Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) this week heard a key challenge to the independence of the Military Ombud is it is not defined as a national public entity.
This means retired Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo, who took over from the former ombud Temba Matanzima, also a retired three star general, operates as a unit of the Department of Defence (DoD).
The PCDMV heard consultations with the Government Technical Advisory Centre on the best institutional model to give effect to the independence of the office resulted in two, not mutually exclusive, recommendations. The first is to focus on enhancing autonomy and operational independence of the office by giving the Military Ombud autonomy in certain areas. The second is to classify the office as a Schedule 3A Public Entity, which comes with budgetary implications, a Parliamentary Communication Services statement said.
The committee welcomed progress in enhancing autonomy, received via Ministerial approval for the Ombud to be delegated specific functions and authority for approval. These include travel, training and human resources, among others.
PCDMV co-chair Cyril Xaba, said: “The budgetary implications and constraints against classification of the Ombud office as a public entity are to be expected given the economic situation of the country”.
The committee noted the opinion by Parliament’s legal services, which states the Act provides sufficient grounds for independent operations of the Military Ombud. “There are issues of institutional arrangements that may undermine the independence of the office. This, legal services said, might not necessarily be issues of legislation, but rather how the Ministry (of Defence) and the DoD relate to the office,” according to the statement.
Xaba asked for an analysis of outstanding cases at the Ombud as well as quarterly reports on progress.
At the start of the 2018/19 financial year, 135 cases were carried forward from the previous year and another 390 cases were registered in the current reporting term. This made a total of 525 “active” cases of which 246 were finalised leaving 279 pending.
The 246 cases finalised in 2018/19 is significantly lower than the 664 finalised in 2017/18.
Major reasons given for case finalisation are complaint dismissed (63), complaint upheld (26), grievance procedure not followed 46, not a condition of service (39) and case referred to “appropriate public institution” (45).
Salary and wage problems are the major complaint to the Ombud with 90 registered as remuneration cases in the period under review. Other complaints relate to utilisation and placement (77), service termination (74), service benefits and working environment (66), promotion and demotion (40) and grievance/disciplinary procedures (15).