Cabinet has approved the tabling of the final report of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission (INDFSC) before the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) in Parliament. In a related move, Cabinet also approved an extension of the revised Non-Statutory Forces pension dispensation.
Government spokesman Vusi Mona says the INDFSC report follows from a Cabinet’s decision last year to create a new service dispensation for the defence force. Following that decision, an interim commission was established to, amongst others, advise and make recommendations on a unique service dispensation outside the ambit of the Public Service. The report covers challenges faced by the South African National Defence Force since 1994, the root causes of the problems and proposed short and long term solutions.
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu last week Tuesday told the National Assembly she had received the final report and would next present it to Cabinet before bringing it before Parliament. Two interim reports by the INDFSC a year ago caused a political storm in the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, where Sisulu’s Democratic Alliance shadow David Maynier insisted on their publication. Sisulu, however, refused.
The specific content of the two interim reports are not in the public domain, but media leaks suggest one focussed on dire service conditions and poor pay in the military while the other suggested a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission. President Jacob Zuma last December seemingly acted on the first report by almost doubling the salaries of the lower ranks of the SANDF, while Sisulu addressed the second by seeing a Defence Amendment Bill through Parliament. This led to a number of intemperate spats between Sisulu and Maynier.
It is not clear whether the report will be made public. Sisulu’s spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya says the decision rests with Parliament. Maynier, however, disagrees, saying in a statement his party believes the report should be made public immediately. “Sisulu has defaulted to obfuscation-and-delay in suggesting the decision to make the final report public somehow rests with Parliament,” the DA MP says. He adds the INDFSC was a ministerial entity “and it is the minister’s prerogative to make the final report public. The fact is that the minister appears, for some reason, to have chosen not to make the final report public. … The fact is that it is in the public interest and in the defence force’s interest that the final report should be made public.”
Mabaya, in an SMS to defenceWeb, disagreed, saying “the report is [to be] tabled to the Joint Standing Committee. Parliament is the representative of the people. They can decide how to deal with it. If they decide to release it to the public, [it] is their call.”
It is not known how the JSCD will handle the report. The ruling African National Congress last week sacked the committee’s chair, Hlengiwe Christophina Mgabadeli, appointing JJ Maake in her stead. The JSCD has only met once since the election of the current Parliament in May last year,and then just briefly, to confirm Mgabadeli’s appointment. ANC deputy secretary general Thandi Modise said Mgabadeli was sacked for failing to provide strategic leadership. “The JSCD is a constitutional committee and it has a number of crucial things to do … this committee had been very silent and that’s why we [made] the change,” Modise said. The committee has in the past met in camera although Parliamentary committees typically meet in sessions open to the public.
Cabinet at its regular meeting yesterday also approved the extension of the revised Non-Statutory Forces pension dispensation to cover all former Non-Statutory Forces members who entered into an employment contract with other government departments and institutions that contribute to the Government Employees Pension Fund. Mona noted the executive body “further approved the alignment of the current Special Pension Act and Government Employees Pension Law to enable recognition of Non-Statutory Forces service of affected current and past employees.”
The move follows Cabinet’s approval of the Military Veterans Bill at its last meeting, two weeks ago. Sisulu’s deputy, Thabang Makwetla, last Friday called the Bill “a new epoch for military veterans in the history of our country.” The Bill honours veterans and ensures a “seamless” transition from active military service to civilian life, he added. “This is a welcome development in our march to profile and restore the dignity of men and women who, at some stage of their lives, sacrificed their very being for the greater good of all, for future generations and prosperity in our country.
“It is in line with other nations of the world on how they value and treat those who are and were prepared to serve and at times pay the supreme sacrifice in pursuit of a better future for all.” Makwetla said that the bill had not yet been “costed” and that the department was still calculating this.