The Department of Military Veterans (DMV) picked up from the last interaction with the Committee, and focused on the progress made in cleansing its database. The DMV had a baseline of about 30 000 files that were cleansed and cleared, and 40 000 records were given to the Department of Defence (DoD) to assist with cleansing them. The DMV was awaiting feedback from the DoD. 36 000 files matched, but 1 300 were not found on the database. Currently, 92% of the files matched, and those people could be ascertained as military veterans. However, the addresses that would reflect were older addresses, so the Department had the task of finding new addresses.
A number of veterans had applied to be put on the database, and this had propelled an internal verification process that started in November 2019. Some veterans wanting housing were not on the database, but during the verification process the Department could not make progress because of the lack of documentation to ascertain whether people met the criteria. Apart from the challenge of ascertaining eligibility, the verification process was done internally and involved personnel who may have had other priorities. The Department therefore recommended that verifications be done externally, and that the verification panel include former commanders of self-defence units (SDUs).
The Committee asked what the end goal of the project was, and when it would be reached. Members wanted to know what the purpose of the database was, and why there were so many officials in acting positions. Why would the Department want to get commanders from other areas for the verification panel when there was the South African Military Veterans’ Association (SAMVA)? How did the DMV sniff out corrupt officials and deal with them? How did it measure progress? They said for there to be a credible database, it was vital to consider publicising it or else people would not be able to point out irregularities, such as incorrect addresses and wards.
Ms Xolisa Morolo, Acting Deputy Director General (DDG): Socio-Economic Support Services and Chief Director: Health and Wellness, Department of Military Veterans (DMV), picked up from the last interaction in October focusing on the progress made. During the last interaction, the milestones were given of the time where the Department had a baseline of about 30 000 files that were cleansed and cleared. At that point, 40 000 records were given to the Department of Defence (DoD) to assist with the cleansing of those records. The DMV was also awaiting feedback from the DoD. 36 000 files matched, but 1 300 were not found on the database. Currently, 92% of the files match and people could be ascertained as military veterans. However, the addresses that would reflect were older addresses, so the Department had the task of finding new addresses.
The current database had 80 500 military veterans categorised into provinces and military formation. The majority of veterans were from statutory forces, as opposed to 23% that were from the former liberation forces. Subsequent to that, there had been a DMV internal verification process to deal with military veterans not on the database. A number of veterans applied to be put on the database, and this had propelled the internal verification process that started in November 2019. There was a project in Ekurhuleni for the provision of houses to military veterans. 105 applications were from Palm Ridge,12 of which were APLA applications. Each was accompanied by a vouching letter from a designated representative, but it was not adequate because it was a blanket vouching letter. Some veterans wanted housing but were not on the database, so the Department started with a verification programme. During the verification process, the Department could not make progress because of the lack of documentation to ascertain whether people met the criteria. Eventually, about 200 military veterans could qualify and were subsequently handed to the Department to be given houses.
- Ascertaining eligibility is a problem. Most of theveterans send documentation that does not have vouching letters from the association.
- On finalising verification, the process is done internally with personnel that are not in the environment, so there is a conflict over prioritisation.
- The confidence of appointed members as to whether they can carry this responsibility. This tends to delay the completion of the exercise.
- The manual processes pose a security and credibility risk to the database.
- The verification process must be outside the DMV head quarters for the dedicated team to be able to focus.
- The verification panel members should include appointees from relevant associations, including former commanders of self-defence units (SDUs).
- The verification process must consist of the actual interview of applicants, and not written submissions only.
- The administration must be led by designated management from the Department for transparency and credibility.
- The DMV must develop an electronic database management tool to ensure a secure, integrated database accessible to all provinces.
- The plan to formalise the memorandum of understanding (MoU) and service level agreements (SLAs) between the DMV, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the DoD and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) is under way.
- Database records against benefit dispenser lists need to be reviewed to identify anomalies and also to use the work done on the military veterans that have benefited.
The Chairperson said that he was worried that there were people on the list who could not be verified. There were people who were experts in the field, so the Department should look into outsourcing.
The co-Chairperson said that he was happy that the Department had come this far, although he had expected that they would have gone further. What did it regard as the end state of the project? It had said that at the press of a button it could ascertain all information on someone, so what was the end goal? By when would it have reached that milestone? This was long overdue because the database was the backbone of the Department.
Amongst other issues identified as challenges against speeding up the process of finalisation, the DMV had said that there were competing priorities that led to officials not attending meetings, and that should not happen again. Note must be taken of those who do not attend so that it was known who to hold accountable.
Ms M Mmola (ANC) said that she was confused, because when the Department was being introduced, there were many acting officials. Were the positions vacant or funded? When would they be filled? On the recommendations made and feedback given regarding vouching letters for members, how long had this matter been pending?
Mr D Ryder (DA) said that he agreed with the Chairperson, and hoped that there was information sharing between the various departments to avoid duplication. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the DHA probably had information on the veterans, so there should be information sharing. Why did one want a database? Was it an academic exercise, or would it lead to the pay out of benefits? If it was the latter, then it was better to be reactive and not proactive. Did the purpose justify the time, energy and costs of creating a new database?
Mr T Mmutle (ANC) asked what the aims and objectives were of the resolution that had been taken. Clearly the imbalance was being perpetuated. Those who were benefiting were those who were part of the oppressive system. There was a need to rethink what they wanted to achieve. What must be addressed remained unaddressed.
The Department had said people were unable to meet because they had other priorities. What priorities were those?
With regard to the recommendation that verification panel members should include appointees from relevant associations, including former commanders of SDUs, why would the DMV get commanders from various other organisations when it had elected SA Military Veterans’ Association (SAMVA) leaders? Did the Department know the purpose of SAMVA?
Mr M Shelembe (DA) said that previously a matter on SDUs, as one of the liberation movements, had been mentioned and was to be considered. Should that not apply to self-protection units (SPUs) as well, because they were not mentioned in the presentation? Was there a reason not to include SPUs?
Ms T Legwase (ANC) said that verification could not be overemphasised, especially with officials being there sometimes and not there at other times. How long did the verification process take? How long did it take to confirm whether people qualified or not? During oversight, people said it took forever to know whether or not they qualified.
Mr J Maake (ANC) asked what happened when there was a corrupt commander who would sell certificates to anyone or verify people who were not deserving. How did the Department sniff them out?
The Chairperson said that the amendment of the Act would help with the distinction between war and military veterans. He asked whether vigilantes were called military or war veterans, because they also fought in the political war but were defending the status quo. What about those who were in the Defence Force? If there are gaps in the law, the Department must tell the Committee so that the law could be amended.
Ms Morolo said the end goal was to have a credible database with legitimate military veterans, hence the cross-matching data with the Department of Defence so that whoever was there was being vouched for. The goal was to have integration with departments such as Home Affairs, and to be able to geomap to find addresses in order to dispense benefits to people at their correct locations, and leave a footprint where it was needed most. The database should also be accessible internally for a person to be identified and assisted. Information should be attained at the click of the button, so the database should be seamless and integrated.
The Department should have got to the end stages by now, but it was dependent on other entities for support. This spoke to strengthened inter-governmental relations. So, all things being equal, towards the end of the second quarter, the database should have been tried and tested, and identified where its weaknesses lie.
On the pending Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) engagement, since the last interaction last week there were names that had the needed vouching letters, and a committee had been created which reports weekly.
The Department agreed that the strategy of naming and shaming must be strengthened and reconfigured in a way that looks at individual strengths and weaknesses.
She said a database was needed because it was the backbone of the Department and enabled it to observe its mandate. To be able to carry it out, it needed to know who the beneficiaries were, because they had to be deserving of the benefits.
The question on slide five addressed who really needed to get the benefit and the prioritisation of benefit dispensation. A military veteran would always be a veteran, as per the definition. Whether one was a military veteran who should be getting certain benefits at a certain point, was another question altogether.
Qualifying for verification would be easy to achieve when there was an integrated database. The first qualifying criterion was that the veterans that were not registered must be on the database. Where a veteran was initially on the DoD, it would be checked if they were there, if they were then it would get authorisation to give them access to healthcare. As long as their identity was reflected on the database, it took a day to authorise for them to access the healthcare benefit.
Lt Gen (Ret) Derrick Mgwebi, Acting Director General: DMV, responded to the remainder of the questions.
He said the security aspect of the database would be taken care of when the information communication technology (ICT) system was in place, and the Department was working with SITA to get that integrated system. This might affect the issue of time, because the Department had been working with them for a while now but had not achieved any solutions.
Regarding those in acting positions, some were funded, including that of the DG. The Department wanted to fill the vacancies, but had received recommendations not to.
The database was needed for planning and budgeting, as one needed a sense of how many people one was working with. Their state of health was important, so the Department had to know how many people required assistance -- even for education purposes.
He said the SPUs would have come mainly from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and the SDUs from other formations. The Department could have a sense of where they came from, because during the intervention they were taken on board and were led by Luthuli. The SDUs came from the ANC side.
Because of complications and people changing their numbers, feedback posed a challenge.
The Chairperson asked again why SPUs were not there. Why were their names not appearing, and yet they are talking about their numbers? What did the DMV do when people were verified fraudulently? Why was the Department unable to verify names if there were no challenges in terms of the law?
Mr Maake said that it was not good enough to say there was a gap, or that something might be happening, because this showed uncertainty. One had to be sure of what was happening and to what extent. He thought the DMV would say it had a waterproof system of sniffing people out and locking them up. There was no other way, because they were using funds and giving them to people who did not deserve them.
The Chairperson said that he was expecting timelines on how long it would take to cleanse the database, and not open-ended answers. From what the Department was saying, it did not seem it had problems -- it was just inefficiency. The meeting was going nowhere. There were no commitments. The DMV should not be talking about perceived corruption, rather than actual corruption. If it found that someone was being corrupt and was not doing anything about it, what did it say about the Department? The Committee needed time frames before it assigned them to the Department.
The co-Chairperson said that on 31 October, when the Department was before the Committee, this issue featured prominently, and it was realised that there was a problem. They could not afford to have the same issues, because the database was the backbone. The Committee had given the DMV a deadline for the final report, but today they were giving a progress report and promising to deliver something that was almost final in the second quarter. If the DMV states that there is an end date to provide a database that is credible and does not have a suspicion of ghost beneficiaries, then there would not be a need talk about this again. But for there to be a credible database, it was vital to consider publicising it or else people would not be able to point out irregularities, such as incorrect addresses and wards. If not publicised, the database may not be credible. It must be made a public document for everyone to see so the people can raise these issues, thus increasing the credibility of the document. Additionally, taxpayers should be able to access it to see where their money was going.
The Chairperson said there was no country that hid its heroes, so South Africa should not do it.
Mr A Gxoyiya (ANC) said that he got a sense that the project was being treated as a ‘by the way’ matter. People did something if and when there was a chance. No timeframe was given. The Committee needed a breakdown of the information that was detailed and would be made public so that even people who were still hoping that their names were there would get information. People were dying everyday while still waiting to reap the benefits of their struggle. There was a need to make sure that the Department provides actual information. It must not wait for information to come to it – it must go looking for it. When it came back, it must bring accurate information, because the Committee wants to hear about the benefits and not that it is still looking for information.
Ms T Zungu (ANC) said that the Department reported for the sake of reporting, and had to be honest with the Committee about where they were struggling. They must identify the culprits and what was being done about that. With this Department, there were problems with evidence. They were not progressive. How did it measure its progress? It wanted the Committee to guide it.
Lt Gen Mgwebi responded that with regard to action, the position was that those who defrauded the system were dealt with legally.
He said the current Act was challenging, because if one was a veteran and died before applying for benefits, the dependants did not get a house and may end up having to apply for a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) unit. If they died after having applied, the dependants would benefit.
The Department had taken note of publicising the database. Names could be given, but the challenge was getting addresses and telephone numbers.
Regarding SAMVA, its term of office came to an end a year ago. In an association, one can find oneself in a senior position, but not know the operation because one was not commanding.
The challenge with measuring progress was that 80 000-plus people were involved. Once the Department got their numbers and addresses, it could be said that it was moving forward. The challenge was having these files, but not in soft copy form, even though they would be more credible and secure in soft copy form.
The Chairperson said that questions that had not been adequately answered should be responded to in written form.
The co-Chairperson said that the second quarter was too far ahead, so the Department should try to make it the end of the first quarter, before the start of the new budget.
Adoption of minutes
The minutes of the meetings of 10 October, and 17, 28 and 31 November, were submitted and adopted.
Programme for quarter
The next meeting would be on 20 February, and would involve a briefing from the Defence Force Service Commission on their mandate, achievements and challenges.
The following meeting would be on 5 March for a briefing by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee on their 2018/19 annual report.
The programme was adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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