Parliament fire won’t impact portfolio committee work


The devastating fire that ripped through Parliament, while tragic as regards damage caused, should not affect functioning of the vitally important component that is its oversight committees.

By way of illustration, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais points out meetings of the two defence committees – Joint Standing and Portfolio – for just on the last two years were all by way of virtual platforms.

“There were weekly Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meetings – a far cry from the previous fourth and fifth Parliaments when meetings were rare rather than regular. The involvement of the JSCD can definitely be said to have reached new levels during the various lockdown levels imposed in terms of the national state of disaster regulations to limit COVID-19 spread,” he told defenceWeb.

Marais’ stance is reinforced by a Parliamentary statement this week which has it that “the National Assembly has since 27 May 2020 conducted its business in hybrid sittings due to COVID-19, with limited Members of Parliament (MPs) assembling physically at the precinct in Cape Town while remaining MPs joined through a virtual platform”.

This arrangement will continue until further notice, according to spokesman Moloto Mothapo.

This approach will see virtual meetings continue, starting on the 26th of this month (January) for the defence oversight committees. There is also an oversight visit planned to Gauteng, specifically the Thaba Tshwane metro and some of its many military facilities, for the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) at the end of March.

Business-wise, one of the first agenda items the PCDMV will deal with is listed in its programme as the “findings of the Ministerial Task Team on the procurement of Heberon medication from Cuba by the DoD (Department of Defence)”.

Other PCDMV agenda items between January and the end-March oversight visit include SA National Defence Force (SANDF) human resource requirements; force design and structure; audit action plans with performance reporting, fraud, corruption and consequence management up for discussion and recommendations.

SANDF acquisitions in the form of projects Biro (multi-mission inshore patrol vessels), Hoefyster (infantry fighting vehicle) and Hotel (new hydrographic vessel and ancillary equipment) will also come under the microscope with presentations by Armscor and Thandi Modise in her capacity as defence and military veterans minister.

The current grounded state of the SA Air Force’s (SAAFs) sharp point – 2 Squadron’s Gripen jet fighters – is another thorny issue the airborne service, Defence Secretariat and Ministry have to explain to PCDMV members.

The JSCD has its first meeting on 17 February with the long-awaited forensic report on 1 Military Hospital and its many and varied tribulations due to be tabled. Further JSCD meetings in the first quarter will deal with transformation, morale and discipline in the national defence force as well as what the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) and the Military Ombud have and are planning to do.

The end-March oversight visit is, at this stage, planned to take in a number of military bases in and around Pretoria, including Special Forces headquarters; the Department of Military Veterans (DMV); “selected” Armscor facilities, probably Gerotek and Protechnik, as well as a Project Thusano workshop, more than likely the SA Army main ordnance sub-depot (MOSDW), previously 4 Vehicle Reserve Park (4VRP) at Wallmannsthal.