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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE
18 August 1998
THEFTS OF ARMS AND AMMUNITION FROM MILITARY BASES: BRIEFING
The Joint Standing Committee on Defence considered the thefts of arms and ammunition from various military bases in the Republic of South Africa.
Mr T Yengeni, the chairperson of the committee, stressed that additional security over weapon storage was needed and asked the Department of Defence (DOD) how they were going to handle this issue.
He then welcomed and introduced the delegation from the Department of Defence: Lt. General P Coetzee (Chief of Logistics) and Brig. General T Botha (Director of Logistical Operations). He also introduced Dr. Ian Phillips (Advisor to the Minister of Public Works).
Lt. Gen. Coetzee briefed the committee on the current status of ammunitions control in the Defence Force. He said that weapons control was an ongoing problem. In order to measure shortcomings there are three options open to the D.O.D: auditing, stock-taking and sending in logistical inspection teams. In the last year the DOD had launched exercises with accounting procedures, this being in line with the SAPS, and this was producing results.
He then briefed the committee on the sequence of events following the thefts of arms and ammunition in the Defence Force (see synopsis at end of minutes).
Lt. Gen. Coetzee went on to summarise the findings of the audit into arms and ammunition control systems integrity:
1. The system is sound and policy is in place to guide the system
2. Policy is sound but incomplete
3. Policy is not adhered to and in most cases where losses occurred, there had been deviations previously.
4. Disciplinary actions were not in line with transgressions
5. There were too many weapons in circulation
6. There are poor physical and administative controls
7. Overload on logistics personnel
8. Lack of experience
9. Lack of proper training at various levels of command
10. Security measures aimed at the threat of theft from outside and not the inside.
He identified the steps that the DOD and the SANDF were now following:
1. Establish a central control system of logistical and operational issues.
2. Review policy - detail SOPS
3. Diminish weapons and ammunition in operations and secure all those remaining in secure areas.
4. Expose ground level personnel to Trg. Program practical method.
5. Enforce responsibility for accountability at the unit level
(b) Economic Use (ammunition)
6. Improve handling of investigation into losses
7. Utilise the general support bases concept within the transformation planning to improve the entire system of arms and ammunition distribution management.
After the SANDF briefing, Dr. Ian Phillips reported that the Minister of Public Works had inspected the security situation. This year 14 projects involving the security of military bases had been dealt with. Eleven had been catered for in the budget allocation. However the major problem was still the issue of budgetary allocations. R151 million had been allocated to the Department of Public Works - R52 million was for the Defence Force. At present the two departments were satisfied with the situation: the channels between the Minister of Public Works and the Defence Force were open and if for some reason new facilities were needed there was a rapid-delivery procurement system which may be used.
The SANDF had looked into backloading weapons to ammo depots that have a high profile to relieve the pressure on the smaller units. However the budget allocation to the SANDF often does not permit this as there are presently more urgent needs of a higher priority to the SANDF. Therefore the units themselves must step up security and do the best they can. In this regard human resources had taken control and implemented more guard control. This control was important but not a situation that they would want to continue. Units do though install their own security if funds are available.
Mr. Yengeni then asked if the counter intelligence report had informed their current briefing. Lt. Gen. Coetzee said that the C Intelligence investigation had lead to the determination that they needed to secure themselves from the inside. They did determine through the investigation that the theft was for financial gain. Regarding the 44 Battalion theft there had been stronger political motivations which needed to be looked at. He also stated that stealing for hidden political purposes was very hard to identify.
Ms Khota asked what measures were being taken with regard to the transgressors.
Lt. Gen. Coetzee answered that disciplinary action was based on charges of negligence. Individuals would be tried and charged within the DOD. Disciplinary action could range from a fine to a reprimand. The Bloemfontein case involved murder and was a matter for the police who were pursuing it. The DOD was not involved.
Mr Yengeni asked why thefts only affected the ‘lower echelons’ and not the middle and higher levels of command. Lt Gen. Coetzee agreed that accountability and responsibility should be enforced at all levels. Yet the importance of the guard should be maintained.
Mr Loots wanted to know about the problems surrounding the holding of weapons which did not belong to the SANDF at an ammunitions depot; further he asked for information regarding alarms installed at all ammunitions depots.
In answer to the first question Lt. Gen Coetzee said that the depot covered a vast area. There was a concrete shelter that had an elaborate security system (as it had been housing for a potential nuclear device). It was an ideal place to backload weapons. The weapons had been received and recorded by the Officer of the Court of Potgietersrus. The weapons were safe but did not belong to the SANDF and they wanted to get rid of them. Lt. Gen Coetzee said the DOD has no responsibility towards them and they should go back to the original consignee. He stated that the Sheriff of Potgietersrus was responsible for the containers and wanted to get rid of them and the matter was being pursued.
Regarding alarms, the Public Works department stated that they were well maintained and effective. There were two levels of alarms. Those at the depots were not necessarily only for protection from penetration but also for protection from heat and humidity. Their maintenance was governed by security and intelligence. The problem was that some areas had a non-standardised armed system. These however were being dealt with.
Mr Makwetla stated that there were too many weapons in circulation. The Defence Force had been active but was no more and it was evident that supply and storage must be radically reviewed. He asked how many thefts there had been in the last three years. Secondly, he wanted to know how the investigation of military thefts was held and who was involved. Thirdly what controls or screening of military staff were being taken.
Lt. Gen Coetzee said that between January 1997 and May 1998 the following arms had gone missing: Loss of R1 rifles – 198; Loss of R4 rifles – 480; Loss of 9mm pistols – 234.
This did not however indicate losses to thefts only, only what was not accounted for in the audits. Action was ongoing to trace these.
With regard to the investigation of military thefts, the first investigation was dealt with by the unit itself and was then handed over to the Military Police. It is the Unit Commander who determines whether the Military Police should be involved.
In response to the question of controls and perhaps screenings of those that enter the military, Lt. Gen Coetzee admitted that this idea was good but questioned how one determined loyalties and hidden agendas.
Mr Mashimbye commented that the DOD should consult Military Intelligence on some form of proactive screening. He then asked whether there was a policy in the Defence Force of selling cheaper arms and ammunition to members for their own use. Lt. Gen. Coetzee said that no semi-automatic weapons were sold to any members of the Defence Force. He said that there had been old stock of 303 rifles (which were replaced by R4 rifles in the 1960s) which at one time were sold as a measure of disposing of them (as agreed by the Department of State Expenditure). Some .38 revolvers were also relieved.
Any member on retirement could apply to purchase his service pistol, but the DOD did discourage this. They were trying to stop the proliferation of small arms.
Mr Mashimbye then wanted to know when these practices had been terminated. The SANDF replied that approximately four years before there had been 40 000 303s in stock. They had invited tenders. England had responded as these weapons were used in the Anglo Boer War and therefore were of significance to them. Most stock was depleted by this source. The last .38 revolvers had been sold two years ago.
Mr Yengeni asked if these weapons were ever sold to civilians. Lt. Gen Coetzee said this had not been the case. The Department of Nature Conservation had been given R1 weapons but this had been granted by Ministerial approval. Besides that no weapons were given to civilians. Any selling of weapons was conducted by the NCACC or Armscor.
A committee member stated that in 97/98 of the approximately 850 weapons stolen, 600 had been automatic. Weapons needed ammunition and a source for this was the SANDF. He wanted to know if there had been any attempt to standardise control systems or even account for this inventory electronically. Was there an inspectorate, a regular systems audit or arms audit. Lt. Gen Coetzee stated there was indeed standardising in the R4 and R5 series. The standardising of control measures and centralising was touched on during the briefing.
A question was asked regarding compensation to those killed during the thefts at the base in Bloemfontein. Lt. Gen. Coetzee was unable to disclose details but said that they would be compensated accordingly.
Mr. Yengeni in summing up, stressed a number of points:
1. The need for a definite policy review regarding the issues discussed.
2. There was a concern expressed by the committee over the storage and security of weapons. Members were eager to see action taken.
3. The Counter Intelligence Report regarding those transgressors who had hidden political agendas was important.
4. There were legal gaps in the law that governs members who are protecting weapons. This is a matter for the Military Disciplinary Code.
5. The need for disciplinary action for the culprits.
Appendix 1: Sequence of events following the thefts of arms and ammunition in the Defence Force:
1. Resulting from the 44 Parachute Battalion theft, the Minister of Defence called in the Secretary and the head of the SANDF. All officers were put on guard to look for any repetitions that might occur and to look for missing inventory.
2. The Operations Environment handled the Minister’s instructions. The units in turn had to submit a confirmation on inventory by the 3 June 1998.
3. C Log launched a series of exercises such as auditing.
(a) CSANDF instructed
(b) C Log instructed pertaining to feedback
C Log instructed pertaining to systems audit
Where shortcomings existed, feedback was submitted.
(a) Confirmation of losses - 97/98 - controlled
(b) Confirmation of losses - 95/96, 96/97
4. Report into the integrity of the system regulating arms and ammunition and management and control in the Department of Defence.
5. Additional verbal enquiries re AK47 rifles at 91AD and those from the Zimbabwe confiscation of weapons and ammunition. This was submitted in the Cameron Commission.
6. (a) The Secretary launched an additional investigation into controls.
(b) Counter Intelligence launched an investigation from a counter intelligence point of view.
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