Special Pensions Amendment Bill [B29-2008]: public hearings

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Finance Standing Committee

09 June 2008
Chairperson: Mr N Nene (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee heard submissions on the Special Pensions Amendment Bill by the African People’s Liberation Army Military Veterans (APLAMV), the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania(PAC), Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKVA) and the ANC Veterans League.

The APLAMV were unhappy with the Bill’s provision that in order for persons to be eligible for special pension, they would have had to be 30 years old on 1 December 1996, and suggested this be dropped to those who were 21 on 1 December 1996.  They felt that when determining whether the person had committed an offence with a political objective, it was improper to consider Clause 6Abis (2) (c), (d) and (f), as these factors were irrelevant to determining if the objectives of the crimes were of a political nature. The amount of R500 payable to persons below the age of 50 (in accordance with the Schedule 3 table) was too low, as no one could survive on a pension of this amount. The entitlement of the spouse to only 50% of the deceased’s pension would need to be reviewed.

The PAC also raised queries in relation to the age, suggesting that it be lowered to 21. The requirements for the minimum service were questioned and it was suggested that one year would be more appropriate. They suggested that the payment backdating should be to 1 April 1995, not 1 April 2001. The exclusion of those found guilty of criminal offences was criticized as criminalizing people twice, especially since military operations had continued in cases until 1994. Spouses should be entitled to full benefits. They also called upon Government to condone the 6000 late applications for special pension.

The MKVA supported the Bill but recommended that the age cut off of 25 years old (in 1996) should be introduced. Also, Military Veterans should be represented on the two boards whose role it was to advise the Minister on Special Pensions.

The ANC Veterans League asked that the individuals who had been unable to work as a result of being assaulted by tribal chiefs (who were pro-apartheid), should also be eligible for the special pensions. They also asked for pension to be increased by 7% to 8% annually.

Members were not convinced that it was necessary to lower the qualifying age to the extent proposed by the presenters, as they felt that younger persons who had been involved in the liberation struggle had still had the opportunity to obtain an education, or to be assisted with start-up grants or other social grants. Questions were asked whether the pensions should be made available to all involved in the struggle, or those involved from a military point of view. Questions were raised around the consultation with and involvement of military veterans in the decision-making processes. Members said that the recognition of hardship could possibly take a non-monetary form. It was noted that there were concerns about the inadequate service by the Office of Special Pensions. This Office was asked to give the Committee information regarding backlogs and late applications.

Meeting report

Special Pensions Amendment Bill (the Bill): Public Hearings
African People’s Liberation Army Military Veterans (APLAMVA) Submission

Ms Dudu Phama, Secretary-General, APLAMV, said that the purpose of the Bill was to provide for the payment of pensions to people who had made sacrifices or served public interest in establishing a non-racial democratic constitutional order, and who, as a result of their services, were unable to or prevented from providing otherwise for pensions for a significant period. The Bill would provide for the payment of survivors’ lump sums to their eligible dependants.

Ms Phama argued that the Bill was discriminatory as it provided for the right to pension of persons who were older than 30 years of age on 1 December 1996. The aim of the Bill was to assist individuals who had dedicated themselves to the struggle on a full-time basis. These persons, irrespective of their ages, could have lost years of their schooling, self development and careers. The view that persons who were younger than 30 as at 1 December 1996 would have had sufficient opportunity to get employment and put money aside for their pensions was incorrect. People had joined the liberation struggle as soon as they became aware of the political situation in the country at the time. There were no contracts in place to determine who qualified to become involved in the struggle or not. There were also no labour laws in place to protect minors who became involved in the liberation struggle. Ex-combatants who were younger than 30 on 1 December 1996 should not be discriminated against.

Military veterans had waged war on all fronts and many were killed and exiled. Today a large number of ex-combatants lived in squalor and often became involved in crime to make ends meet.

The APLAMV therefore recommended that-
a) the right to pension should be extended to persons who were 21 years of age on 1 December 1996
b) When determining whether the person had committed an offence with a political objective, it was improper to consider Clause 6Abis (2) (c), (d) and (f). These factors were irrelevant to determining if the objectives of the crimes were of a political nature.
c) The amount of R500 payable to persons below the age of 50 (in accordance with the Schedule 3 table) was too low, as no one could survive on a pension of this amount.
d) The entitlement of the spouse to only 50% of the deceased’s pension would need to be reviewed. A surviving spouse should get 100% of the pension payable to the deceased.

APLAMV also recommended that each non statutory force (NSF or Military Veterans Association) should be represented on the Appeal Board, as reasons for appeal would be interpreted from a veteran’s point of view.

Ms Phama emphasised the importance of dealing with the issue of special pensions as many military veterans had died while waiting for their health and pension benefits.

Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) Submission
Mr Thami Ka Plaatjie, PAC Gauteng Chairperson, said that the issues dealt with in the Bill were loaded by 300 years of colonial history. The Congress was aware of the far-reaching demands being expressed by organisations, as well as its impact on the fiscus. However, he wished to raise that the PAC saw the following areas of the Bill as problematic:

a) The Qualifying age (set as on 1 December 1996) did not take into account that the struggle knew no age limits. Discriminating against these veterans on the basis of age was a violation of their Constitutional rights. PAC recommended that the qualifying age be reduced to those who were 21 years of age as at 1 December 1996.

b) In relation to the minimum service period, Mr Plaatjie criticised the fact that a person needed to have served a minimum of five years in the liberation struggle to be eligible for the special pension. He said that there was no justification for this figure, which seemed to have been arbitrarily selected. The minimum service period should be lowered to one year full time service.

c) In respect of the payment to be backdated to 1 April 2001, Mr Plaatjie said that there was no justification for this provision, because all other special amendments were being backdated to 1 April 1995.

d) In relation to the clauses in relation to the commission of a criminal offence (after 2 February 1990), Mr Plaatjie said it was not clear why February 1990 was chosen. The PAC’s military wing continued their armed struggle until early 1994. Their military campaigns were criminalised and some were still in prison. Excluding them from the special pensions amounted to punishing them twice for the same crime.

e) Mr Plaatije noted that there were 6 000 Spouse Pensions applications, which were said to be too late to be considered. The unique circumstances that led to these applications being so late were ignored.

Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA)Submission
Mr Emmanual Maphatsoe, Member of MKMVA, said that the presentation by the ex-combatants to Parliament was long overdue. It was important for ex-combatants to be part of decisions affecting them. These ex-combatants, many of whom were currently vulnerable and poverty-stricken, had joined the liberation struggle when they were young. There were many former MK commanders who were younger than 19 years old in 1985, and who were therefore younger than 30 years of age in 1996. These people had heeded the call of Mr Tambo in January 1985 to render South Africa ungovernable and render apartheid unworkable. For this reason, MKVA proposed that the cut off period for those who were  25 years old in 1996 should be introduced. In addition, the Military Veterans should be represented at the two boards whose role it was to advise the Minister on Special Pensions.

Discussion
Dr D George (DA) referred to the proposals regarding the lowering of the age of eligibility to special pensions. Since education backlogs were the main reason for this situation, he asked whether money truly would address the problem, or if the problem would be addressed by providing finance for education.

Mr K Moloto (ANC) referred to the proposed age cut-off of 21 or 25 years. If a person was 19 in 1990, she or he would still have had the opportunity to go to school. He queried why it should be necessary to lower the age to the extent proposed by the presenters.

Ms Phama said that one had to look at the age at which military veterans were joining the liberation struggle on the one hand, and the objectives of the Special Pensions Act on the other. People were joining the struggle from as young as nine years old. In 1990, such a person would have been thirteen years old. If this child had been part of the liberation struggle for five years she or he would have been unable to attend school for this period. This child would not have been exposed to the discipline of schooling and it would have been very unreasonable to expect her or him just to return to school at the end of this period. Such children were often faced with financial problems. There was not easy access to schooling, rehabilitation, or the tools for proper reintegration back into the community. At that point APLAMV had recommended that Government should look at providing a start-up grant to assist such people, as expecting them to return to school, after the experiences they had had, was unreasonable. It was also not feasible to expect military veterans who had left the country to simply pick up where they were before leaving South Africa. 

Mr Plaatjie said that in 1986 there had been a state of emergency in the townships. There had been heavy police presence in all township schools. Members of the Congress of South African Students had been targeted. In many instances police actually took control of schools. Children were unable to learn under these circumstances, especially because police sometimes took over schooling. Many pupils joined the self defence units. Political acts were criminalised by magistrates. Pupils wanted to go to schools, but this had not been possible.

Mr Maphatsoe said that when MKMVA members had been involved in the military combat situation in Angola, there had not been ready access to schooling. Sometimes one comrade was selected to attend a school. It must be borne in mind that they had been in a war situation, and it had therefore not been possible to attend school. The repatriation of the ex-combatants had not been properly planned. Many comrades had returned to the country to find themselves misplaced with no families. They had not had counseling, resulting in them becoming ‘disturbed’. He reiterated that it had not been possible for ex-combatants to attend school, since they were not living in exile, but fighting in the bush. The Bill as it stood currently did not assist these ex-combatants. The problem was that the people who were drafting the policies affecting ex-combatants, were not themselves ex-combatants with a full appreciation of the issues.

Mr Moloto agreed with the presenters regarding exclusion from eligibility for pensions of those persons who had been found guilty of minor offences. However he did not understand what AZAPO meant when they said that the newly elected democratic Parliament had enticed the cadres to lay down arms in order to accept the process of negotiations.

Mr Moloto referred to the proposal by the PAC to reduce the minimum period of service from five years to one year. This went against the spirit of the legislation, which was aimed at assisting people who could not work, earn a living or make pension contributions due to their involvement in the struggle for democracy. By reducing the period to one year, this would be extending eligibility to such an extent that it would be difficult for the fiscus to afford.

Mr Plaatjie explained that it was necessary to deal with these matters now instead of having them raised at a later stage again. With regard to the period of service of five years, he said that the emphasis should be on the “service”, as the quantification of the period was merely academic. A person could serve for one year and deliver input which was relevant and important. The veterans were being subjected to many social ills, for example HIV/AIDS. They were also unable to support their dependants. The veterans’ associations were mindful of the impact of these issues on the fiscus, but one could not ignore the fact that the situation affecting military veterans today was deeply rooted in history.

Mr Moloto referred to the assertion by the PAC that excluding people found guilty of criminal offences after February 1990 from pensions amounted to punishing them twice for the same crime. He said that he did not understand this reasoning. It was important to distinguish between politically motivated crimes and normal criminal activity.

Mr B Mnguni (ANC) said that it was perhaps necessary to provide assistance that was not in the form of money. Sick ex-combatants should be assisted with access to social help, and not necessarily jut be given a lump sum. This assistance would also be useful for those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Ms Phama said that the mother organisations had at the time lacked the money to deal with issues like post-traumatic stress in ex-combatants. Decisions at that time had been taken without the involvement of the military veterans.

Mr M Johnson (ANC) referred to the reference to military veterans. He asked why the reference was not to ‘struggle veterans’ to include people who served in areas other than the military.

Ms Phama regarded this as an issue of semantics. Whether one used the term ex-combatants or veterans of the struggle, the reference was to people who had fought at the forefront for the liberation of the country.

Mr Maphatsoe said that he was not referring to political exiles, but ex-combatants who had been on duty and in uniform “24/7”. He pointed out that the people who had died in Angola would not have received special pensions had they lived, because they were part of the “Young Lions”. He said that he was not presenting on behalf of military veterans, but ex-combatants. It was necessary to be specific.

Mr Johnson asked if some of these problems faced by the ex-combatants had not been addressed by the resolutions raised at the Polokwane conference. These matters were already being discussed in other Parliamentary Committees. Perhaps these issues could be discussed with those Committees.

Mr Maphatsoe agreed, saying that MKMVA were interacting with the resolutions of the Polokwane Conference. They had therefore held meetings with the social cluster the previous week to discuss their concerns.

Mr N Singh (IFP) said that the Special Pensions Act had been promulgated in 1996. He said that eleven years was enough for any reasonable person to have submitted this application. He asked how this could be “inconsistent with principles of natural justice” as suggested by PAC.

Mr Plaatjie said that he had visited the Special Pensions Office, where he had been informed of various challenges in the process. Six thousand applications had been submitted after the cut-off and he felt that these should be granted condonation.

Mr Maphatsoe said that MKMVA had struggled to assist people to submit these applications. The problem had been lack of information about the availability of the special pensions.

Mr Mnguni referred to the administration of these pensions. There had previously been problems with verifying the persons applying for these pensions. People could falsely claim to have been military veterans. Verifying would be a huge task, which would be exacerbated if the net was widened by the lowering of the age limit. He therefore asked how the presenters expected the Government to be able to verify all the applicants if the age limit was lowered and even more people were able to apply.

Ms Phama said that the issue of age was irrelevant. There was a need to strengthen the administrative processes and systems of checking and verifying people. At the very beginning of this process this had not been possible as the process was ‘loose’ and there had been many loopholes. The problem was also that civilians were verifying military veterans. Loopholes occurred when people took decisions for the military veterans.

Mr Maphatsoe said that the MKVA knew who formed part of their group. They were already capturing this data, which included the identities of their comrades (alive and dead). He said that people had abused the system in the past, but they were putting processes in place to prevent this from recurring.

The Chairperson noted that this was a very emotional issue and that one should guard against reducing the struggle for freedom to monetary terms. He disagreed that there had not been consultation with military veterans in the past. This had been done with the various political structures at the time.

Mr Johnson added that in 1996 Government had been dealing with other pressing matters. The interim Constitution took priority at that point. In addition, the military veterans’ organisations had not organised themselves at that time. Government had at that time been talking to ANC, AZAPO and the PAC, all of whom had been concerned with governance issues at that point.

Mr Johnson said that there were examples of the way this matter was dealt with internationally. South Africa could learn from the experiences in Mozambique, Namibia and even the United States. The military veterans issue had been continuing unabated in the Falkland Islands. Whoever served on the Committee in future should look to experiences in other countries to see how they dealt with the issue of special pensions.

Mr Johnson referred to the persons falling outside the scope of the Bill due to them not meeting the criterion of being 30 on 1 December 1996. He suggested that these people could still be assisted in other processes, for example by being provided with a start –up grant. This special pension was intended for deserving persons who had not been able to work due to the reasons outlined in the Bill. These would be the older persons, who would generally be the ones who would not be able to obtain employment.

ANC Veterans League Submission
Mr Langalikanay Njamela, Chairperson- ANC Veterans League, described the situation in the 1960s. Many of the tribal chiefs at that time had been pro-apartheid. They wanted the Government to know that they supported apartheid. After the banning of the militant organizations, many of these organisations had continued to work and to deal with matters.  Some members of these organizations were betrayed to the Chiefs and had suffered greatly as a result. Often the Chiefs would lock them up, and have them beaten for the whole night. They were very often not even able to walk the next morning and were left unable to work and support their families. The identities of these people could be verified by the Chiefs and there were records available with this information. The ANC Veterans League felt that the special pensions should be extended to these people.

Mr Njamela also referred to the need for the Minister to increase the annual pension amount by no less than 7% to 8%.

Mr Njamela said that the ANC Veterans League had visited the Office of Special Pensions and had been very unhappy with the way the applications had been handled. He mentioned some cases where applicants had submitted their applications in 1996 and 1997, which were still pending. These matters should be addressed as people were already dying without having seen any of their benefits.

Discussion
Mr Mnguni asked if the ANC Veterans League could provide information on how many persons had been subjected to this treatment from Chiefs. Also, he asked how many of these people would qualify for the pension in terms of the age criterion set out in the Bill.

Mr Njamela did not have exact figures but said that quite a few people had been affected by these practices.

Mr Johnson applauded the office of the Chairperson for extending the invitation and being able to reach people from the most remote areas. He asked officials from the Office of Special Pensions how far back these backlogs dated.

Response by National Treasury (Office of Special Pensions)
Ms Jo Ann Ferreira, Chief Director: Legislation, National Treasury, said that a failing on the part of Government had been that where people did not qualify for special pensions, they were not always pointed in the right direction to obtain the assistance for which they could in fact qualify, such as social grants or military pensions. The Minister of Justice had introduced legislation to regulate the process of granting compensation to persons for the purposes of reconciliation. This went further than the Truth and Reconciliation Commission processes. National Treasury could put people in contact with the relevant people to assist in those processes.

Mr Mongezi Mngqubisa, Programme Manager: Office of Special Pensions, National Treasury,  said that there were 6 325 late applications and a backlog of 9 563 applications.

The Chairperson asked if they agreed with Mr Njamela that there were pending applications dating back to 1996 and 1997.

Mr Vusi Mehlolo, Senior Manager: Office of Special Pensions, National Treasury,  said that this was unlikely. Review cases dated back further, but it was unlikely that they dated back that far.

The Chairperson suggested that the matter be dealt with on an individual basis. He tasked Mr Johnson with ensuring that the information was provided by Mr Njamela, and that the Office of Special Pensions provided the relevant answers.

Chairperson’s Concluding Remarks
The Chairperson said that the inputs had been very valuable. Even if all the issues raised were not addressed by this Parliament, he felt that these matters should be taken on board in future. The problems raised in the presentations would continue for a long time to come. This legislation was not aimed at solving all the problems of the past.

Mr Maphatsoe added that it was important for the Committee to take into account the way other countries were dealing with these issues. They should take examples from countries like Algeria, as well as South Africa’s neighbouring countries.

The meeting was adjourned.

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