The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) is seen by at least one respected military analyst and observer as “a crucial entity whose decisions have serious ramifications” in three areas.
These are, according to African Defence Review (ADR) director Darren Olivier, South African foreign policy, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and survival of the local defence industry.
Against this background, last week’s meeting of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) heard the NCACC was still under the control of a deputy chair – Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola. He has been in command, as it were, since the death of former Minister in The Presidency Jackson Mthethu in January. Acting Minister in The Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni was replaced by Mondli Gungubele in this month’s Cabinet reshuffle with the holder of this portfolio normally named to head up the NCACC. defenceWeb has twice asked The Presidency who the new NCACC chair will be and when he or she will take up duties. At the time of publication no response – not even acknowledgement of a media enquiry – was received.
That Lamola is still effectively the NCACC “driver” was a point made by Advocate Ezra Jele, NCACC secretariat head, when he appeared in place of the Cabinet Minister at last week’s JSCD meeting. He told those present the necessary paperwork for new NCACC members was “lodged” with The Presidency.
Other Cabinet Ministers currently on the NCACC are Naledi Pandor (International Relations and Co-operation); now departed Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her counterpart at State Security, Ayanda Dlodlo; Pravin Gordhan (Public Enterprises); Ebrahim Patel (Trade, Industry and Competition); Bheki Cele (Police) and Blade Nzimande (Higher Education). Three deputy ministers also serve on the NCACC.
Expanding on the important role of the NCACC Olivier said: “The nature of arms sales means a single bad decision could create a foreign policy crisis for the country if weapons end up being used in a politically embarrassing or morally repugnant way. Or it could sink important local defence companies if they invest too much in a sale that is needlessly delayed or capriciously blocked late in the process by a poorly functioning committee”.
He likens the NCACC, now in its seventh month of being headed by a deputy chair, as “a strategic national risk with high importance based on its ability to make the right decisions in ways that do not harm South Africa”.
By way of explanation Olivier points out the NCACC is defined in legislation as a Cabinet level committee staffed “exclusively” by ministers and deputy ministers. This is also a reason why it has to make detailed quarterly reports to Parliament in the best interests of transparency.
“Given this, it’s surprising and concerning how little attention proper working of the NCACC has received in the past few years across both the Ramaphosa and Zuma administrations, with transparency and accuracy in reports diminishing each year, inexplicable decisions being made and unreasonable delays caused in part by uncertainty around appointing ministers to the committee as well as the committee’s ministers and deputy ministers not meeting on a regular basis.
“The result is less oversight and awareness of the country’s arms sales, embarrassing headlines and questions regarding controversial sales that probably should not have happened. Additionally a number of defence companies with critical skills and capabilities either suffered serious losses or were forced to close doors as a result of problems with export approvals.
“Nobody’s interests are being served by the current approach,” is Olivier’s to-the-point summary.
He would like the NCACC given the necessary importance and attention its mandate requires and greater accountability, more transparency as well as a more predictable and regularly scheduled process of decision-making.