Ministry agrees to implement defence report: Judge

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The defence force and ministry have agreed to implement all recommendations by the interim defence commission to improve poor conditions in the military deemed a danger to morale, Judge Ronnie Bosielo said on Friday.

“The SA National Defence Force and the minister accepted our recommendations and they gave us the firm undertaking that they intend to implement [them],” Bosielo told Parliament’s portfolio committee on defence. The judge, who headed the Interim National Defence Force Commission, painted a bleak picture of salary, work and health conditions in the military, which he said were severely demotivating members, the South African Press Association reports. “I, for one, could not understand why they are earning far less than members of the police when they are deployed where the police have proven inadequate,” he told MPs.

It was equally incredible, he said, that standards of care in the SA Military Health Service were so low as to “pose a danger to the health of our soldiers and their families” when one would want the army to be fighting fit.

Bosielo pleaded for the defence budget to be raised to at least two percent of South Africa’s GDP, in accordance with international norms*, instead of the current roughly 1.1 percent. Fellow commission member, retired lieutenant-general Lambert Moloi commented: “Everything about the defence force is old, including its budget.”

Bosielo said the Treasury had responded to pleas for a bigger budget by urging the defence ministry to improve its poor track record on financial management after its eighth consecutive qualified audit last year. He said the ministry was heeding the call. It won praise from Parliament’s watchdog public accounts committee for improved management earlier this week.

Moloi argued that South African peacekeeping troops enjoyed the respect of the United Nations, but their own country failed to take proper care of them, leaving them to face danger for extensive periods and little pay. “They are true patriots. If they were other people they may have folded. The country should look at them and say this is an asset.”

Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu in late 2009 substantially raised the salaries of low-ranking soldiers in response to early findings by the commission, but unhappiness remains about the pay packages of senior staff. The commission said its other recommendations included putting in place a transparent ranking system in the military, drafting a transformation policy, improving living conditions, improving training for young people to enable them to find work outside the military and taking into account members’ qualifications. “We have people with university degrees guarding the gates,” Bosielo said.

Controversy arose over the commission’s report last year when Sisulu rejected persistent opposition calls to release it and parts were leaked to the media, SAPA said. The minister was accused of a cover-up, but said she was only obliged to make public the final document and only once it had been submitted to Cabinet.



Editorial note:
* There is no such norm known to this editor.