Military Ombudsman necessary: Sisulu


Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu has introduced the Military Ombudsman Bill [B9-2011] to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans. The Minister identified the promulgation of the Bill as one of her priorities for the year.

The Ombudsman Bill comes shortly on the heels of the establishment of the National Defence Force Service Commission the aim of which is to advise the minister on the conditions of service of military personnel. The Military Ombudsman will investigate complaints and serves as a neutral third party on matters related to the Department of Defence and the South African National Defence Force, acting independently of the chain-of-command and managers.

The origin of the Ombudsman is in the White Paper on Defence of 1996 and the Defence Review of 1998 which motivated for a Military Ombudsman to investigate complaints, inter alia, of military personnel against the SANDF. It was envisaged that the Ombudsman will address any military personnel matters which cannot be resolved through other existing mechanisms.

The White Paper further stated that “the Department of Defence supports the creation of the Military Ombudsman whose main duties are to monitor adherence to democratic civil-military relations, and undertakes investigations at the request of Parliament and investigates complaints against the SANDF by military personnel and members of the public”.

Sisulu says the office of the Ombudsman will act as a direct source of information, referral and education. It will help members of the defence community navigate a large and complex organization in order to access existing channels of assistance or redress when they have a complaint or concern. “The ultimate goal is to contribute to substantial and long-lasting improvements to the defence community,” her office said in a statement.

The minister referred to a similar institution in Canada where the institution is tasked with the responsibility to review and investigate concerns and complaints from current and former members of the Canadian Forces, departmental employees, and their immediate family members who believe that they have been treated improperly of unfairly by the Canadian Department of National Defence or Canadian Forces.
“The introduction of the Ombudsman alongside the Defence Force Service Commission will go a long way towards promoting democratic civil-military relations in the SANDF. While the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans is still to deliberate on the bill clause by clause, the Committee expressed support for the bill and said it was long overdue,” Sisulu’s office said.

Currently complaints arising from the Defence Force are dealt with in terms of the Individual Grievance Regulation and by a military investigator embedded in the office of the Public Protector.
“Due to the uniqueness of the defence environment, the Department [of Defence] contends that this arrangement is insufficient and inefficient as a complaints resolution mechanism,” a memorandum attached to the draft law explains.

The Bill prescribes that the president must appoint as a Military Ombudsman a person who (a) possesses adequate knowledge of the Constitution; and (b) has knowledge of or experience in military and public administration that was gained over a period of 10 years.

The president must, in consultation with the Ombudsman, appoint a Deputy Military Ombudsman who (a) possesses adequate knowledge of the Constitution; and (b) has knowledge of or experience in military and public administration that was gained over a period of eight years.

The Ombudsman will hold office for a non-renewable period of five years. The Bill was tabled June 10 after being approved by Cabinet in November last year.