NCACC Q4 Report; Presidential and Ministerial Letters on SANDF Employment; with Minister
23 March 2023
Chairperson: National Assembly (NA) – Mr V Xaba (ANC)
The Joint Standing Committee on Defence (the JSCD) convened virtually for a briefing on the 2022 Fourth Quarterly Report of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC). The Committee considered and adopted the Presidential Letter of Employment dated 17 March 2023, and the Ministerial Letter of Employment dated 13 March 2023. Additionally, the JSCD 2022 Annual Report and Strategic Mid-Term Review Report, as well as outstanding minutes were adopted. The Committee resolved to postpone the JSCD-PCDMV Study Tour discussion to the second term.
The Presidential and Ministerial letters of employment related to the deployment of SANDF personnel to secure a safe environment within which protests could take place. To support the SAPS during the national protest on 20 March 2023, 3 474 personnel were deployed at an estimated cost of R166 million. The deployment period was extended to 17 April 2023. The Ministerial letter of employment was issued by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans in response to a call for support by the Minister of Health during the strike by public sector unions in the health sector. 2 800 nurses and health professionals were deployed to the North-West, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces from 8 March 2023 to 30 March 2023 at an estimated cost of R83 264. The Committee confirmed that the deployment was done in terms of the Constitution and recommended its support for the deployment of soldiers and medical staff by the President and the Minister. The Committee commended the SANDF for the balanced manner in which the protests were handled.
The Chairperson requested the Committee Secretary, Ms Nandipha Maxhegwana, to amend the agenda by adding an unforeseen matter to be deliberated, i.e. consideration of the Presidential and Ministerial letters of employment, to be presented by a designated member of the Department of Defence (DOD).
The Chairperson was anticipating a vote in the House and was unsure whether being present on two platforms would not jeopardise the votes of Members.
Mr S Marais (DA) did not consider it a problem and advised that in the past, Members would be allowed to excuse themselves when the bell rang, to cast their votes.
The Chairperson indicated that they are monitoring the situation; the meeting will proceed and if there is a vote, Members will be excused and return.
Minister’s opening remarks
Minister Thandi Modise indicated that the Chief Director of the Joint Operations was on the platform to present the letters of deployment and Adv Jele was on stand-by to present the 2022 Fourth Quarterly Report of the NCACC. She had observed that since 2022, the NCACC had been meeting more frequently on areas where they needed to tread more carefully and that the entity had grown substantially. The NCACC is a strategic measurer of what products and credibility we have as a country around the international world of the military. South African products had been seen in places where they had not been sold and cautioned the entity to be careful about its business operations. But she regarded the products as a measure of progress and innovation. She was aware that products were being sold to the Defence Industry. She raised concerns about the NCACC resuscitating the Defence Industry because the difference in frequency of income generated from sales would be presented in the NCACC report. She was hoping Adv Jele would inform the Committee whether or not the NCACC was still frequently and timely reporting to the United Nations on its operations. She suggested that the discussion about how to influence and draw resources through sales generated by the NCACC, might be deferred to a later date. It was still early in the year to review the programme of the Committee for the entities and the Ministry to determine whether amendments might be required. She felt that sometimes issues are thrust upon the entities and the Ministry, resulting in them frequently not being able to attend all the meetings. She suggested that it might be good to prepare quarterly meetings to confirm or amend the programme that was sent at the beginning of the year and not to have stand-by issues during the year.
Adv Ezra Jele, NCACC Secretariat Head, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present the 2022 quarter four and annual reports. Reports relating to quarter one to three had been tabled in Parliament and were presented to this Committee. Statistics are compiled on a calendar basis as per the United Nations regulation as opposed to a financial year basis. He presented the following summary of munition transactions for the 2022 financial year. The figures in brackets represent the 2021 financial year statistics.
2022 (2021) Values at a glance:
Export permits authorised;
Quarter 1 – 127 permits valued at R833 million: (133 permits at R600 million)
Quarter 2 – 146 permits valued at R570 million: (137 permits at R1 021 billion)
Quarter 3 – 152 permits valued at R818 million: (165 permits at R767 million)
Quarter 4 – 161 permits valued at R2 458 billion: (139 permits at R965 million)
Import permits authorised;
Quarter 1 – 58 permits valued at R36 million: (63 permits at R6 million)
Quarter 2 – 74 permits valued at R74 million: (73 permits at R57 million)
Quarter 3 – 82 permits valued at R25 million: (57 permits at R55 million)
Quarter 4 – 49 permits valued at R146 million: (57 permits at R876 784)
Litigation against the NCACC by Open Secrets and Lawyers for Human Rights on Yemen was ongoing. The Senior Council remains instructed on the matter. A Senior Council had been instructed to defend the NCACC in the matter brought by the Southern Africa Litigation Trust to review and set aside decisions of the NCACC on exports to Myanmar, given the political situation in that country. Adv Jele had no further developments to report since commencement of proceedings.
The Chairperson thanked Adv Jele for the informative report.
Mr Marais appreciated the comprehensive report but thought the information was on a high level and lacked detail. He asked for a comparison of actual imports and exports versus import and export approvals. He suggested that the Content Advisor, Dr Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, might be able to source the information from the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition. He wanted to know if any export applications had been received from and approved for Russia and Belarus. He noted a problem with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and Turkey and Poland applications. He asked if this information could be shared and if permit applications could be put on hold. He was concerned of being confronted about the matter during the upcoming study tour to Turkey. In liaising with the Aerospace Maritime and Defence Industries (AMD), he learnt that some had been largely dependent on exports because the SANDF was no longer buying munitions in large quantities. He asked if the NCACC had engaged with the AMD about the damage to their business prospects that they were experiencing. He wanted to know if applicants are informed of the reasons for applications being put on hold or denied. A year ago, the Committee was informed that the entity was operating on a dual system process and the electronic process was in the testing phase. He therefore found it concerning that the ICT transition process had not been completed. He wanted to know if the delay was due to the R4 million payment.
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) cautioned about Mr Marais’ questions where a level of confidentiality regarding some of the transactions was applicable. Information that might negatively affect the SANDF, should not be divulged.
The Chairperson replied that Adv Jele was not compelled to reveal protected information.
Mr Marais said he would not have a problem with the information being made available in a closed session.
The Chairperson replied that contracts between parties were not part of the discussion.
Mr Marais said his question related to countries and not parties.
The Chairperson replied that countries deal with the SANDF with the understanding of confidentiality. Their trust might be broken if the information is revealed. He advised Adv Jele to deal with the information with care.
Mr D Ryder (DA, Gauteng) joined the meeting late and apologised for interrupting proceedings. He asked permission to raise a question.
The Chairperson asked if he was sure that his question have not been covered.
Mr Ryder replied that he would refer to the YouTube recording if the question was covered.
The Chairperson said he was hesitant to allow Members to raise questions if they had not been present when the input was made but he nevertheless permitted Mr Ryder to put his question.
Mr Ryder asked what additional countries had been added to the list of issued or declined certificates in the last quarter. He wanted to know why certificates to Poland had not been issued.
Adv Jele said the export/import and permit reports all contained actual figures. Category A and B referred to the three entities that submit intelligence reports to the NCACC and on which decisions are based. Entities are informed if their applications were still under consideration. Revised reports containing updated data are required to support the applications. He remarked that there are no countries of concern but issues of concerns are raised, e.g. if the application would be contributing towards the destabilisation of a region. The NCACC do communicate with applicants of unsuccessful cases. Approval is based on criteria but entities seldom want to accept the reasons for failed applications. He supported the proposal for a closed session to address some of the issues.
The Chairperson felt that Adv Jele had dealt with the issues in the best way possible and thanked him for honouring the appointment with the Committee.
Mr Marais reminded Adv Jele about his question regarding the online process and ICT system.
Adv Jele said he would not attribute the lack of progress on the ICT system to the R4 million payment. He explained that loadshedding was affecting the time to process applications because the old system was taking longer to reboot and system availability was low. The entity was getting closer to migrate to the new system and was in the user-accepting testing phase. He thanked the Committee for the opportunity to share the information with Members.
Minister Modise called on the Chief Joints to present the two letters of employment.
Maj Gen VZ Ngcobo, Chief Director Joint Operations, SANDF, stated that the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force has authorised the deployment of the SANDF force elements under Operation Prosper in support of the SAPS. The security cluster identified the need for the SANDF deployment to ensure that the national protest of the EFF and involving other stakeholders took place in a safe and secure environment. The National Joint Operations and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) conducted the planning process and requested the SANDF to deploy force elements to safeguard national infrastructure by relieving the SAPS members from static deployment to do policing operations to ensure a secure and safe environment for the national protest. The President, within his powers in terms of the Constitution, deployed 3 474 personnel at an estimated cost of R166 million from 17 March 2023 to 17 April 2023. The Ministerial letter of employment was issued by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans in response to a call for support by the Minister of Health during the strike by public sector unions in the health sector. The Minister of Health identified certain hotspot areas where health workers were in dire need to save lives. Within the authority of powers vested in the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, 2 800 nurses and health professionals were deployed to the North-West, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces at an estimated cost of R83 264 from 8 March 2023 to 30 March 2023.
The Chairperson declared the letters open for comment.
Mr Marais supported the deployment in terms of the Presidential letter because of the experience in KwaZulu-Natal in 2021 when the integrity of the country and its people was being threatened. The Military was much better prepared and has done the country proud. The deployment contributed significantly to the low levels of unruliness. He found no fault with the Presidential letter but sought clarity about the number of soldiers deployed on a standby basis. He questioned the dates and timing of the Ministerial letter because it was dated 13 March 2023 whereas the deployment period was from 8 to 30 March 2023. The Committee received the letter on 20 March 2023 which was very late after the date of deployment. He asked how many soldiers had actually been deployed to the Department of Health. He wanted to know if the date would be extended after 30 March 2023 or if the situation had been normalised so that an extension was not needed.
Mr T Mafanya (EFF) agreed with Mr Marais about the deployment of soldiers when the need arises and based on intelligence received. But he disagreed that the deployment during the national protest was based on intelligence information and argued that it was premeditated because there was no unrest or looting. He asked what the consequences could be if the President’s decision was based on incorrect information or a wrong assessment. Considering that the letters were submitted to the Committee after the fact, he asked if the Chairperson made the decision on behalf of the Committee. Intelligence from the SAPS might sometimes be misplaced which could expose the SAPS members to abuse.
Mr Ryder remarked that the SANDF had conducted themselves well and that Mr Mafanya was speaking from a misguided point of view. When a threat is made, it must be met with a response. He was of the view that the deployment of the Defence Force along with the SAPS should stop. The SAPS should do what is supposed to be done without repeatedly calling on the SANDF for assistance.
Mr Mmutle said the Act in terms of Presidential deployments and how it should be communicated with Parliament must be clarified so that certain questions do not surface. The Act does not stipulate that the President must seek approval from the Committee. If such a requirement exists, then the information must be shared with the Committee.
Ms M Mothapo (ANC) agreed with Mr Mmutle that the Act stipulates what the President is entitled to do.
The Chairperson said he need to be informed under which Act the President must seek permission from Parliament before he deploys the SANDF.
Mr Marais said it was clear that the President did not need to seek approval but it must be done within a reasonable time. The President’s letter was exemplary and there could be no complaints about the legal position because it was communicated to the Committee within a reasonable time.
Mr Mmutle drew attention to Mr Ryder’s posts in the Chatbox where he shared the applicable legislation in question, which affords the President the authority to deploy without seeking permission to do so. The question about the influential role of Parliament in the President’s decision-making process was therefore dismissed.
Mr Mafanya replied that there might be no fault with the Presidential letter and the SANDF deployment but asked if the practice could not be open for abuse. He drew attention to the Central African Republic (CAR) deployment and other previous deployments where some soldiers died. He asked how the deaths of these soldiers would be explained to the country if citizens are not fully aware of the President’s decision.
The Chairperson said although it is the President’s decision to deploy soldiers, he must inform Parliament promptly, which then reviews the decision. If Parliament concludes that the deployment was not necessary, it recommends that the deployment be stopped. In terms of the Constitution, the decision of Parliament will not invalidate the actual deployment but it could stop the deployment at the time when the decision is made. This process had been followed from the outset. He called on Members to decide whether they agreed or disagreed with the Presidential letter. The security forces were on high alert and should be applauded for taking action to prevent the looting and torching of properties and factories, and to ensure that the protest could take place in a protected environment. A balancing act was observed which was allowing Members to speak of a peaceful protest, largely due to the security forces. The Committee should support the President for deploying soldiers and the manner in which the soldiers behaved. He welcomed the deployment by the Minister of Defence to assist health facilities to ensure that the rights of our people are not violated when they need help. He applauded the soldiers who assisted people under stressful conditions and thanked the Minister for her support.
Minister’s closing remarks
Minister Modise remarked that she was expecting a report on the deployment of military nurses at hospitals. Much-needed help was provided in neonatal wards to save the lives of babies. The requests for assistance came mostly from training hospitals and wer not done in a coherent manner, hence the difficulty with the dates. She apologised that the dates were not synchronised. She stated that Parliament has the right to review a deployment if it is not reported within 14 days. She was not aware of what had happened in the CAR but said in some instances the movement of medical personnel is supported with protection. The Defence Force had been busy lately, having to guard strategic infrastructure, including the deployment at airports. If in future, any deployment is deemed frivolous, then Parliament need to express its view. She acknowledged that this time, the SANDF was expecting much more trouble than what actually took place. Some tools of the trade, i.e. tyres, were confiscated in advance. She said the Defence Force would be pleased with the positive comments from Members and she would carry the good wishes to the soldiers.
The Chairperson noted that the Committee would recommend its support of the President’s letter to deploy soldiers and was also in support of the Minister’s decision to intervene in health facilities to attend to the plight of people in need, where medical staff went on strike. Mr Mafanya asked that his objection on behalf of the EFF be noted.
The 2022 Annual Report of the JSCD was adopted without amendments.
The JSCD Strategic Mid-Term Review Report was adopted with some editorial changes effected by the Content Advisor and two additional changes to the recommendations in Section 9 of the report.
The Committee adopted the minutes dated 9 March 2023 and 16 March 2023 without amendments.
The Committee Secretary alerted Members that this was the last meeting of the term and that she and the Content Advisor were ready to present the draft Second Term Programme for deliberation. On 20 April 2023, the DOD is scheduled to brief the Committee on the projects allocated to ARMSCOR and feedback by the DOD on the outcomes of the ARMSCOR workshop. 27 April 2023 is a public holiday; hence no meeting is scheduled.
Mr Marais asked if feedback on the Study Tour could be provided on 20 April 2023.
The Chairperson requested the Content Advisor to submit the draft programme. Members would be invited to comment.
The meeting was adjourned.
Xaba, Mr VC
Cebekhulu, Inkosi RN
Marais, Mr S
Mmutle, Mr TN
Modise, Ms T
Mothapo, Ms MR
Motsamai, Mr K
Ryder, Mr D
Shelembe, Mr ML
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