Budget vote: Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla

1879

Chairperson, the Military Veterans Bill before Parliament signifies the ongoing work to provide support and care to Military Veterans and their dependants since our budget debate last year.

The month of April was touted to be the month in which two of South Africa’s outstanding soldiers for non-racialism and democracy met their violent deaths from their barbaric apartheid murderers, namely, Thembisile ‘Alias Chris’ Hani and Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu.

Allow me therefore, chairperson to dedicate my remarks today to their exemplary lives and their legend and to the tribulations of their families.

Cabinet has confirmed our interim policy for Military Veterans and the machinery to deliver these benefits and services, as enunciated in the Bill. The costing of the Bill has since been finalised and approved by cabinet.

THE MILITARY VETERANS BILL

It gives the Ministry great pleasure that the Bill has received overwhelming support from South Africans across the spectrum and from all sides, and we have taken note of submissions which to point areas which deserve further improvements.

Contrary to the scare raised by some in the media around this Bill, stake-holders and the broader public seem to have figured–out the real issues themselves in spite of the heavy fog of negativity which threatened to drown the bill in its inchoate stages. The submissions from members of the public and observations by members of the Portfolio Committee, are picking up the real challenges this intervention by government seeks to address.

The nub of the proposed government policy on Military Veterans is to accord a decent life to South Africans who are destitute today and are part of the needy masses because they were at the coal–face of the apartheid conflict of the past, in particular those who fought had to end apartheid.

Once again on behalf of the Ministry we should express our appreciation for the commendable work delivered by the Minister’s Task Team on Military Veterans. The dedication and passion displayed by all its members and the desire to find a credible and sustainable solution to the problem of the Military Veterans in South Africa has won you our admiration in the Ministry and the Department of Military Veterans.

A CASE FOR GOVERNMENT SUPPORT TO MILITARY VETERANS

The tabling of Military Veterans Bill has brought a sigh of relieve to many families and communities. The previous efforts by government to support demobilised soldiers were grossly inadequate.

In all fairness, the many unsung heroes and heroins of yesterday’s fierce battles against apartheid-rule and their courageous families have to this day bore their pain on sacrifices made, with dignity and patience. The wise decision by government to correct what is a glaring and embarrassing omission to all, can never be too late. We can always draw comfort from the experiences of many other countries that “it is better late than never”, when it comes to the neglect of former combatants or demobilised soldiers.

I wish to take this opportunity, on the occasion of the Defence and Military Veterans budget debate to state for the record and to the benefit of South Africa’s broad public that the cost-estimated of the Military Veterans Bill currently before parliament is R1.6 billion only, over the three years of the MTEF budget period. The Annual projected spending to the outer-year of the MTEF period is expected to be a constant average of plus-minus R500 million.

I wish to avoid the temptation to comment on the Bill before benefitting from the wisdom of the Portfolio Committee which has been enriched by public-hearings.

However chairperson, I am fairly confident that considerations underpinning the policy recommendations from which the Bill derives, are sound, well informed, and carefully chosen.

PROGRESS IN SETTING UP THE DEPARTMENT OF MILITARY VETERANS

One of the important priorities of our work over the period under review was, as the Minister already indicated, the setting up of the Department of Military Veterans. After cabinet endorsed the policy framework report in June 2010, we proceeded to submit the structure of the new department and the posts to Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and Treasury for consideration.

Once again approval was attained the advertising of posts and population of the structure commenced. We have been harm-strung by capacity constraints from moving swiftly in executing this work. However, assistance from the Department of Defence (DOD) Human Resource Division has been solicited.

We have commenced the process of establishing work-streams together with line-function departments which are responsible for some of the benefits that must be delivered to Military Veterans. After elaborating operational details of the policy pertaining to their respective sectors, these work-streams will assume permanent status as work-groups through which the Department of Military Veterans interfaces and collaborates with these line-functions departments to deliver services and benefits of Military Veterans.

Honourable members, almost every other day there is a Military Veteran who dies being destitute. The benefits we are talking about are needed now. As a relieve measure, the Council On Defence (COD) tasked the Department of Military Veterans in collaboration with South African Military Health Services SAMHS to roll-out health services to all Military Veterans who are 60 years old and above, and those who have chronic ailments and life threatening health conditions to roll out access our military hospitals from 16 December 2010.

Chairperson, we have assisted the South African National Military Veterans Association (SANMVA) to launch provincial structures of its affiliate association in order for us to develop the capacity to reach the vast and disperate community of Military veterans in all the nine provinces. Five provincial chapters of SANMVA have been launched since the department started functioning.

Critical work around the consolidation of the data-base of Military Veterans has commenced, however the Associations with whom we must collaborate are struggling to expedite this process because of their inadequate administration capacities among other challenges.

The challenge we have is that there are no statistics in government on Military Veterans. Reliable data on the profile of our community of Military Veterans with regard to among others is age composition, economic status and educational qualifications must still be compiled. This demographic information is key to the elaboration of plans around programmes and projects.

Honourable Members, the Department has prepared strategic plans for the fiscal year 2011-2014 and annual performance plans for FY 2011/2012. However these documents were not submitted because Treasury only intends introducing the Department of Military Veterans separate vote in the national budget to parliament in the financial year 2012/13.

The Department of Military Veterans budget allocation over the MTEF period has since been revised by Treasury. It has increased from the original R20 million in the FY2010/11 to R45.4 m, in FY 2011/12 instead of the original R30 million. The increase in expenditure emanates from the posts to be filled in this financial year and other inputs required for the department to execute its mandate, including office equipment and accommodation.

Across the MTEF period, Treasury has approved R45.3 m for the FY2011/12, R51. 2 m for the FY2012/13 and R52. 591 for the FY 2013/14.

We hope in collaboration with the Portfolio Committee we will make resources available for benefits to be rolled out to military veterans. In the process of realising this policy it is our commitment to contribute significantly to the five MTSF priorities of government namely, health, education, jobs, rural development and safety and to the 12 government derivative outcomes.

MIGRATION OF THE FACILITIES MAINTENANCE FUNCTION

Honourable members, The Department of Defence (DOD) has a property portfolio of more than 430,000 hectares of land, approximately 35,000 buildings and more than 12 million square metres of surface area within buildings. This sizeable estate portfolio is currently under management of the Department of Public Works (DPW), on whom the responsibility to perform total life-cycle management (TLCM) of all state-owned immovable assets lies.

The state of DOD facilities has deteriorated to unacceptable levels of dilapidation. A report from the Department of Labour inspectorate in 2007 indicated that more than 35% of DOD military barracks were not fit for human occupancy. In 2010, the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission’s [INDFSC] investigation into conditions of service for SANDF members came to a similar conclusion that the state of disrepair of Defence Facilities was unacceptable.

The main cause of the above-mentioned state of affairs is the lack of resources to perform proper maintenance and repairs, thereby accumulating a maintenance backlog situation that is even more difficult to get out of. At the end of 2009/2010 financial year, the maintenance backlog of the DOD facilities was already above R13 billion.

Furthermore, the maintenance budget allocation model used by DPW is not based on any relationship between the department’s contribution in accommodation charges (DOD contributes 48%) and allocated maintenance funds (DOD allocation less than 25%). In 2009/2010 financial year, the DOD paid R932 million [of the total R2.2 billion collection of DPW accommodation charges] and only R465 million of this was utilised for Rates and Taxes, municipal services and repairs & maintenance – the rest of the paid accommodation charges were reallocated to other departments by DPW. This effectively means that Departments and / or institutions with a much smaller property portfolio may get allocated higher amounts than the DOD.

It is also observed that the large DOD facilities footprint is grossly underutilised, which means that the Department’s actual facilities requirements are significantly lower than the supplied capacity. This result in the Department paying accommodation charges for the properties it hardly uses, thereby inflating the rental bill, while stretching the maintenance allocation per facility even thinner.

To remedy this malady, my Minister, Minister Sisulu has tasked me to set a capability within the DOD that will ensure that the DOD has requisite capacity to take over the facilities maintenance responsibilities from the Department of Public Works. To develop a migration plan that will see the DOD incrementally taking over this responsibility.

STRATEGIC CONSIDERATION

Facilities form part of the Services Delivery Systems that DOD uses to carry out its mandate. The current challenges around facilities maintenance have a significant impact on the morale of the soldiers, and hence the delivery. It is envisaged that over time the DOD will establish an “Estimated Management Agency” which will manage the property portfolio and ensure optimal utilisation of facilities.

Honourable members, the opting out of the DOD will also assist in alleviating the load from DPW. DOD is one of the largest departments in terms of property footprint, and with maintenance back-log of more than R13 billion, it is certainly one of the conspicuous concerns within the DPW radar screen.

Before I resume my seat, Chairperson allow me to expose my suppressed excitement and amusement at the self inflicted punishment one of our committee members subjected himself to, when he volunteered to be thrown out of the house some few weeks ago by the Speaker because of his ignorance. I really hope that the parliamentary head table will ensure that his salary is indeed docked, Chairperson.

I think it is only fair that at times members of parliament must receive punishment for their ignorance. It is even better when they volunteer themselves to be spanked, it is so funny.

The National Conventional Arms Control Act which forms the basis of the NCACC’s functioning encapsulates principles that the South African government considers critical in regulating arms trade in South Africa. These principles are consistent with the national value system and the international commitments of South Africa. The principles recognize that any country has the right to self defence and therefore has an inherent right to acquire and use arms in a responsible manner according to the Law of Armed Conflict. In considering and taking decisions on arms transfers, the NCACC considers in aggregate all the principles reflected in the Act. No one principle is considered and viewed in isolation of others.

The DOD provides technical and administrative support to the NCACC, a Committee of Cabinet charged with the responsibility of regulating South African trade in conventional arms and related technologies. As contemplated in the Act, the NCACC Secretariat facilitates the administration work of the NCACC according to specific given delegations.

In dealing with arms trade, the South African Government abides by the United Nations resolutions and its corresponding obligations. The South Africa government is not bound by the resolutions of other arms producing nations or groupings of such nations. Having due regard to the United Nations resolutions, the Government applies its mind on every request for arms export contracting and shipment on a case by case basis.

There is no advance restriction placed on registered South African companies as to which country they may approach or be approached by, to market products and services as each potential contract is submitted to the NCACC for evaluation, approval or denial. This process, however, sometimes leads to consternation among elements of the public and sometimes people jump to conclusions on matters that are still pending before the NCACC for deliberation.

The rapidly changing political, environmental, social and economic climates taking place in the rest of the world, particularly in the Arab world, have a direct impact on the South African arms industry which is reliant on such trade. South Africa will have to weather the storm and not sacrifice its principles as it faces the future.

It is undisputed that the South African arms industry has traded with many countries in different regions of the world. Those countries include Libya and many others. In dealing with Libya’s arms transactions, the South Africa government approach had always been guided by the provisions of the Act and its commitments to international arms control regimes. To that end, the NCACC has applied, without exception, the criteria for arms trade as stipulated in Section 15 of the National Conventional Arms Control Act. At the time of authorization of the arms transactions with Libya, there were no United Nations Security Council Resolutions in force. At the same time there were no existing or predictable circumstances of such a nature that warranted a non-trading position with Libya. At this time, many arms producing countries including those in the West found the Libyan market favourable for arms trade.

The current political situation in Libya could not be predicted at the time when the arms trade transactions were concluded with Libya.

As a matter of fact chairperson, one of the countries which have been severely affected by the development in Libya pertaining Arms trade, is Russia, a member of BRICS and the Security Council (UN) which was in the middle of delivering a transaction reported to be worth close to 70 billion.

It is only fair to the public that when we have a debate on defence sector issues, it should be a real debate and robust discourse but it must also be about real issues and sincere differences.



I THANK YOU