DFSC mid-year performance and expenditure; Update on status of Future Strategic Direction; with Minister


07 March 2024
Chairperson: Mr V Xaba (ANC) & Mr T Mmutle (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Joint Standing Committee on Defence convened via a virtual platform to receive a briefing by the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) on its mid-year performance and expenditure and an update by the Defence Secretariat on developing the Future Strategic Direction. The Minister was present.

The DFSC presented updates on its performance, focusing on activities, planned actions, and key recommendations. Concerns were raised regarding the Commission's staffing levels, meeting frequency with the Minister, and the implications of presented recommendations.

The Committee raised concerns about the inadequate number of commissioners, poor state of the defence budget, lack of meetings between the Commission and the Minister and recommendations made which did not seem to require the attention of the Joint Committee on Defence. Questions about the Regular Force Medical Continuation Fund and the South African Military Health Service were also asked.

Subsequently, the Defence Secretariat provided insight into the development of the Future Strategic Direction, emphasising alignment with national security needs within fiscal constraints. Progress was detailed, emphasising collaborative efforts and future directions.

Members highlighted the need to carefully consider the ambitious nature of previous defence reviews and expressed hope that the Defence Committee would not simply be asked to rubber-stamp the final product without meaningful input.

Meeting report

The Chairperson, Mr V Xaba (ANC), introduced the agenda. He stated there were two briefings: a briefing by the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) on its mid-year performance and expenditure, and an update by the Defence Secretariat on the status of the development of the Future Strategic Direction. Additionally, there was consideration of minutes. He informed the attendees that the meeting would be brief and promptly concluded.

Chairperson Xaba remarked that he was unable to present via video due to his area experiencing loadshedding. He noted that there was not a quorum as only five Members were present. Nevertheless, he expressed optimism that one or two more Members would join as the meeting progressed.

Defence Force Service Commission: Mid-Year Performance and Expenditure
Ms Sebina Hlapolosa, Deputy Chairperson, DFSC, outlined the scope of the presentation, which included updates on the DFSC's mid-year performance and expenditure, activities since August 2023, planned activities for the remainder of the financial year, the status of commissioners' contracts, DFSC engagements with the Minister, the impact of the Military Bargaining Council (MBC) on DFSC work, key recommendations, the DFSC budget, structural challenges, and concluded with a session for questions and comments.

Ms Hlapolosa then proceeded to provide details on the activities undertaken by the DFSC since August 2023. These included consultative follow-up visits to military bases and units, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Transport (DOT), and submitting various reports to the Minister.

She also discussed the planned activities for the remainder of the financial year, which included reviewing appointment and promotion policies, developing recommendations on a cost-efficient model for the duty bus system, and monitoring progress on recommendations and reports submitted to the Minister.

Regarding the status of commissioners' contracts, Ms Hlapolosa informed the Committee that there were six commissioners, with five having their contracts extended for another five years, while one commissioner's second term would end in 2025. She highlighted the need to appoint 8 to 10 commissioners as required by the Act and mentioned a submission made to the Minister regarding vacant commissioner posts.

Ms Hlapolosa then addressed the DFSC's engagements with the Minister, noting that there had been no formal engagement during the current financial year due to various commitments from the Minister's end. However, administrative engagements continued between the DFSC and the Minister's office.

Regarding the impact of the MBC on DFSC work, Ms Hlapolosa stated that the establishment of the MBC had not impacted the DFSC's work, as the two entities had complementary roles.

She proceeded to outline key recommendations made by the DFSC, including recommendations on the unemployment insurance fund, uniforms of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) members, the Group Life Insurance Scheme (GLIS), and the Regular Force Medical Continuation Fund (RFMCF).

Ms Hlapolosa then provided an overview of the DFSC budget, highlighting a decline in expenditure due to various challenges, including unstaffed posts for commissioners and the Secretariat.

She concluded by addressing structural challenges faced by the DFSC and reiterated the Commission's commitment to fulfilling its mandate.

(see attached for full presentation)

Chairperson Xaba thanked Deputy Chairperson Ms Hlapolosa for her clear presentation and highlighted three key points that require the Minister's attention.

Firstly, Chairperson Xaba noted the insufficient number of commissioners, emphasising that the Commission should ideally have between 8 and 10 commissioners but currently only has 5. Chairperson Xaba requested the Minister to address this issue promptly.

Secondly, Chairperson Xaba raised concern about the lack of meetings between the Commission and the Minister during the first six months of the financial year. Stressing the importance of these meetings, Chairperson Xaba urged the Minister to prioritise them for the effective functioning of the Commission.

Lastly, Chairperson Xaba acknowledged the recommendations presented by the DFSC, clarifying that they are intended for the Minister's attention and not for immediate action by the Joint Committee. Chairperson Xaba assured that the Committee would review the recommendations once the Minister makes decisions on them and invited the Minister, if present, to take note of these matters.

Minister’s remarks
Ms Thandi Modise, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, highlighted that two of the recommendations presented are already under discussion, particularly the issue of the medical fund, where progress is being made, and the uniform matter, which she personally emphasised the need for attention. She emphasised the importance of the DFSC in addressing issues that the Joint Standing Committee on Defence might not be able to, such as matters related to morale and the well-being of the forces. Minister Modise underscored the Commission's role in providing a platform for soldiers to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal, which might not be possible through other channels like the union.

Minister Modise affirmed her respect for the work of the DFSC and expressed her intention to meet with them soon. She also took note of the Commission's request for replenishment and expressed appreciation for their work.

Chairperson Xaba thanked the Minister's leadership and noted the positive relationship between the DFSC and the Department. Chairperson Xaba highlighted that the Department had responded positively to most of the recommendations, particularly those that did not necessitate significant financial resources. This response indicates an improvement and reflects a good working relationship between the DFSC and the Department's leadership.

Further discussion 
Mr S Marais (DA) expressed a specific interest in gaining more insight into the submission regarding the Regular Force Medical Continuation Fund (RFMCF). Mr Marais highlighted the significant concerns surrounding the fund, particularly the strain caused by the high percentage of outsourced medical services. He emphasised the urgency of addressing these issues to prevent the fund from becoming unsustainable.

Mr Marais then raised the issue of the defence budget's poor state, noting that the high percentage of costs allocated to employees could impact current members. He stressed the importance of proactive measures to ensure adequate support for members and requested feedback on this matter.

Regarding the key recommendations, Mr Marais expressed concern that none seemed to require intervention or support from the Committee. He questioned the need for developing standardised uniforms when some soldiers were already wearing new uniforms. He spoke to the importance of ensuring the quality and suitability of uniforms and equipment for soldiers, especially in adverse conditions.

Mr Marais also highlighted the need to assess the functionality of the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) in providing services and the funding model of the RFMCF. He expressed concerns about the state of military hospitals, particularly their under-resourcing and challenges faced by clients, the members. He urged for reflection on these issues and their inclusion in future reports to address them effectively.

Chairperson Xaba expressed a sentiment of caution, suggesting a reconsideration of the level of detail required. He pointed out that the recommendations were not directed to the Committee, indicating that delving too deeply into them might not be necessary.

Mr Marais reiterated his point, emphasising the need for detailed information regarding certain aspects that were not adequately covered in the summaries and recommendations. He suggested obtaining this information in a report for future reference, acknowledging that it might not be feasible to discuss it in detail during the current meeting.

Chairperson Xaba expressed uncertainty about the process of generating recommendations and suggested that they should stem from interactions with soldiers. He indicated that Members of the Committee might have issues they wish to be considered by the DFSC but questioned whether the Committee could be consulted as a stakeholder in that regard.

Mr Marais highlighted that it was important for the DFSC to acknowledge whether they required the Committee as a stakeholder. He indicated that it was ultimately the responsibility of the DFSC to respond to this matter.

Chairperson Xaba expressed concern about staying focused on the DFSC's mandate and not deviating from it. He emphasised the need to adhere to the law and process the DFSC's mandate accordingly. Chairperson Xaba also mentioned needing to leave the meeting soon for another appointment. He asked Mr T Mmutle (ANC) to chair the meeting in his absence.

Adv M Mothapo (ANC) expressed appreciation for the report provided by the DFSC and acknowledged the Minister's attention to the matters discussed. Adv Mothapo emphasised the importance of taking these issues seriously.

Ms Hlapolosa clarified that the purpose of their presentation was to report on the ongoing work of the DFSC rather than present recommendations to the Committee. She stressed that the topics discussed are still works in progress and will be presented at the appropriate time when the work is concluded and processed. She concluded by reiterating that the presentation aimed to inform the Committee about the ongoing work of the DFSC during the reporting period.

Chairperson Xaba expressed gratitude for the presentation and assured the DFSC that their budget is still within the allocated limits, indicating that funding is not currently an issue. He thanked the deputy chairperson and the team for their presentation, noting that they still have another six months to report on their progress. He suggested that some of the issues Mr Marais raised may arise during interactions with stakeholders.

Update by the Defence Secretariat on the status of the development of the Future Strategic Direction
Chairperson Xaba continued by addressing the future strategic direction of the Defence Force, acknowledging the ambitious nature of the 2015 review in the context of available funding. He underlined the need for modesty and aligning expectations with affordability. He mentioned that the proposed direction is a work in progress and has not yet been finalised. Chairperson Xaba suggested that the Minister may want to provide some additional remarks before the team presents.

Minister Modise underscored that the work presented is still in progress and highlighted its importance in addressing the real needs of the defence sector. She mentioned the process of refining their proposals, including consultations with the head of state, who emphasised the importance of assessing strengths and affordability. The Minister expressed the hope that the Committee would continue to be involved as the work progresses, including representation at future meetings with key stakeholders. She concluded by handing over to the Department of Defence to provide further details on the progress made thus far.

Dr Thobekile Gamede, Acting Secretary for Defence, noted that the Minister had just left due to prior commitments. Dr Gamede explained that they were providing a high-level overview of the progress made so far, despite the fact that the draft document had not yet gone through the cluster system.

She gave emphasis to the importance of sharing their work with the Joint Committee, even though it had not completed all stages of review. Dr Gamede mentioned two deadlines: one by the end of March 2024 to have a draft document and another by October 2024 to finalise eight documents with a plan. She assured the Committee that the Department was ready to present its progress, highlighting that it was still a work in progress that needed further review. Dr Gamede expressed gratitude for the opportunity to present to the Committee alongside Mr Nick Sendall, Chief Director: Defence Policy.

Mr Nick Sendall, Chief Director: Defence Policy, Department of Defence and Military Veterans, outlined the focus of their work, which stemmed from the realisation that the 2015 Defence Review was unlikely to be fully funded. This prompted the question of what type of defence force South Africa needs and can afford. Mr Sendall stressed that this is a challenging work in progress.

He highlighted three key deliverables for the current financial year, including reviewing and evaluating the defence review and developing a future defence concept. Mr Sendall put emphasis on the importance of aligning the defence force's trajectory with national security requirements while considering fiscal constraints.

Mr Sendall then provided an overview of the progress made, indicating that they are currently working on developing a future defence policy concept and a defence capstone concept. He discussed the timeline for completing these documents and outlined the strategic direction for the next financial year, focusing on developing an interim force that is sustainable within government's funding capacity.

Mr Sendall mentioned the need for a funding model that enhances defence capabilities while exploring cost-saving measures and strategic partnerships. He also highlighted the importance of analysing human resources and facilities to ensure combat readiness and operational efficiency.

Mr Sendall spoke about the fact that the Department’s work is ongoing and collaborative, involving multiple stakeholders from within the defence sector. He expressed enthusiasm for the progress made and the opportunity to share their findings with the Committee.

(see attached for full presentation)

Chairperson Mmutle expressed appreciation for the presentation, acknowledging that it represented a significant theoretical work in progress. He then invited Members present to engage with the presentation by indicating their interest through a show of hands.

Mr Marais expressed gratitude for the presentation and acknowledged Mr Sendall’s expertise, noting his involvement in the 2015 Defence Review. He highlighted the need to carefully consider the ambitious nature of previous defence reviews. He expressed hope that the Defence Committee would not simply be asked to rubber-stamp the final product without meaningful input. Mr Marais emphasised the importance of considering national security threats, requirements, and strategic concepts over multiple Medium-Term Expenditure Frameworks (MTEFs). He called for amendments to laws regulating the Strategic Defence Account. He also stressed the potential role of the private defence industry in South Africa and advocated for greater collaboration with capable industry stakeholders. Mr Marais commended the Defence Committee for its commitment to the Defence Force and National Security, noting the challenges ahead and the need for comprehensive analysis and input to avoid repeating past mistakes. He expressed eagerness to see the level of detail in the forthcoming discussions and emphasised the importance of contributing to the process.

Chairperson Mmutle thanked Mr Marais for his comments and checked if there were any further questions or comments from other Committee Members. Seeing none, he acknowledged the general agreement that the work is in progress.

Dr Gamede responded to Mr Marais, thanking him for his support. She noted that the Minister has already indicated the importance of consulting with various stakeholders, including parliamentary committees. Dr Gamede assured Members that progress would be shared, stressing that the process is ongoing and thanking all Members for their support.

Chairperson Mmutle appreciated the progress made by the Department of Defence and Military Veterans and thanked the team, along with the Minister and Dr Gamede, for their work. He noted that the ongoing work will serve as a foundation upon which future administrations can build.

Committee Minutes
Minutes dated 29 February 2024

Adv Mothapo moved to adopt a motion, which was seconded by Ms M Bartlett (ANC, Northern Cape).

The minutes were duly adopted.

Chairperson Mmutle conveyed words of gratitude to the Members on behalf of Chairperson Xaba. He expressed appreciation for their cooperation and participation before wishing everyone a good night.

The meeting was adjourned.


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