Committee Report on Defence Budget

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Defence and Military Veterans

20 May 2008
Chairperson: Mr F Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee discussed matters of concern arising out of the Strategic Plan and Budget presentation of the Department of Defence, and discussed the wording and recommendations to be included in the Committee’s report on this issue.

There was unanimity from the members that the budget presented by the Director General of Defence was deficient in many respects. The lack of clarity, as well as the absence of the Defence Update, and numerous evasive, insufficient responses to critical questions posed by the Committee made it impossible for the Committee to exercise its oversight function adequately. It was clear that the proposed budget was inadequate if the SANDF was to fulfil all of its responsibilities both within and without its borders. Members shared the opinion that the management of the SANDF should adopt a more honest attitude in admitting their deficiencies and the lack of thought that had gone into the proposed budget. The Committee questioned the competence of the management of the SANDF in this regard. Specific issues that were highlighted included the lack of planning and a clear role for SANDF for the World Cup, the need for closer consultation on how priorities should receive funding, the need for specifics regarding the deployment and remuneration of members of the Military Skills Development System, the discrepancy between police force and defence force salaries, whether funds had been ring-fenced, and why the military veterans issues had not been addressed. A Member expressed the view that this Committee should take a lead role on the question of salaries. In relation to the report, Members made some grammatical and technical corrections. In addition, they stressed that the Report must note that the forces promised by Foreign Affairs may not materialise, that emphasis be placed on the Defence Update as a key recommendation, and that a recommendation be made on the length of contracts. The final version of the Report would be drafted in line with these recommendations.

Meeting report

2008/09 Budget Vote for Department of Defence (DoD): Draft Committee Report
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that the public must be clear on processes in Parliament, and should observe debate of issues and carrying out of policy. The observations made by the Committee on the budget must be noted and the report should be made available by 26 May.

Mr M Moatshe (ANC) indicated that he was disturbed by the Department of Defence’s (DoD) lack of planning for the 2010 World Cup.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) added that the absence of a clear role for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 2010 was worrying, as only the recruitment for the
Military Skills Development System (MSDS) was mentioned. He felt that the SANDF must address the Committee on its detailed plans for 2010 and give specific cost projections in this regard.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) was very concerned that the 2008/2009 Defence budget was discussed without a representative from the Department itself. He had also not seen the 2008 Defence Update, which he felt was a major weakness as the Committee was forced to consider matters on which it had insufficient information. He also noted that the increase in the budget was virtually ineffective once the effect of inflation was taken into consideration. He listed the priorities identified in the budget and suggested that there should be closer consultation on how these should receive sufficient funding, without which certain functions, such as peace-keeping, would be severely under-resourced.

Mr M Shah (DA) agreed with Dr Koornhof that it was imperative that the Committee be given the Defence Update. Clarity on the specifics regarding the deployment and remuneration of members of the MSDS should also be requested. Mr Shah had personally received many complaints from members of the MSDS, citing one recent example of a former member being forced to resign. He submitted that feedback he had received from members who had passed through the MSDS programme had indicated that it was not succeeding.

Dr S Pheko (PAC) noted that he was also concerned at the state of the 2010 preparations and he too expressed concerns that inflation would erode the proposed increase in the budget.

Mr L Diale (ANC) said that the fact that the allocation of funds for SANDF members had not yet taken place was a very serious matter as the members of the SANDF were, in his opinion, underpaid.

Ms P Daniels (ANC) commented that comparisons were often made between members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the SANDF in terms of pay. She asked what the point of the comparison was.

Mr Ntuli said that he understood it was a comparison made by one of the parties making a submission.

Ms A van Wyk (ANC) noted that the salaries of the two organisations were not negotiated by the same bargaining council and that was the reason for the discrepancy.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) said that this discrepancy was a substantive issue because SANDF members were concerned that they were paid less than members of the SAPS. They felt that their responsibilities for operations outside South Africa as well as their usual duties merited at least the same remuneration. Mr Ntuli also enquired what the increases in the budget meant to the lives of ordinary members.

The Chairperson responded that the main concern of the SANDF members was that their existing grievances had not been addressed because their threshold pay level had not been adjusted. He asserted that it was not the responsibility of the various unions to see that the members of the SANDF were better paid but the responsibility of this Committee.

Mr J Phungula (ANC) noted the lack of clarity, saying that the Committee as yet had not made any substantive response to the submissions.

The Chairperson agreed that there had not yet been a substantive response, explaining that he was waiting for any further recommendations from the Committee before formulating anything.  

Mr Ntuli added that the dragging of feet by the DoD and the Department of Arts and Culture on providing answers to certain of the Committee’s queries on the Castle Management contributed to this delay.

Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) said that the job of the Committee was not just to help the DoD to resolve issues but to instruct them what to do. It seemed to him that the management of the SANDF and the DoD were not communicating effectively and honestly with the Committee. Indeed the responses from management suggested that they were not competent to perform their functions.

The Chairperson stated that the intention of the current meeting was to formulate an action plan. He asked Mr Ndlovu though whether he was suggesting that there was a need for the Committee to investigate the administration of the SANDF.

Dr Koornhof believed that the Committee had exhausted all avenues of inquiry the previous day. It should be remembered that the SANDF was a national asset and its members were professionals. The Committee must also recognise that the SANDF had received qualified audit reports for the last five years. The task of the Committee was to assist the management of the SANDF to rectify the issues highlighted and point out weaknesses. It must also be remembered that the final responsibility rested with the Director General of Defence,  and the Committee had yesterday pointed this out to the Defence Secretary (who was responsible for the accounting of the SANDF).

Mr Ntuli said that the proposed amendments to the Defence Bill related to the salaries of senior officials but it was unclear how they applied to ordinary members. The proposed renewal of the SANDF could be assisted by the allocation of ‘exit funds’ now, to pay off older members before their due dates for retirement, thus alleviating the danger that young prospective applicants would find work elsewhere and be lost to the Defence Force. He said that the allocation of funds in the budget was not entirely clear, nor was the Director General entirely clear on the financial implications of the budget. There was some doubt as to whether the funds allocated to various units were ring-fenced. and, bearing in mind the 40%: 60% split of regular force members to reserve force members, whether the funds allocated to them were similarly ring-fenced.

The Chairperson conceded that the Committee was indeed faced with a mammoth task in the light of all these unfinalised matters.

Mr E Schoeman (ANC) expressed a strong view that it was impossible that the listed obligations could be met by the proposed budget, especially in the light of the negative real increase in funds. He wanted to know how the 10 000-member increase in the MSDS could take place, and how the renewal of the land force and the other proposed initiatives could occur. He added that the savings that were expected as a result of the military no longer being involved in border defence had not materialised and this had not been satisfactorily explained. He expressed disapproval that so little thought had gone into compiling the budget, and believed that there was either self-delusion or wilful deception on the part of the DoD. It seemed to him that the Committee had accurately put its finger on the problems. 

The Chairperson said that it was time to add any further recommendations so that the DoD could act on specific issues raised.

Mr M Shah (DA) gave a general overview of the  proposed budget. He colourfully compared the budget to a process of taking from Peter to give to Paul, which reflected a lack of strategic planning, a lack of understanding of the implications of the allocations made, and a total lack of clarity in general. He insisted that the DG should specify the recipients of funds in greater detail.

Mr Ndlovu agreed that the Director General must be honest and not prevaricate, and must make  the actual deployment of capital quite clear. He said that if sufficient detail was not forthcoming in response to the questions of the Committee. Management of the DoD must simply admit their failure. He also noted that the SANDF had a responsibility to the people of Africa as well, in line with the promises made by President Mbeki to be involved in peace-keeping operations in Africa.

Ms Daniels raised her concerns that the military veterans had not been a priority since 1995. She asked whether this was not the responsibility of the DoD and whether the Department of Welfare was not supposed to be working with the DoD in this regard.

Mr N Fihla (ANC) raised his concern that the discrepancy in pay between SAPS and SANDF members was inexplicable because both faced the same risks. Even when not at war, SANDF members still had to be in a state of readiness.

The Chairperson said that if there were violations of regulations the public needed to know of these. The Committee must therefore establish exactly what they were, and make firm recommendations as to how they should be prosecuted.

Dr Pheko noted that he knew of many military veterans who had died without being recognised. He asserted that soldiers must be paid well, whether doing duty inside or outside the country, otherwise corruption, indiscipline and instability would be the result. Unions should not be lobbying for higher pay, nor were unions desirable in the SANDF, and therefore this Committee should make a clear decision on the salaries of SANDF members.

Mr Schoeman raised the admission by the Secretary of the Defence Commission that unbudgeted expenditure had taken place. The Committee should ask to be given the exact details of these instances.

The Chairperson, taking cognisance of the tight deadlines, recommended that the Committee go over the draft reports in order to highlight critical issues.

With reference to that draft Report, Dr Koornhof wanted clarity on the figure of 10 000 members required for the MSDS. It was not clear whether this figure was required on a yearly basis or perhaps over a longer period. He also reiterated, under paragraph 2.4, that the Committee had not seen the Defence Update.

Mr Shah added that it also must be noted that the final report by the Committee should include that under the terms of the proposed budget the forces promised by Foreign Affairs might not be able to be deployed.

Mr Ntuli asked whether the Committee could agree to look into paragraph 2.3 regarding the MSDS. He added, following up on the point made by Ms Daniels, that the various associations of military veterans were supposed to have been integrated into existing associations, and that this integration must be facilitated so that they could access the benefits.

Dr Koornhof was concerned that paragraph 2 only referred to the State of the Nation address and the existing Act. If other matters were to be added to it, it would be necessary to change the heading of the paragraph.

The Chairperson agreed. All the recommendations thus far made had been clear.

Dr Koornhof thought that paragraph 2 should then reflect the wording “Policy Priorities”.

Mr Shah agreed but asked where the priority update on the budget allocations would be positioned.

Mr Ntuli responded that the Defence Update would become top of the agenda, under another paragraph. He added that if the military veterans issue remained unresolved, this could result in an expression of dissatisfaction by the veterans.

The Chairperson suggested that the Report could be streamlined by making key observations before the body of the report.

Mr Schoeman added that, no matter where the recommendation that the Defence Update be produced appeared, it must stand out as a key recommendation.

The Chairperson referred Members to page 5.

Dr Pheko asked what the funds under the Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence were allocated for.

The Chairperson responded that they were normally allocated for administration.

Mr Ntuli referred to paragraph 2.6 regarding special skills. He asked whether members with special skills could not be contracted in the SANDF for a minimum of ten years.

Mr Fihla agreed that this proposal be put on record.

The Chairperson was of the opinion that the current term of such contracts was five years but the Committee should address whether this should not indeed be ten years.

Dr Koornhof referred to paragraph 3.1, concerning broad expenditure trends, and noted various omissions and details that were unclear. He pleaded for a more logical sequence and clearer instructions to guide the reader’s interpretation.

Mr Ndlovu was concerned that the Committee would not complete its task were it to proceed in the current fashion.

The Chairperson said that that the intention was to pick up only on key issues, not exhaustively review every word of the report. He requested that all comments by Members of the Committee be given to the Secretary of the Committee by 9.00 the next day, so that final changes could be made, in view of the shortage of time.

The meeting was adjourned.


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