Committee Reports: Department of Defence Budget, Repeal of Castle Management Act Repeal Bill [B9-2008]; Defence Amendment Bill [B6-2008]

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Defence and Military Veterans

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

The Committee discussed the content of its report on the Budget and Strategic Plan of the Department of Defence, but could not adopt the report as there was not a quorum. A technical team would report back on issues raised.

The Committee discussed the position on the Defence Amendment Bill. Members discussed the contracts and agreed to recommend that the term of current SANDF contracts be lengthened to assist in the retention of special skills. It was also proposed that the minimum term before Defence Force members could be bought out of their contracts be extended.  Various recent submissions by interested parties were also considered regarding the remuneration of SMS members, duties of the Reserve Force and the functions and location of the office of the Inspector General of Defence. The Committee was disappointed that it had done the work of the Department in calling for submissions. 

The Committee then discussed its position on the Castle Management Act Repeal Bill, expressing great dissatisfaction at the shortcomings of the presentations by both the DoD and DAC and their lack of motivation for their intended takeover of the facility. Neither department had submitted a business plan to demonstrate how they intended to manage the Castle and maximise its historical and cultural significance.  A joint committee tasked by the two departments had only met once to discuss the issue of the handover and they were totally unclear as to how the responsibilities both for the administration of the Castle and the physical assets would be divided.  The Committee felt that it had insufficient information to make an informed decision on the bill before it. A final report motivating the suggestion that the Bill in its current form be rejected would be finalised within the next week.

Meeting report

Committee Report on Department of Defence: Strategic Plan and Budget 2008/9
The Chairperson requested the Committee to first consider those aspects of the Strategic Plan and Budget for the Department of Defence (DoD) that it had not yet interrogated fully.

The Chairperson made reference to the technical team, which had agreed, the previous day, to finalise those aspects of the Department of Defence budget that had remained unclear. Three Members of the Committee were tasked with assessing their final report before the debate in the House on 23 May. The technical team would also look into all the recommendations made by the Committee, and consolidate them, and a time would be arranged for them to brief the full Committee.

Mr Schippers agreed and suggested that one day should be set aside for the technical team to report back on all of the issues raised by the Committee.

The Chairperson suggested that the date set for the workshop with the technical team on 11 June seemed propitious.

All Members agreed on this date.

The Chairperson directed the Committee to sharpen certain of its recommendations, so that they were formulated more succinctly.

Mr Schippers recommended that the improvement of the Inspectorate of Defence be retained.

The Chairperson observed that there was a problem adopting the reports at that time, as insufficient members were present to form a quorum. The Committee would convene earlier in the morning the next day for that purpose.  

Contracts of SA National Defence Force (SANDF): Discussion
The Chairperson asked that the implications of the existing contracts of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members be discussed. The opinion was also expressed that Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGISA) would be an appropriate vehicle to address the question of retaining members with special or critical skills.

Mr S Ntuli (ANC) wanted to know what the current term of the contracts was.

Mr M Schippers (ANC) answered that the term should be ten years.

Mr Ntuli stated that the term should be compared with that adopted by the armed forces of other countries, bearing in mind that it took a long time to train members of the SANDF, especially those with special skills. He believed that an even longer contractual period could be considered for those with special skills.

Ms van Niekerk, Committee Researcher, observed that members were often bought out and consequently she suggested that the buy-out option on contracts not be available until at least five years had elapsed.

Mr N Fihla (ANC) added that not only the period of training should be considered, but also the period of actual service for a certain minimum period, until members were free to exercise the buyout option.

Mr Schippers agreed that Ms van Niekerk’s point was valid and asked if a report on contracts could be drawn up by the Department of Defence for consideration by the Committee.

The Chairperson suggested that the Researcher could work on this also as it would be wise to formulate a policy on contracts and the retention of scarce skills. Although it seemed that a general policy was needed across all sectors, the Committee ought to come up with its own position.

Mr Ntuli stated that the DoD did not have such a policy but that any changes to be made should address certain specific skills, because the armed forces represented a specific and discrete area. It was his opinion that ASGISA might be better placed to address the retention of scarce skills.

Mr Fihla added that because of the modern trend that people would move to greener pastures the retention policy should be tied to some means of engendering loyalty in members after they had achieved certification in their field.

Defence Amendment Bill: report on submissions
Ms van Niekerk then referred to various recent submissions received by the Committee on the Defence Amendment Bill She noted that the earlier Defence Amendment Bill included Reserve Force members and their conditions of service but the later bill excluded those, and DoD had been requested therefore to include these in its final submission.

The salaries of SMS members and members from levels 1-12 were currently agreed upon by the Military Bargaining Council and the current Act did not differentiate between them. The proposed Bill attempted to empower the Minister to determine the salaries of Senior Management (SMS) members, in line with the practice in other arms of the Public Service. The National Treasury submitted its opinion that the Minister of Public Finance should also be involved in this process.

Ms van Niekerk continued that military unions were unhappy that senior managers were currently not excluded from being members of trade unions under the original Act but that the the proposed bill excluded them from the Military Bargaining Council (MBC), which was not fair. They recommended that the Bill should either not make a distinction between SMS members and the members of levels 1-12, or that it should make provision for SMS members to be part of a bargaining process. The military trade unions also wanted representation on the Personnel Pay Review Board by at least one of its own representatives. They were also of the opinion that this body should not replace or exclude the MBC.

The National Treasury commented that although there was currently provision for the existence of the Inspector General of Defence, there was no statutory authority for the office. However, Treasury did not see the need for the proposed bill to rectify this; it believed that the IG should be treated as an internal function.

The Institute of Security Studies asked that allowances for members with special skills should be provided for in the bill.

The Commission on Gender Equity recommended that, in order to ensure civilians had a role in monitoring the activities of the military (as required by the Constitution), the Inspector General (IG) should be appointed by the President and report to him. The powers, duties and resources of the IG were currently limited and should be broadened.

The IFP also questioned the wisdom of the IG reporting to the Minister of Defence. They proposed that the powers of the IG be broadened to include monitoring military readiness, the effectiveness of the SANDF and the like. They also believed the IG should report to the President.

There was also a revised submission made by the Reserve Force Council, but Ms van Niekerk was unsure whether it could be included as it had come after the date for final submissions. 

It was agreed that the submission by the Reserve Force Council was not a new submission but a revision of an existing one and therefore could be admitted. There was also agreement that the Reserve Force had been included in the earlier bill but in the most recent version they had been removed by the State Law Advisor. There were queries as to why this should be so.

Ms van Niekerk continued with the submission by the Reserve Force Council that the Bill should consider the make-up of the Reserve Force, set out its duties in more detail, under what circumstances reserves can be called up, and various other operational issues. It also desired clarity as to under what circumstances reserves could be called up, the matter of extension of contracts, contractual penalties and the like.

Defence Talk also submitted that the current dispensation allowing a Reserve Force member to resign within 24 hours should be addressed. They were also concerned that the current discrimination in the workplace against Reserve Force members was exacerbated by the proposed Bill.

Dr Koornhof (ANC) noted that it was very worrying that The Commission on Gender Equity had complained that the proposed bill was unconstitutional. He was of the opinion that this was not so, but felt that nonetheless it was important to take legal advice on this matter.

The Chairperson instructed that a letter be addressed to the parliamentary advisor to supply a legal opinion on the matter.

Repeal of Castle Management Act Repeal Bill (the Repeal Bill) : Deliberations
The Chairperson asked the Committee to consider how to take forward the Repeal Bill regarding the administration of the Castle. The Committee would address a letter to the Speaker’s office to the effect that the final report would not be ready.

Mr Schippers replied that all of the submissions it had received recently were of a high quality. The Committee felt that before making any decisions there must be a comprehensive business plan submitted in respect of the management of the Castle. He noted earlier concerns expressed by the Committee that the Bill be rejected in its current form due to numerous shortcomings.

The Chairperson questioned whether the Committee had ever seen a business plan concerning the administration of the Castle.

Ms P Daniels (ANC) suggested that the Committee look at all possible options regarding the proposed Bill.

Mr Schippers observed that only the management of the Castle would be transferred to the Department of Arts and Culture, although they were seemingly of the opinion that asset itself was to be transferred.

The Chairperson noted that if this were the case then DAC were at odds with the Bill.

Dr Koornhof informed the Committee that the Concerned Citizens Group had just submitted a new document. The Chief Whip of the Committee must therefore inform Parliament that the Committee would not have time to finalise its position on the bill that week. Secondly, he said, another option proposed was a public/private partnership but in the absence of a business plan from either the DoD or DAC which demonstrated a wholistic approach to the management of the Castle and its historical significance, it would be impossible for the Committee to make any recommendations.

The Chairperson affirmed that no business plan was provided by DAC and no motivation was given by the DoD when asked by the committee around responsibility for the Castle. He inquired of the members if they were suggesting that Parliament be asked to grant them more time to deliberate.

Mr Ntuli was of the opinion that the Committee should visit some of the existing military museum sites in order to inform themselves better as to the implications of the bill.

The Chairperson expressed his frustration that the Committee was assisting the DoD in doing its work, as the DoD had not called for public submissions, instead the Committee had done this. He reminded the members that the current bill did not necessitate the production of a business plan by the DoD, however, the question before the Committee was much broader. The DoD seemed to be intending to attach the proposed bill to another broader act governing all military institutions and the pertinent question before the Committee was not whether the bill should be amended or not but whether the Committee should accept the repeal bill or reject it and then ask the DoD to submit a new bill.

Mr Schippers expressed the need to engage with the DoD on this issue and Mrs Daniels proposed that the Committee meet in middle with the DoD as repealing the act was too drastic a step to take in the absence of a substantial business plan.

The members then came to the shared conclusion that in view of the complexity of the issues raised, the absence of substantive motivation from the DoD and DAC and various other omissions, the Bill should be taken off the table and a comprehensive Defence Amendment Bill be put forward. The reasons for this decision should be clearly given and collated immediately.
The Chairperson undertook to inform the Chief Whip that the Committee would submit a report regarding the Bill so that matter would be closed the following week.

The open portion of the meeting was adjourned.


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