15 February 2011

South Africa: New Dawn for Defence

Pretoria — Secretary for Defence, Mpumi Mpofu, says policies are being reviewed and new ones drafted to ensure the smooth implementation of the recommendations made by the Interim National Defence Force Commission.

The commission was set up to investigate, among other things, conditions in the army.

"Since the appointment of the Minister [of Defence Lindiwe Sisulu] in May 2009, the Secretariat and the SANDF have been very busy addressing a number of the concerns identified in the final report.

"We are working with the Commission to fast track all policy reviews and frameworks to ensure that all issues related to the conditions of service of soldiers are addressed. A number of them are systemic problems and the new dispensation provides an opportunity for us to address them faster," Mpofu said.

She was speaking after a meeting with Sisulu, the National Defence Force Service Commission, the Defence Secretariat and the Military Command Council (MCC) in Cape Town last week to review the implementation of the recommendations made in the report.

In November last year, Cabinet approved the tabling of the report - the first comprehensive review of the defence force in 16 years, and it offered insight into what works and what doesn't.

The main findings of the report, which the minister has acknowledged as "scathing", include the process of integration and transformation, which remains a serious challenge; the rearrangement of the organisational structure, culture, ideology and the ranking in the defence force; the morale of the defence force, which has led to an outflow of expertise over the last few years and the disturbing living and working conditions at some of the barracks.

At the time, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, Acting Chairperson of the Commission, said many of the issues had already been attended to whilst others were receiving urgent and ongoing attention. He said government, business and the population at large would need to think differently about the funding requirements of the defence force.

There had been much controversy surrounding the release of the report, with some saying the minister was hiding "a ticking bomb" in the SANDF.

In a statement, the department said the meeting had agreed that progress had been achieved since the appointment of the minister and the report has given broader understanding of the problems and the following progress has been recorded.

Regarding the relationship between the Military Command and the Defence Secretariat, the meeting noted that the relationship had improved and there was now clarification on responsibility of the Chief of the SANDF and the Secretariat.

"The leadership will also meet regularly to ensure cooperation and coordination and officials at all levels are working together very well. The meeting agreed that this is no longer a matter of concern. This was a matter of concern during Minister Terror Lekota's leadership," said the department.

The Military Command Council is reviewing the powers of officers commanding and ensuring that they have the powers to discipline and manage their units effectively.

It was noted at the meeting that SANDU and other "irresponsible unions" were a serious problem as they do not respect officers commanding and their national leadership encourages lawlessness and chaos.

"The meeting urged the minister to finalise the process to remove unions from the SANDF as they remain a security risk. The minister reported that the legal team has finalised a review of what is the best route to remove unions from the SANDF and action would be taken. This issue was identified as a priority to be concluded this year," it said of the meeting.

Regarding the defence budget allocation and composition, the meeting noted progress had been made in ensuring that the Department of Defence receives a clean audit. In the 2009/2010 financial year, the department received only one technical qualification.

However, the Commission called on the Minister and Parliament to allocate 2 percent of the GDP to the Department of Defence.

Issues of a need for a new defence review, the state of defence infrastructure, professional health support, career management and the Military Skills Development System were also discussed.

The Minister of Public Works, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, has committed to addressing accommodation and infrastructure challenges in the SANDF, the meeting noted. The SANDF Public Works regiment is currently involved in 15 projects and more soldiers are currently being trained to increase its capacity.

"The meeting agreed that Sisulu will finalise all the necessary approvals to ensure that the SANDF is delegated all responsibility to maintain their buildings and manage its assets."

New health machines are being purchased and renovations are ongoing at 1 Military Hospital and other military health centres.

Regarding the Military Skills Development System, a review of the department's career management is taking place and will be completed and consulted with all stakeholders.

Further to this, a new grievance mechanism policy is making progress in addressing the more than 10 000 grievance backlog and fast tracking some of the complaints. Cabinet has approved the Military Ombuds Bill, which will also assist in addressing grievances and bringing them into conclusion.

The department added that the SANDF new dispensation - as approved by the President in 2010 and the permanent Defence Force Service Commission - will go a long way in addressing the systemic challenges within the SANDF.

The minister said she was "more than convinced that" stakeholders were moving to greater heights.

"We have now laid the foundation to fast track the implementation of all our priorities. We have achieved most of what we set out to do in the 2009 and 2010 budget speech, I can confirm to all South Africans that their Defence Force is in good hands and our soldiers must know that we are here for them at all times."

The minister also called on the Military Command Council to ensure that soldiers look after their assets and infrastructure, and also communicate the massage that discipline is not negotiable.

The Acting Chief of the SANDF, Lt General Themba Matanzima, and his team of Generals reported that the recommendation of the Commission had been prioritised and fast tracked for implementation in the coming financial years.

"As the Military Command, we are attending to all recommendations of the Commission. We have teams that are addressing all the matters. The Commission report broadened our understanding of some of the issues, but many of the issues have been in our radar for sometime, and we are very pleased to work with the Commission in addressing all the issues," Lt General Matanzima said.

The chair of the Commission, Judge Bosielo and the members welcomed the efforts and commitment of the Military Command and the Secretariat to address the conditions of service of the soldiers and their families.

"As the Commission, we are very pleased that the Minister, the SANDF and the Secretariat have prioritised the implementation of our recommendations. We have seen a very positive united team that has only the interests of the soldiers. A new dawn has arrived for our soldiers. When the conditions for our soldiers improve, so would their dignity and standing in the society," Judge Bosielo said.

In a statement, the meeting said it had noted "with serious concern the misrepresentation of the recommendation of the Commission by Mr David Maynier of the Democratic Alliance."

It said the meeting regretted that a Member of Parliament could use such an important institution in the security of the country as the SANDF to attract media attention and to profile himself for a better position in his party.

"Through his utterances and insults to the SANDF, it is becoming clear that Mr Maynier has no respect for the leadership of the Department of Defence and the Minister. Parliament is not a platform to create media celebrities but to deal with laws on behalf of our people.

"Sadly Mr Maynier misrepresented important and sensitive information about the SANDF to attract media attention. We wish his contribution can be truthful and beneficial to our soldiers, that's what our people expect from their representatives" said the meeting.

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