Prohibition of Mercenary Activity Bill: Minister’s briefing; Department Annual Report: briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

08 November 2005
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Meeting report

DEFENCE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 November 2005
PROHIBITION OF MERCENARY ACTIVITY BILL: MINISTER’S BRIEFING; DEPARTMENT ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms T Tobias (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department Annual Report FY 2004/2005 presentation
Department Annual Report FY 2004/2005: Report of the Auditor-General
Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Prohibition and Regulation of Certain Activities in Areas of Armed Conflict Bill [B42-2005]

SUMMARY
The Minister of Defence introduced to the Committee the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity and Prohibition and Regulation of Certain Activities in an Area of Armed Conflict Bill, that had been tabled before the National Assembly. The Bill was proposed as a replacement for the Foreign Military Assistance Act which had become insufficient to prevent former members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) from being drawn into the Iraq war as mercenaries.

The Committee felt that it would be premature to discuss the content of the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity Bill prior to the hearings and deliberations on the Bill, which would take place in the first quarter of 2006.

The Department then briefed the Committee on its Annual Report for 2004/2005, which focused on the primary outputs of the Department in the areas of defence administration; landward, air, and maritime defence programmes; the SA Military Health Service; and the joint support programme. The Department highlighted its difficulties with the implementation of the Integrated Financial Management System, and the delay of the Non-Statutory Forces Pension Project.

The Committee expressed concern about the delay of the Non-Statutory Forces Pension Project, as well as the 5% ‘buyback’ clause which stipulated that pensioners should pay back 5% of their income. Members were also concerned with the effect on the Department’s budget of unplanned external operations, and pointed out that the Department was failing to promote gender equality by employing only 22% female staff members.

MINUTES
Prohibition of Mercenary Activity Bill briefing
Mr M Lekota, the Minister of Defence, introduced to the Committee the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity and Prohibition and Regulation of Certain Activities in an Area of Armed Conflict Bill, that had been tabled before the National Assembly. The Bill was proposed as a replacement for the Foreign Military Assistance Act. The Foreign Military Assistance Act was passed to ensure that South Africa, as a young democratic nation, ‘adopted a defensive posture’ and complied with international military law. It also aimed to end the negative practices of the apartheid era, when South African mercenaries were paid to undermine governments in other African countries.

Since the start of the war in Iraq, the Foreign Military Assistance Act had become insufficient to prevent former members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) from being drawn into the conflict as mercenaries. Therefore, the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity Bill was drafted to amend the Act. The Committee was advised to bear in mind the original objectives of the Foreign Military Assistance Act when it reviewed the Bill, and were urged to attend to the process of legislation urgently so that South Africa could maintain a good image in the international community.

Discussion
The Chairperson clarified that the Minister had introduced the Bill to the Committee, and hearings and deliberations on the Bill would take place in the first quarter of 2006.

Mr O Monareng (ANC) commented that the wording of the Bill was obscure, and should be made more succinct so that it could be easily understood. He asked whether legal action would be taken against South African mercenaries who were participating in the Iraqi conflict if the Bill were passed.

Mr M Sayedali-Shah (DA) expressed support for the concept of the Bill, but was concerned about its content. He felt that the definitions in the Bill were ‘vague’ and should be debated vigorously. Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) noted that the Minister had made a presentation on the Bill, and Members’ questions on the content of the Bill would be answered during deliberations. The Chairperson emphasised that it would be premature for the Committee to discuss the content of the Bill before Members were given the opportunity to study it.

The Minister responded that as the Committee discussed the content of the Bill, it should balance the constitutional rights of South African citizens against the executive’s responsibility to limit those rights. As a member of the Commonwealth, South Africa was able to join Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in conflict situations. However, the Committee should reflect on what should be done in situations where Her Majesty’s Armed Forces were participating in a conflict that contravened the provisions of the South African constitution.

The Committee should also consider that some South African mercenaries were employed in Iraq by private security companies. As a result of the nature of the conflict in Iraq, those mercenaries sometimes found themselves in unforeseen situations, and lost their lives. The South African government was then required to answer to the international community for the participation of its citizens in the Iraq conflict.

Department Annual Report briefing
Mr A Visser (Department Chief Director: Strategic Planning) briefed the Committee on the Department’s Annual Report for 2004/2005, which was directly linked to the Department’s Strategic Business Plan. The Annual Report focused on the primary outputs of the Department, which included defence administration; landward, air, and maritime defence programmes; the military health service; and the joint support programme.

In the area of Human Resources (HR), the Department had compiled a progress report on its 2010 HR Strategy. The Department’s Military Skills Development System had grown to 6 262 members, and the Department’s Youth Foundation Training Programme provided training for 250 previously disadvantaged learners during 2004. Personnel Expenditure constituted 39% of the total Department HR expenditure, and this was within the Defence Review guidelines of 40%. Gender representation among Department personnel consisted of 78% male employees, and 22% female employees.

The Department’s participation in the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) activities, such as the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee, indicated its involvement in regional defence administration. In the area of internal defence administration, the Department was struggling to implement the Integrated Financial Management System. Consequently, the Department’s financial statements would be qualified until the system was put in place.

The Department’s Military Health Service had sent military medical task groups to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Sudan. However, the military health base depot that provided services to SANDF members deployed in Burundi, the DRC, and Sudan, did not comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Department’s 7 Medical Battalion Group was only 56% staffed, and therefore not combat-ready.

In the area of joint support, the Department had delayed the Non-Statutory Force Pension Project, and also reversed the migration of the Service Corps out of the Department.

Discussion
Mr L Diale (ANC) asked what progress the Department had made in implementing the Cabinet’s decision to close down SANDF Commandos. He also enquired what role the SANDF played in the African Standby Force, and whether the Department had a budget for this activity.

Mr J Masilela (Secretary for Defence) responded that the Department was part of a joint task team on the closing down of SANDF Commandos, and completed a logistics inventory for this task. Although the Department was committed to accomplishing the closing down of Commandos by March 2009, the progress of the project was determined by the joint task team.

The Department played a leadership role in the establishment of the African Standby Force and the SADC Brigade, and had deployed all the units it pledged to the SADC Brigade, which was based in Botswana.

Mr Monareng noted that 21 000 members of the Non-Statutory Forces resigned during the process of integrating Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the Azanian Peoples’ Liberation Army (APLA) into the SANDF. This was a large number and should be investigated. Mr Masilela clarified that 21 000 out of 64 000 members of the Non-Statutory Forces resigned during the integration process. The Department found it difficult to probe the causes of these resignations, as it was unable to obtain the relevant records from MK and APLA. In 2003, the Department conducted a forensic investigation into the integration process, and also started a review of ranks, through which it discovered ‘serious prejudices’ among different groups.

Mr Monareng observed that the Non-Statutory Forces Pension Project was being delayed by the Department’s inability to trace the addresses of former Non-Statutory Force members, and asked how the Department was attempting to overcome this delay. Mr Masilela answered that, although Parliament had approved the Non-Statutory Forces Pension Project, the Department had experienced difficulties in implementing it. One of these difficulties was the implementation of the 5% ‘buyback clause’ which stipulated that pensioners should pay back 5% of their income. In 2004, the Department requested that the Deputy Minister and the Deputy Minister of Finance should oversee the pension project.

The Chairperson queried whether military pensioners were required to pay back a portion of their pensions in tax. Dr M Ledwaba (Chief Director: Human Resources) replied that a special pension tax applied to Non-Statutory Force pensioners. However, some pensioners were being taxed on both their gross and net income, and the Department had submitted this problem to the South African Revenue Services (SARS). The Department had established a task team to discuss the reduction of the ‘buyback’ on Non-Statutory Force pensions from 5% to 3.75%.

Mr Monareng stated that the Non-Statutory Forces Pension Project had structural deficiencies, and the Non-Statutory Forces were dissatisfied with the 5% buyback clause. The Chairperson added that the Committee did not understand the purpose of the buyback clause, and requested a Department report on this matter.

Mr Monareng noted that the Committee made recommendations to the Department on the disposal of obsolete weapons during various oversight visits, yet these recommendations were not referred to in the Department’s Annual Report. Was the Department following these recommendations? Mr Masilela responded that the National Conventional Arms Control Council (NCACC) directed the Department’s Ammunition Disposal Plan, and the Department reported to the NCACC each month on the progress it made.

Mr Sayedali-Shah claimed that there were a number of discrepancies between the Department’s Strategic Business Plan and its Annual Report, and that the report also omitted details of how the Department would address the challenges it recorded. The Strategic Business Plan indicated that the Department would engage in three peace support operations, yet this number was exceeded, and the Committee should be informed of how the unplanned operations affected the Department’s budget.

Mr Masilela responded that the Department could not always determine beforehand what its external involvements would be, and in the case of the unplanned peace support missions, it applied to the National Treasury for contingency funding. Major-General Hlatswayo (Chief Director: Operations) added that as government usually issued the directives for unplanned external operations, it often assured the Department of funding for such operations. Mr Visser noted that the Department’s external operations budget of R821 million was supported by a Cabinet memorandum.

Brigadier-General Fakir (Director: Strategic Planning) said that the Department would attempt to align the Annual Report with the Strategic Business Plan more closely, but the difficulty was that the Strategic Business Plan was compiled one year before the Annual Report.

Mr Ndlovu asked how the Department was addressing the problem of moving the Defence Intelligence Headquarters from its present location. Major-General Hlatswayo replied that the project of moving the Defence Intelligence Headquarters was part of the Special Development Framework Project in Pretoria that would be completed by 2010. Cabinet had decided that all government departments should be located within seven precincts in Pretoria. As it would be expensive for the Department to participate in this project, it was considering whether to engage in ‘private financing’.

Mr Ndlovu and Mr S Ntuli (ANC) noted that the Committee was told during an oversight visit that the Department spent R40 million on a feasibility study of the new location for the Defence Intelligence Headquarters. The Department was also spending a large amount on the rent for the current Intelligence Headquarters. Mr Masilela offered that the Department would prepare a comprehensive report on the relocation of the Defence Intelligence Headquarters in consultation with the Department of Public Works.

Mr Ntuli referred to the Department’s new internal controls to strengthen financial management that were detailed in the Annual Report, and asked how the Department would exercise these controls without the services of its Chief Financial Officer (CFO), who had been suspended earlier in the year.

Mr Masilela explained that the Department appointed an independent investigation into the activities of the CFO, which submitted its findings to the Minister two weeks previously. The investigation showed that the alleged irregularities in the activities of the CFO were caused by communication problems between the Department and the Auditor-General. The Department had subsequently reinstated the CFO.

Mr Ntuli enquired whether the Department’s Annual Report was compiled prior to the public hearings on the land claims of the Wallmannstahl community against the Department. If so, what progress had the Department since made on the Wallmannstahl land claims? Major-General Hlatswayo confirmed that the Department’s Annual Report was compiled before the public hearings on the Wallmannstahl land claims (which took place in September). The Department was offering financial compensation to those Wallmannstahl residents to whom it had not handed over land.

Mr J Phungula asserted that the area of land used by the Department in Wallmannstahl belonged to the Wallmannstahl community and therefore should be given back. The Chairperson observed that the Wallmannstahl community was claiming a large area of land from the Department, and the Department, in responding to the claim, should consider how frequently it used this land.

Mr Ntuli suggested that the expansion of the Department’s procurement section to include category two material would cause it to overlap with the Armaments Corporation of South Africa’s (Armscor’s) procurement function. According to Armscor’s Annual Report, Armscor also supplied the Department with category two material. Major-General Hlatswayo responded that the Department was gradually shifting its procurement section out of the Defence Secretariat into the supply chain. The Chairperson acknowledged that there was confusion between the Department and Armscor in the area of acquisition and procurement, and the Committee would hold a separate session with the Department on this matter.

Ms X Makasi (ANC) queried whether the Department had produced a progress report on focal groups, such as the focal group on gender equality. The Chairperson emphasised that the Department’s employment of only 22% female staff, and its employment of only two women in top management positions, was not in line with gender equality.

Dr Ledwaba answered that a report on the Department’s focal groups was submitted to the Chief of the SANDF and the Secretary for Defence. She conceded that the Department was having difficulty in employing women in upper management positions, and currently only 2% of its employees in level 13 and level 14 employment were women. The Department had instructed each Chief of Service to promote gender equality. The Chairperson stated that the Department should have a learnership programme that provided for the training of women. The Department’s middle management comprised 65% white employees, and in this area the Department had failed to advance employment equity since its previous Annual Report.

Mr Sayedali-Shah asked how the Department’s maritime logistics section would address the disposal of submarines and the lack of spares for maritime operations. Major-General Hlatswayo was not aware of any Department reports on these matters and was unable to provide the relevant information.

Mr Sayedali-Shah enquired whether the South African Military Health Service had responded to the Committee’s recommendations on 1 Military Hospital following its inspection visit there. Mr Masilela replied that the Department was consulting with the Department of Public Works on the improvement of the facilities at 1 Military Hospital.

Mr Sayedali-Shah asked whether the South African Military Health Service had recently conducted a survey on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the combat-readiness of the SANDF. Major-General Ntsibande (Chief Director: Logistics) responded that the SANDF did not deploy HIV-positive members externally. The SANDF had lost some HIV-positive members deployed to Burundi who failed to inform the Department of their health status. As a consequence, the Department would conduct medical tests on SANDF members to determine whether they were fit for deployment. HIV-positive members who were healthy would be deployed internally.

The Chairperson interjected that the deployment of HIV-positive SANDF members was a matter of policy and would be dealt with at another Committee meeting. Mr Masilela pledged that the Department would report back on its deployment policies, as well as on the latest surveys of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the SANDF.

The Chairperson commented that the Department should solve the administrative problem of the implementation of the Integrated Financial Management System so that its financial reports would be unqualified in the next five years. The Department should use the challenges identified in its Annual Report to formulate new strategic objectives so that these challenges could be dealt with.

The meeting was adjourned.

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