Still no indication when veterans’ pension payments will start

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That Maliyakhe Shelembe, an opposition parliamentarian tasked with oversight of military veterans’ affairs, takes the plight of old soldiers seriously comes with what he calls “gross mismanagement of funds and disregard for those who served with honour and sacrifice”.

The target of his ire is the Department of Military Veterans where a retired SA Navy (SAN) chief is an interim director general while the post holder is on temporary suspension. Irene Mpolweni was suspended in March with Mosiwa Hlongwane moving into the director general suite in Hatfield, Pretoria, early in May.

Shelembe, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow deputy defence and military veterans minister, wants to know why what is said to be R36 million, earmarked for veterans’ pensions, was “diverted” to buy furniture for [DMV] officials.

“The DMV decision to prioritise furniture over rightful entitlements of veterans reveals an utter disregard for these men and women by government,” he said following media reports of the funds’ rerouting.

The DMV in a statement refuted allegations the R36 million was diverted to furniture, saying City Press “got it horribly wrong” when reporting that on 11 June. “The article which purports to expose an irregular and corrupt purchase of furniture, with funds meant for military veteran’s pensions benefit pay out, is devoid of any truth and misleading,” it said.

It added that the article quotes an ‘insider’ saying no pension will be paid to veterans. “The process to roll out the military veterans pension benefit, is currently underway and remains unhindered. In view of this, it is malicious to suggest funds were shifted to procure furniture for four officials returning from suspension. It is also unprofessional of an investigative journalist to suggest funds are spent or wasted with no shred of evidence. Based on official records at our disposal, no funds were used in this manner and all funds requested to be shifted are available and untouched in the DMV. We should also state, emphatically, no furniture was procured.”

The DMV explained a request was made to National Treasury, dated 20 March this year, to move unspent funds from Transfers and Subsidies to Goods and Services. “This was to offset a potential overspend on Healthcare Services and Education Support. The Department also has at their disposal a response from National Treasury, dated 30 March 2023, wherein the National Treasury stated that ‘it takes note of and does not object to the Department’s proposal to shift funds as proposed by the department.’”

On the matter of the four suspended officials who were instructed to return for duty, there are still processes underway, “therefore the Ministry and the Acting Director General of the DMV will communicate on the matter once it is finalized,” the DMV stated.

Shelembe notes the DMV said in May “a process was underway to launch pension pay-outs to veterans”. This follows a December announcement by then Deputy President David Mabuza on “special pensions” for veterans with current Deputy President Paul Mashatile on record in late April that veterans “can now start” applying for pension pay out.

Unhappiness about the pension as regards the amount and when disbursements will start as seen a number of old soldiers contact defenceWeb. One wrote: “I am registered on the DMV database as a veteran since July 2015 and enjoyed health benefits. When they announced applications are open for submission late April 2023, I submitted my application in mid-May. I have not received any acknowledgement of receipt, which I would expect? Also there has been no further news on any progress regarding processing of applications or a time frame of expected commencement date of monthly payments”.

Shelembe wants Minister Thandi Modise to “come clean” on the redirected funds and confirm when old soldiers, including those from former TBVC states’ defence forces, will start receiving pension pay-outs.