ATC111123: Report on Joint Oversight activities conducted with Joint Standing Committee on Defence (2-4 August 2011)
REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE AND MILITARY VETERANS ON THE JOINT OVERSIGHT ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED WITH THE JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE (2-4 AUGUST 2011), dated 23 November 2011.
The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans conducted joint oversight activities together with the Joint Standing Committee on Defence from 2-4 August 2011. A two-day orientation workshop was held. The delegation visited Waterkloof Airforce Base and 1 Military Hospital, Thaba Tshwane. These activities were aimed at understanding key matters relating to the role and functioning of both the Department and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), as well as ascertaining the progress made with the repair and maintenance of defence facilities.
The Parliamentary delegation comprised: Mr LN Diale, Mr E Mlambo, Mr A Maziya, Ms N Mabedla, Mr J Masango, Ms P Daniels, Mr A Mncwango, Ms M Mafolo, Ms M Dikgale. The Committees were led by Mr MS Motimele (Chairperson: Portfolio Committee on Defence and Militray Veterans) and the co-Chairpersons of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence: Mr JJ Maake and Mr SD Montsitsi.
The report details critial challenges facing the SANDF, which necessitate intensified Parliamentary oversight. We therefore appeal that the roles and functions of the two Parliamentary defence committees are resolved as a matter of urgency, and in consultation with the two Committees.
The pace at which the SANDF is transformed impacts not only on the morale and professionalism of soldiers, but also affects the Defence Force’s ability to meet its constitutional obligations. The current review and update of defence policy should therefore include a frank assessment of the implementation of defence transformation objectives. Below, follows a brief outline of the oversight activities conducted. The Committee’s main observations and recommendations are also listed.
The report comprises four parts: an overview of two-day oversight activities, an outline of the issues and concerns identified by the Committees, recommendations to the Department as well as a concluding paragraph summarising the Defence Committees’ overall impressions.
2. OVERVIEW OF OVERSIGHT ACTIVITIES
2.1. Two-Day Orientation Workshop
The parliamentary defence committees received presentations on matters relating to the implementation of the recommendations made in the final report of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission (INDFSC), the mandate and functions of both the Department of Defence and the SANDF; the overview of challenges relating to existing defence legislation, a brief overview of matters relating to maritime security, and the SANDF’s involvement in peacekeeping operations.
2. 2 Site Visits
Defence facilities are in a state of neglect and the Department considers the repair and maintenance of these facilities as a key departmental priority. The delegation visited Waterkloof Air Force Base and 1 Military Hospital, Thaba Thswane to gain a better understanding of the specific repair and maintenance challenges these facilities experience.
2.2.1 Waterkloof Airforce Base
Facilities on the western side of the base are in a shocking state of neglect. Maintenance and storage hangars, single-quarter accommodation, kitchens and messes require repainting and extensive repairs to or replacement of roofs and plumbing systems. Sinkholes are a cause of concern, particularly as unsteady ground could threaten the lives of members of the South African Air Force. The Committee was shocked to learn of the collapsed carpentry warehouse; due to this problem. Current funding for maintenance is insufficient to tend to all maintenance requirements at the base. Limited funding also means that maintenance plans and set targets are often not met. An ineffective relationship with the Department of Public Works -responsible for the repair and maintenance of state buildings - often means that emergency repairs are funded from an already stretched operational budget. Funding is also urgently needed for the renovation of accommodation for fire fighters and the construction of an air-traffic control tower at a more appropriate location.
2.2.2 1 Military Hospital, Thaba Thswane
At the time of the Committee’s visit, renovations of the paediatric and psychiatric wards were completed, while renovations to the Emergency and Intensive Care Units were still in progress. A limited military health budget hampers the implementation of the Technology Revitalisation Plan, resulting in delays in the acquisition of much needed medical equipment. This was evident during the Committee’s inspection of the emergency rooms and x-ray facilities, in particular. Critical equipment remains outstanding, which includes x-ray machines and the required safety doors for x-ray rooms.
3. ISSUES AND CONCERNS
3.1 Pace and quality of transformation
The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans re-iterates its concern over the pace and quality of transformation of the SANDF into a unified, representative, appropriately skilled and combat-ready force. An evaluation of the extent to which transformation objectives have been achieved is critically needed, aptly at a time when the defence policy is being reviewed. Such an exercise could be sensitive to the unintended consequences the integration of (divergent) forces continue to have on the realisation of meaningful transformation. This matter directly affects the morale, professionalism, and unity of the defence force.
3.2 Defence Policy
The finalisation of a new defence policy is an enduring concern. A confirmed policy detailing long-term defence needs will not only assist in improving defence planning but also enhancing oversight of defence activities. While the Committee welcomes the establishment of a defence review committee, critical details such as its composition, terms of reference and timeframes for the completion of its work remain unclear.
3.3 Defence Budget
The Committee appreciates the concerns raised by the Department and the SANDF regarding the negative effects a reduced budget has on its ability to meet its constitutional obligations. The Committee also recognises that, while an increase in funding for the Department must be considered, the maximum efficiency in the use of limited resources, achievable though better alignment of expenditure with strategic objectives and a confirmed defence policy, is essential.
3.4 Reserve Forces
The Committee observed that the operations of the South African Reserve Force require careful scrutiny, especially since that service is intended to provide the bulk of landward capabilities. The Committee highlights this fact amidst concerns over possible irregulalrities in the call-up of reserve force members.
3.5 Parliamentary privilege and national security
The Committee recognises the need to strengthen existing Parliamentary Rules and guidelines for the management of sensitive information, particulalry information relating to national security.
3.6 Improved civil-military relations
The Committees noted the draft policy on the repositioning of the Defence Secretariat which, at the time, was being finalised. The Committee further notes that the relationship between the Secretary for Defence and Chief of the SANDF requires closer scrutiny to avoid possible tensions and uncertainty between these two roles.
3.7 Human Resource Challenges
· Retention of scarce skills:
The loss of specialists and other experts who possess scarce skills generally has a negative impact on the SANDF and remains a challenge. Greater investment in appropriate training programmes is needed to ensure that the SANDF is capable of maintaining its infrastructure and operating its equipment. Ideally, upon completion of specialised training, officers could be legally bound to remain in service for a set period of time.
· Rejuvenation of the SANDF
The impact of the Military Skills Development System on the rejuvenation of the SANDF into an appropriately skilled, qualified and youthful defence force requires evaluataion. Right-sizing, through a confirmed military exit mechanism (MEM), is necessary for continued renewal of the SANDF. The Committee also noted that career and succession planning were not guided by clear procedures, as it appears that soldiers are not adequately informed about existing departmental processes regarding career management.
3.8 State of Defence facilities
Defence facilities were in a state of neglect and many of those no longer conformed to the functional requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Allocated funding to decrease maintenance backlogs is insufficient. This could be compounded by a stunted relationship between the department of Public Works and Defence. This results in targets quite often not being met.
4.1 Pace and quality of transformation:
The Committee recommends that an evaluation of the extent to which the Department and SANDF achieved transformation objectives, is conducted as soon as possible. Such an evaluation is critical, aptly at a time when the defence policy is being reviewed. Such an exercise could be sensitive to the unintended consequences the integration of (divergent) forces continue to have on the realisation of meaningful transformation. This matter directly affects the morale, professionalism, and unity of the defence force.
4.2 Maintenance of facilities
The Committee noted with concern that the ineffective relationship between the Departments of Defence and Public Works exacerbates the challenges relating to the repair and maintenance of defence facilities. The Committee requested the Department to submit to Parliament a detailed report on this matter, which should include the details of the service level agreement signed between the two departments. The report should also include the list of facilities that require urgent repair and maintenance timeframes for the completion of each project, their costs and whether set targets were met. If targets were not met, reasons should be provided.
4.3 Review of Defence legislation
The misunderstanding that exists between the Department of Defence and the military unions was noted by the Committee as a cause for concern. In this vein, a review and reconceptualisation of how labour rights can be best accommodated, exercised and guaranteed in the defence force are critical. Further interactions by both defence committees with the Department of Defence and relevant stakeholders should be prioritised to ensure that structures and procedures, such as the military bargaining council and the newly implemented grievance system, respond to the needs and queries of soldiers.
4.4 Access to information
Parliament should strengthen existing rules and procedures governing the receipt and management of sensitive information, particulalry documents relating to national security. Therefore, Parliament, as the institution responsible for overseeing the work of the Executive, and to which the latter accounts, must ensure that there are clear procedures to govern the responsible management of sensitive information.
4.5 Scarce Skills
The loss of scarce skilled personnel is not unique to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). However, the steady exodus of highly skilled and trained personnel threatens the combat readiness. We are particularly concerned about the loss of pilots. Employment contracts of, particularly, those scarce skilled personnel, should be tightened to include certain obligations and completion of a period of service.
4.6 Review of pilot training programme
The Committee is alarmed at the high drop-out rate of particularly black trainee pilots. A comprehensive report should be submitted to Parliament detailing the reasons for such a high drop-out rate, and whether additional support provided to struggling trainees.
4.7 Establishment of an effective mobility exit mechanism
An effective and well-managed mobility-exit mechanism is critical. Such a mechanism should guarantee the planned exit of personnel without compromising the skills-base, representivity and age-profile of the SANDF.
4.8 Military Skills Development System (MSDS)
The Department should investigate the merit in complaints relating to benefits (accommodation, etc) provided to MSDS recruits while permanent force members are not entitled to such benefits.
5.1 Overall impressions
Notwithstanding the challenges, the Committees commend the Department’s resolve to steadily improve conditions within the SANDF. We note the ongoing improvements of defence facilities, particularly the completion of the main runway at Waterkloof Airforce base. We will closely monitor all planned maintenance projects.
The SANDF continues to execute its mandate amidst budgetary and human resource constraints. We applaud the continued support provided to other departments and that of ongoing humanitarian efforts particularly during conflicts in the Sudan and Libya.
The Committees had an opportunity to witness at first-hand the daily conditions in which members of the SANDF are required to fullfil their duties. Admittedly, the challenges appeared immense, but the Committees acknowledged the efforts made to manage and mitigate the effects of those challenges. The Committees therefore undertook to monitor the progress made towards improving the prevailing conditions.
Report to be considered.
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