Civil Military Relations: seminar


17 September 1999
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Meeting report


17 September 1999

Documents handed out


Morning session
The Joint Standing Committee on Defence discussed civil-military relations in South Africa. Professor Stockton of the United States Naval Postgraduate School served as the facilitator in discussing oversight of the military by Parliament and the relationships amongst the Department, Parliament and its Committees and the Minister. The main discussions revolved around when Parliament should intervene in departmental affairs and exactly what its actual power and role is with regard to the budget and operations of the Department of Defence (DOD).

Afternoon session
Prof Stockton raised the question: how widely should authority be distributed over and between the existing two Defence committees? He discussed both the advantages and disadvantages of having authority consolidated into one committee and also of authority spread between more then one committee. After a brief explanation, he opened the floor for more discussion.

Understandably, the Joint Standing Committee on Defence was created in 1994 to oversee the integration of all of the different military forces. In achieving this goal, the Joint Committee had specialized oversight and budget authority. However, the role of the Joint Committee was independent of the role of the Defence Portfolio Committee - having its own authority over other defence issues. The main focus of this discussion was whether or not there was still a need for the existence of both committees. The topics discussed revolved around issues of authority and resources.

After much discussion, the group came to the consensus that there needs to be some kind of specialization within the already existing committees, but that both committees should remain in existence. There needs to be some kind of specialization within the committees, because not everyone can do everything. Additionally, there was an agreement that South Africa needs to have a defence committee available at all times. Currently, there is no committee available during the election process. The question that remained was how better to specialize and define the roles of the committees.

The second part of the briefing focused on the role between Parliament and the Executive or more specifically the Minister of Defence. Prof Stockton kept his comments very brief and instead opened the discussion up to the members and guests in attendance. There were several comments made, but no consensus was reached in the limited time available.

The meeting was concluded with Prof Stockton talking about the longer three-day seminar happening in February 2000 on the same topic. The plan is for Prof Stockton to put together a written statement on the points of agreement and disagreement from today's meeting and to submit them back to the committees for review. Additionally, Prof Stockton asked the members to think about particular issues that they want to cover in the three-day seminar, and he will draft an outline/agenda for the seminar from those suggestions. Finally, he asked the members to think about who should participate in February's program.

Morning session
Professor Stockton stated that he was giving his personal scholastic opinions to the committee and that these should not be construed as the opinions of the US Government. He also said that the US had no clear answers on the issue and that the purpose of the seminar was to raise these issues with candour and to build consensus amongst Members of Parliament (MPs). The three questions to consider were:
How should Parliament determine oversight?
How should responsibility of oversight be allocated?
How should relationships be structured between committees, Minister, and the Defence Department?

The Chairperson, Mr Mashimbye, in his opening remarks, said that Civil-Military relations do not exist in a vacuum; the social and political environment shapes the context for the government's role. Elected officials have a responsibility to the people to make sure the armed forces conduct themselves with dignity.

Professor Stockton continued the discussion by explaining that there are two types of oversight:
Narrow - Legislation is enacted by the Executive and Parliament's role is to review the implications of those laws. The oversight function of Parliament is limited to a narrow set of roles. Examples of this system include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and other Westminster models

Wide - Parliament can overturn Executive decisions and has the ability to shape legislation without Executive approval. Parliament has a much more expansive view of oversight. An examples of this is the United States.

Professor Stockton then posed the questions:
Where does South Africa want to fit along this spectrum?
What definition of oversight would be most appropriate for South Africa?
What purpose do you want oversight to serve?

He said that oversight is important because it brings accountability to the military and this transparency forces the military to do a better job because it is required to defend its reasoning to the public. However, the tension it creates also creates fragmentation within the government.

Mr Selfe (DP) expressed his concern that the South African government was not using oversight enough. Before the new government, there was a lack of democratic control. The military was not answerable to the people and that is why the new constitution sought to make military relations more transparent. Although the framework is in place for oversight, Parliament still has minimal power to change budgets and cannot control the Department.

Professor Stockton replied that parliamentary oversight is determined by how broadly it is defined in both principle and practice.

General Viljoen (FF) told the committee that he thought it would be better to pursue an American form of oversight because of three factors:
South Africa is a young democracy and because of its inexperience it needs more parliamentary control.
The new Defence Force is young and newly formed so it needs more oversight.
The new Defence Force has increasingly become more politically centred and it needs the guidance of all the political parties.

Ms Modise (ANC) agreed that South Africa should model itself after the US but disagreed with Gen Viljoen's comment that the Defence Force was politicised. Before the new government, the interests of the Boer Republic had the commanders' attention. She said that the opening up of the country to international scenarios has caused the military to become less partisan. According to her, oversight should be in place for the Defence Force to protect the country and not in order to use the country against itself.

Professor Mabeta (UDM) also disagreed with Gen Viljoen's claim that the military was not politicised prior to 1996. He said that political powers were used to maintain the compliance of officers. He added that South Africa has a different parliamentary history to the US and that South Africa is in the process of rehabilitating a parliamentary state.

Mr Mogoba (PAC) argued that no model could accurately fit South Africa because of the uniqueness of its situation. He agreed that the American model should be looked at but with not an extreme form of oversight. Instead the government should adopt a view closer to the middle from which it could move in either direction. Parliament must first find its feet before moving too fast in one direction. The government should also shape its role to fit into a world of joint-peacekeeping.

The discussion then shifted to the role of the Executive. One of the Admirals present suggested that the role of Minister is very political since he is chosen for towing the ruling party line, a practice not conductive to good civil-military relations.

Professor Mabeta (UDP) replied that it does not make a difference if the Minister is from the ruling party because even if the Minister came from an outside agency, he/she would have to be supported by the party.

Chairperson Mashimbye then read section 43.2 of the White Paper on Defence as follows:
43.2 The government will not interfere in the military chain of command, the application of the Military Disciplinary Code, or operational matters which are the authority of military commanders. The Chief of the SANDF shall supervise and exercise control over operations and preparations for operations subject to the relevant laws, national policy, parliamentary oversight and the directions of the Minister and/or the President.

He asked how the committee should understand this section and what the military leaders present thought the role of operational oversight for Parliament should be.

A general commented that the Defence Review agreement over what the Department of Defence (DOD) should do with regard to policy is not clear.

General Binda added that the military is supposed to get directives on policy from Foreign Affairs but it does not. Clearing that up would be a way to help understand Parliament's role in operations.

Chairperson Mashimbye queried how the Defence Force currently viewed oversight. He added that the White Paper says Parliament should be told before troops are deployed. However, he did not know of any member who was called before the military went into Lesotho. He said the committee was not asked if the military could go in but was told it was going and what it planned to do. He further wondered if this invasion set a precedent for military actions in the future.

Mr Ngculu (ANC) conjectured that if the committee had given opposition to going into Lesotho, whether the committee's opposition would have really been enforced.

Mr Bloem (ANC) commented that presently the Department must give the committee permission to become involved. If there is something that displeases it, the committee must wait for the green light from the Department before changes can be made. He thought this structure was backwards.

Gen Viljoen stated that oversight means inclusion in strategic planning not tactical evasions.

Ms Modise added to the discussion by commenting on her MK experiences, saying that she had not liked civilian members of the ANC telling her how to run military operations but that she had had to follow their authority. She said there are insecurities on the part of the Defence Department, which causes it to keep Parliament out. It does not always trust that Parliament will do the right thing - this builds tension between the two groups which needs to be resolved.

An ANC committee member said that the budget process did not have an oversight component as Finance comes up with its own figures and the Department really does what it wants. He said the two committees do not do anything with regard to the budget.

At this, Professor Stockton said that there needed to be some clarity on the US model of oversight. Congress has real power to legislate and is not just a rubber stamp. He told the committee that Congress could actually veto a budget. He used the example of the F-22 fighter. The Air Force told Congress that it wanted to put money into that program: Congress refused to give it money and ended the program altogether. But that raised two key questions: Where does Congress get its information? In this case Congress did its own analysis and decided that the US did not need a fighter plane because threat of attack was not serious. But who is to say that it knows more than the experts? There are often many problems when Congress interferes with the micro-management of defence policies.

Structure and timing of oversight is also important? What is the appropriate time for interference. How can one interfere effectively? Prof Stockton again cited the example of the F-22 fighter. The funding for the F-22 had been colossal up to that point but the government cut funding only when the program was almost finished. Because Congress waited so long to axe the program, lots of governmental money was wasted.

He spoke to the committee about how the US handles the power to declare war. He said that the US has not officially been to war since World War II even though it has entered into several conflicts. This is because only Congress has the power to declare war and it has not exercised that power since WWII. The President can send in troops without gaining the consent of Congress. However, Congress still holds the power of the purse, which has been used to control the Executive in times of conflict.

This ended the first part of the seminar.

Afternoon session
Prof Stockton briefly discussed some issues involving the structure of the oversight process within Parliament. He conceded that no government has found a completely successful program. He asked the members to think about how widely they want to distribute authority. Do they want to distribute authority broadly or more narrowly? In the United States, they have a more fragmented approach in legislation. They actually have six committees that deal with the different aspects of defence.

If you only have one committee, then it allows that committee to focus on issues in a coherent way. Further, there are no jurisdictional issues or conflicts. In addition, it allows the committee to a have specialized approach. The disadvantages in having only one committee revolves around the span of control issue. Time is scarce, which means that oversight becomes less effective. In reality how much oversight can you have when only one committee is trying to do all the work?

If you have more than one committee dealing with the defence issues, then each committee can focus on specific issues. There is more specialised oversight on particular areas of defence, and it gives people the opportunity to establish an expertise on certain specific areas. There is an increase in the diversity of views and there is an increase in public access. The disadvantage in having more than one committee is that it is hard to establish a coherent approach. There is a lot of redundancy and conflicts over jurisdiction. Again, the question comes down to how to divide authority in a way as to minimize jurisdictional issues and conflicts.

Prof Stockton then opened the floor for discussion. He said that it is not unusual that South Africa needs to rethink how many committees should deal with defence issues.

Chairperson J Mashimbye opened the discussion by asking whether the members thought that authority should be distributed over one or two committees.

Prof M E Mabeta (UDM) stated that the members needed to decide between a quick fix approach or a streamlined approach. The problem that they face is one of resources. He asked whether there was any money available for resources or whether the money was being allocated elsewhere. He stated that the important point is that both committees are overburdened with making informed decisions, and that there is a lack of authority in making those decisions. More resources need to be available to assist the two already existing committees. There is a need to empower financially the two committees and give them authority so that they do not have to rely on the department.

General Motumi (CD Def Pol) - (in response to a comment on assistance from NGOs) felt that if the committee was allowed to go outside itself then they should be able to decide to whom they go to for advice.

A suggestion was made regarding the need for coordination of all aspects of defence. There needs to be standard operation procedures.

General Viljoen (FF) suggested that since defence operates in five areas that there be two subcommittees. One committee would deal with issues concerning personnel management, logistics, and finance/budget. The other subcommittee would deal with the areas of intelligence and military operations and training.

Mr S B Ntuli (ANC) asked what is South Africa's foreign policy? Is the defence committee following that policy? The budget should also be guided by the policy. There is a need to define the foreign policy, because that will decide whether what the committee does is in agreement with that policy.

Ms T R Modise (Chair of Defence Portfolio Committee) (ANC) spoke about the problems with having selected NGOs to advise. It is bad policy to select an NGO. They are intellectuals giving advice to MPs, which is wrong because it is insulting to the intelligence and capabilities of the MPs. What is important is the ability of the MP to be able to solicit and interact with all NGOs; this allows the MP to decide what weight to give a particular NGOs opinion. NGOs should be used as a resource only. She also addressed the problem of resources. The lack of resources limits the committee's chances of specializing and following-up. Where do you want the Portfolio Committee on Defence to have authority and where is their boundary of authority?

An ANC committee member stated that they needed coordination in oversight to avoid conflict between the two committees. He also agreed that they needed to figure out how best to ensure that resources are allocated to the committee to ensure they can operate independently. Also there needs to be some form of specialization. There is a need to organise the committees in a way that best uses the resources available.

Chair Mr J N Mashimbye (ANC) made the point that there is a context for everything. Having a joint committee may not give the ability to specialize in the way that it would need to function, which is why there may be the need for a subcommittee. He said to look to history showed the need for specialized oversight. If the two chairs of the two existing committees (Defence Portfolio and Joint Standing) do not get along, then there will be problems. We need to have two leaders that complement one another so that they can get things done. To keep committees on a purely legislative role is a waste of human resources. There is a perception that the joint committee is more powerful than the portfolio committee. If this perception is true, then there should always be a joint committee on defence.

Ms S Rabkin (Chief Director: Efficient Services) pointed out the problem that after the end of a term of Parliament and during the election period all portfolio committees disappear, and none are reformed immediately. This is a major weakness in the current system. There must be a defence committee in operation at all times for South African deployment/safety purposes.

Chair T R Modise (ANC) said that she wanted the Joint Committee to have some oversight over the budget and she wants them to have a different view or thinking from the Portfolio Committee. This would create a check on the process.

Chair Mr J N Mashimbye (ANC) felt that there is not the same need for two committees now as there was in 1994. There should be one committee, a joint committee, so as to specialize.

Chair Ms T R Modise (ANC) feels that the two committees should stay as they are. She felt that the Joint Standing committee had not completed its original function of integration. These two committees already have two separate roles.

OVERALL (Prof Stockton) - There was general agreement that there should be two committees, but there were questions as to what their functions should be.

Ms Shope (ANC) felt that the Portfolio Committee should have a legislative role as well as a role in the budget process and general oversight. She also thinks that the Joint committee should deal with the process of integration and ensure that the transformation in the military happens. She also felt that the Joint Committee should deal with the budget in an "auditor" fashion - they should be checking to make sure that the resources are being used as they should be.

Prof Stockton made the observation that the membership as it is right now will not always be this good so they should take advantage of the good relationships and the consensus between the Committees right now. Additionally, so far as the budget issue - every committee seeks control over this power.

Third session
Prof Stockton briefly discussed the role between Parliament and the Minister of Defence. To be active, you need a good relationship with the executive. He challenged them to think what the disadvantages would be of Parliament playing a more active role vis-a-vis the executive (Minister of Defence)

Ms Shope (ANC) said that both the executive and parliament are responsible to the public, but the committees are more so. The committee must speak to the voters, but she does not really see that there is a difference in view between the Minister and the Chair of the committee or if there was a difference that it would be too big to resolve in a caucus or special meeting. Parliament's role is to call into account what the executive does or should be doing.

Chairperson T Modise (ANC) does not really see why the two cannot complement each other.

The meeting was concluded with Prof Stockton talking about the longer three-day seminar happening in February of 2000 on the same topic. The plan is for Prof Stockton to put together a written statement of the points of agreement and disagreement from today's meeting and to submit them back to the committees for review. Additionally, Prof Stockton asked the members to think about particular issues that they want to cover in the 3-day seminar, and he will draft an outline/agenda for the seminar from those suggestions. Finally, he asked the members to think about who should participate in February's program.


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