14 May 2012

South Africa: Minister Launches Military Ombud Office

Pretoria — Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu today launched the Military Ombud Office, which will deal with complaints from defence force members.

Lieutenant-General Themba Mathanzima was sworn in as the Ombudsman during the launch in Pretoria.

"The Ombud will investigate complaints lodged in writing by the members. The Military Ombud is a soldiers' appeal office to internal military grievance management procedures," she explained.

According to the department, the Military Ombudsman will investigate complaints and serve as a neutral third party on matters related to the Department of Defence and the South African National Defence Force, acting independently of the chain of command and managers.

It is envisaged that the Ombudsman will address any military personnel matters which cannot be resolved through other existing mechanisms.

"Through the existence of the Office of the Military Ombud, we hope to harmonise the confluence between military discipline and recourse avenues for complaints and grievances appeals in a manner that is consistent with our democratic enlightenment," said Sisulu.

She added that the office was expected to be a last recourse for complaints and grievances management within the military and that it would serve as a mechanism independent of the Military Command structure.

"It will exercise oversight of the defence sector and help to ensure that the military observes principles and practices of good governance - thereby reducing vulnerability and victimisation," said the minister.

The department said the office of the Ombudsman would also act as a direct source of information, referral and education and that it would help members of the defence community navigate a large and complex organisation in order to access existing channels of assistance or redress when they have a complaint or concern.

The launch comes after Parliament approved the establishment of the office earlier this month.

Sisulu had introduced the Military Ombudsman Bill to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans last year. At the time, she referred to a similar institution in Canada which is tasked with the responsibility of reviewing and investigating concerns and complaints from current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces, departmental employees, and their immediate family members who believe that they have been treated improperly or unfairly by the Canadian Department of National Defence Force or Canadian Forces.

The Ombudsman will hold office for a period of seven years.

Sisulu said she had full confidence in Lieutenant-General Matanzima that he would carry out his responsibilities as expected.

Matanzima said he would do his best in his new post. "I'm going to experience new challenges and I'm hopeful I will be successful. This is an important office that has tremendous obligations."

Also speaking at the event was the Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela, who was instrumental in giving guidance in the establishment of the Military Obmbud Office.

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