Busy time ahead for Parliamentary defence committees

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In less than a month Parliament will rise for the year-end break but before then the defence oversight committees have the proverbial mountain to climb including briefings on contentious issues, including the controversial acquisition of a Cuban COVID-19 drug.

Among the listings on a parliamentary defence committee activities schedule are a joint briefing by National Treasury and the Department of Defence (DoD), presumably in the form of the human resource division. Scheduled for 24 November the briefing is summarised as “funding of an exit mechanism and other means to contain compensation of employees (CoE) expenditure”.

This meeting, as with all others while the national state of disaster is maintained and extended, will be virtual with parliamentarians also set to hear more about additional funding for “border safeguarding initiatives” and “alternate funding models to keep the SANDF (SA National Defence Force) afloat”.

In another finance-related presentation, the committee will hear from the Inspector General and a representative of the Provost Marshal General’s office on DoD and SANDF irregular and wasteful expenditure.

The next defence committee meeting is operations inclined with updates on five current SANDF missions. They are Operation Corona (border protection), Operation Copper (anti-piracy in the Mozambique Channel), Operation Mistral (MONUSCO in Democratic Republic of Congo) and Operation Prosper (internal deployments in support of other government agencies and departments).

The 1 December meeting is to be devoted entirely to the acquisition of the Cuban anti-coronavirus drug Heberon. A task team appointed by previous defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is scheduled to table its report on the procurement with the SA Health Products Regulatory Agency (SAHPRA) and the Auditor General reporting on other aspects of the contentious acquisition of more than R25 million worth of unregistered drug from the Caribbean island nation.

Another meeting before Parliament prorogues for the year has 1 Military Hospital of the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) as the top agenda item. The Thaba Tshwane medical facility is a shadow of its former efficient self with continuous delays affecting operating efficient in any number of departments. The committee will be updated by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), the Defence Ministry and Department of Defence (DoD) on the hospital refurbishment programme including consequence management. It will also look forward to “restoring” the facility and “limit the need for outsourcing”.

Minister Patricia de Lille’s DPWI will update the committee on border fences and “upgrading section headquarters buildings for SANDF border deployments”.