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DEFENCE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
22 May 2001
SERVICE CORPS: BRIEFING
Documents handed out: None
The Committee expected a full report on the activities of the Service Corps. But as the meeting went on it was clear that the Deputy Minister had prepared a different presentation on the migration of former soldiers to civil society. The Committee argued that what they wanted was a progress report on the activities of the Service Corps and how the funds have been utilised and what areas could be improved.
After the oversight role of the Committee was pointed out, it was agreed that the Deputy Minister and the Chief of the Service Corps, General A Masondo, would give a full report on the Service Corps at the next meeting.
In her introduction, the Chairperson noted that in 1999 there had been a committee discussion on rationalization. The Committee had wanted to know what would happen to those people who were to be removed from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and how these people were going to be integrated back into civil society. Among the issues raised in that meeting was that the Service Corps could play a very important role in providing literacy, numeracy and other skills to these people.
She said that no progress report on the Service Corps had been presented to the Committee. Even the General Auditor's Report has not given any information on the Service Corps. She expressed her disappointment at what was happening to the Service Corps. She said the proposal that the Service Corps should be closed is not acceptable to the Committee. Something must be done to address the problems of the soldier who has only one skill. Ms Modise said that if such people should be left to suffer, the Department would be failing in its duty. These people should be given something that would enable them survive outside the Defence Force.
Deputy Minister of Defence's presentation
The Deputy Minister of Defence, Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, stated that sometime last year President Thabo Mbeki had told the Department that the Service Corps should be used productively to meet the challenges of reconstruction and development of the country. Ms Routledge emphasized the fact that they are at the point of looking at the Service Corps policy to see where they can improve on it to meet the objectives for which it was introduced in 1995. It was important to engage with the Committee in order to see how the Service Corps could be improved and the process carried forward.
What is the Service Corps?
The Deputy Minister noted that the Service Corps was created as a result of the approval of Cabinet as per Cabinet memorandum (12) of 1995, section 2(1) item 21. This followed the amendment of section 80 of the Defence Act of 1957. She said the aim of the Service Corps was to help ex-combatants to integrate smoothly into civil society. In this regard the Service Corps was tasked to offer counseling, training and to assist ex-combatants in finding employment in the formal and informal sector. Ms Routledge said in terms of the Cabinet memorandum, the Service Corps was initially supposed to be part of the SANDF but, quite importantly, it is later expected to develop into an independent and predominantly non-military organisation. She said that is why they are talking of migration of ex-servicemen and women from military to civilian life.
The Deputy Minister said during earlier discussions in Cabinet, a committee of Ministers was established consisting of the Ministers of Defence, Labour and the then Minister responsible for the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). This Cabinet committee was to look at what mechanisms can be put in place to carry forward the objectives of the Service Corps. The Ministry of Defence indicated that they would continue to be interested and lead the process as they were the major client department. The Cabinet committee also felt that the Service Corps should have closer links with the Department of Labour for the imparting of skills. In terms of the RDP the Service Corps was also expected to contribute towards reconstruction and development of the South African society.
Aims of the Service Corps
Ms Routledge quoted from the memorandum the primary aims of the Service Corps: "The Service Corps was to furnish ex-servicemen and other target groups with educational and vocational skills to enable them to find employment in the formal and informal sector". This would also enable them to start their own businesses. She quoted another phrase: "In order to achieve the aims of the Service Corps we offer counseling, training and settlement schemes to assist ex-members to find employment in the formal and informal sector". She said that the Service Corps had a mandate to train ex-combatants who were demobilised from the SANDF, though it did not have the mandate to train people other than ex-soldiers.
She said the Service Corps was to form partnerships with other organisations in government, the private sector and Non Governmental Organisations, this sometimes is referred to as Public Private Partnership (PPP). The Deputy Minister said from the beginning there was a broad understanding that the people that were demobilised from the defence force should have certain skills. She added that the Service Corps was also advised to work closely with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) which deals with issues of skills and qualifications.
In terms of Cabinet decision the Service Corps was supposed to have demilitarised in 1997. This means that the department has gone beyond the original time frame that was agreed upon. She asked Mr Sybert Liebenberg (part of the Defence delegation) to elaborate on the public private partnership and how it operates.
The Chairperson said before the meeting could proceed, the Committee did not know about the "migration" that the Deputy Minister has referred to. She said to her understanding there is still many questions on the functioning of the Service Corps itself. She added that there is nothing more disconcerting to a Member of Parliament as the use of public money in the wrong way. In terms of the Service Corps they do not know how the money was used. She asked the meeting to really look at the Service Corps.
Mr Ngculu (ANC) agreed that there is no way that they could proceed and talk about the PPP before actually addressing the critical question of the Service Corps. He said the problem with that approach would be a presupposition, something that tells the Committee that a decision has already been taken. But according to his recollection as a Member of Parliament there has never been any stage where the Committee has been briefed about the process. He said it would be unfair for the department to put the cart before the horse, something which is unacceptable.
Mr Ngculu said he had expected to get a report on the Service Corps. From the beginning of the year the Committee has been waiting for a presentation on the Service Corps. Now they are hearing something different about "migration". Mr Ngulu said as the Chief of the Service Corps, General A. Masondo, was present in the meeting, he expected him to tell the Committee what the Service Corps has done so that if there are any shortcomings they could jointly deal with them. This would help the Committee to get a full picture of what is happening in the Service Corps. He was currently totally unhappy with the process of the Service Corps.
Adv. Schmidt (DP) said his biggest concern was that General Masondo should be more active and in control of the Service Corps issue. As General Masondo is an experienced soldier, this could be to the advantage of the service.
Mr Ndlovu (IFP) said he was also confused. He thought that General Masondo would report on the Service Corps.
Mr Modise (ANC) suggested that General Masondo [who was present] should be given an opportunity to answer some of the questions they had. She said it would be really unfair to conclude that the Service Corps is a failure without giving General Masondo a chance to talk on this matter. By concluding that the Service Corps is a failure would mean the Committee is attributing that failure to General Masondo. Nobody should do that without giving that person a chance to put his own side of the story.
Mr Ndlovu disagreed with the Chairperson, saying that it will be uncalled for to say General Masondo must make a presentation whereas they had not agreed on that before the meeting.
The Deputy Minister intervened saying that the Executive accounts to the public via Parliament. She said she was sent to the meeting by the Executive to account to the public via the Committee. She said it is the Minister of Defence who decides how they should account to the public via this committee. Ms Routledge said this is the way they agreed with General Masondo, that they should arrange the meeting the way they did. However, she acknowledged that they misunderstood the request of the Committee. They thought that the Committee wanted to know about the migration of the Service Corps. Nevertheless there is absolutely no problem with them going back and preparing what the Committee is asking them to do. She said she would decide together with the Minister on how that presentation would be made to the Committee. She said if the Committee needs a report, the department is prepared to come back and present a full report on the Service Corps.
The Chairperson emphasized that there is a need for a report - in fact the Committee is empowered to ask for a full report from the department. She said it should be made known that whenever the Committee asks for information it is because they are doing their job. Ms Modise said the problem is that the department on its own decided on how they would respond to the Committee's request.
She reiterated the fact that the Committee knew nothing about the migration of the Service Corps. They had requested a report because they were not happy with the work of the Service Corps. The Committee is concerned that there was extensive fundraising done for the Service Corps - not only money from Defence - but from other sources. The Committee would like to know what happened to that money.
The Deputy Minister told the Committee that they had not come to the meeting with preformed ideas. She reiterated that the department is at a crucial stage of the Service Corps where they need input from the Committee as well as the general public.
Mr Ntuli (ANC) said it could be better if the department send a copy of what they would present seven days before the actual presentation. He said this would avoid people picking up only one point in a presentation, for example migration in this case.
Mr Mclntosh (DP) noted that any institution that engages in skills development should conduct some research in terms of the type of skills that would be required by the private sector. He wanted to know what type of research had been done by the Service Corps to determine the skills that would be required for these people to be incorporated in the private sector.
It was agreed to adjourn the meeting and a report on the Service Corps would be scheduled for a next meeting.
In conclusion the Deputy Minister said the input from members had clarified what areas the report on the Service Corps should cover. For example what research has been done in terms of skills for the Service Corps. She agreed that the documentation would be submitted in time to allow members to make preparations.
Study Tour to Nigeria report
Ms Modise announced that they are still formatting the report of the study tour to Nigeria so it will be adopted in the next meeting of the Committee. It was a joint committee trip with the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and that committee would also have to adopt it.
The meeting was adjourned.
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