claim they have not been paid.

Gen. Nyanda replied that there is no investigation because most of the allegations are not substantiated. He said some petty issues are blown out of proportion for unknown reasons. Gen. Romano added that the question of unpaid soldiers is as a result of the AWOLs that have already been reported. If a soldier goes AWOL, he is not paid.

Mr Ngculu noted the British Military Advisory Technical Team (BMATT) had given a report in 1997 and in 2000 there is the Setai Commission interim report. He asked whether the committee will need to compare the two or not.

Seemingly this question was not answered.

Ms Modise said the Setai Commission has never met the Committee although they are suppose to update them on whatever progress they make. She added that this is out of order because the Committee has to play its oversight role over the department.

Mr Ntuli (ANC) wanted to know what if the problem of uniform for soldiers had been solved. Again he wanted to know the time frame of the Setai Commission, adding that it is already a year old now. He said the Commission should have a fixed lifespan.

General Ramano responded that the shortage of uniforms was a result of the army changing the type of uniforms. He added that this is being addressed.

Gen. Nyanda told the Committee that first of all he thinks this is supposed to be called a Setai Committee, not a commission because it was not appointed by the President. Secondly he said the life span of the Committee ends on the 31 March 2001.

In conclusion the Chairperson told the Committee that the Secretary for Defence would soon visit the Committee to explain his role in the Ministry and the Department. He reiterated the point that the Setai Commission should come and account to the Committee as this was supposed to have been done much earlier.

The meeting was adjourned.


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