President Jacob Zuma will soon appoint a permanent secretary for defence (SecDef). And its likely to be the acting incumbent, Tsepe Motumi. That’s the latest word on the subject from defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu who has again staunchly defended her accounting officer who was last week called incompetent by African National Congress Members of Parliament.
“I would recommend him for any job. He has a lot of experience in defence policy,” Sisulu told MPs. The South African Press Association (SAPA) reports Sisulu briefed the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans yesterday after Motumi received a severe drubbing before the National Assembly’s Committee on Public Accounts (COPA, previously SCOPA).
Zuma “comfortable” with candidate
The president “is comfortable making a choice” at this point after first having had to fill other key seats in the security cluster, notably that of national police commissioner, Sisulu said. “A decision will be announced in due course.” Business Day intimated that she has already made a recommendation to Zuma and that he was “comfortable” with the candidate. The minister was hopeful Zuma would announce the appointment by the end of next month.
These sentiments were shared by defence committee chairman Mnyamazeli “Nyami” Booi, who was confident about Motumi’s capacity, experience and reliability, Business Day added.
Also expected in the next 30 days was the appointment of a new chief financial officer. The incumbent, Dudu Mutloane, has been acting for three years.
Sisulu said Motumi was unable to withstand last Wednesday’s grilling by Parliament’s watchdog public accounts committee because he lacked eloquence and not because he did not have a secure grasp of policy. “He might not have the eloquent qualities that members have. He quite clearly crumbled,” Sisulu said of the Scopa hearing that prompted calls for Motumi’s resignation. “In a proper space, in a proper mindset, he would have been able to respond to the questions.”
She did confess to being “bewildered” by Motumi’s inability to respond to questions, saying she was baffled that though she and other department officials spent days preparing for last week’s hearing, he failed to articulate the department’s position and, instead, admitted to MPs that he was a failure.
The minister’s appearance was at her request, prompted by her witnessing what she termed “a very drastic situation” during Motumi’s interrogation by MPs,” The Times newspaper added this morning. “I wrote to the chairperson [Booi] when I received media reports about the outcome of the SCOPA [sic] meeting with the secretary of defence,” Sisulu said. “The damage, however, remains my responsibility. To repair the integrity of the department is central to my obligations, which is why I am here.
“We convened a special council on defence to understand if [Motumi] would be able to represent us well. We were thoroughly convinced after he had taken us through the matters that our understanding and his were at the same level.” Sisulu warned that an “unfortunate impression” that her department was in a “shambles” and “would not be able to defend the country” had been created by last week’s events. “The secretary of defence is not responsible for defending the country, nor is his inability to explain audit reports a reflection on the SA National Defence Force,” she said.
Sisulu vowed that while she serves as minister, the department would not see another qualified financial audit, as it has for the past nine years. However, it might be necessary to deviate from the Treasury’s accounting standards on some matters for a few years while the system was fixed. Sisulu said the department was addressing the six items that had resulted in the qualified audit: the management of assets; disclosure of lease commitments; irregular expenditure; lack of verification of payments; accruals; and departmental revenue.
In a statement issued by her office after the meeting, her spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya said she “took the members through each qualification, pointing out the root cause of the qualifications and measures undertaken by DoD to date. She committed herself to removing the qualifications.”
In a sideswipe at the Congress of the People, SAPA reported Sisulu blamed problems in the defence ministry on former minister Terror Lekota and his deputy Mluleki George, who defected from the ANC to form the new party months before the April elections. “They were actively involved in attending to the rupture in the ruling party. They both left unceremoniously one morning.” Lekota, who as ANC chairman, was widely regarded as an “absentee landlord” during his ten year tenure.
“No other department was as affected as defence,” Sisulu said.
In addition, defence secretary January Masilela died in a car incident in August 2008. Lekota and George quit the following month, creating a leadership vacuum. Sisulu said this had dealt the department a “vital blow” and that Motumi had then been given the difficult task of keeping things together.
But he might be an unpopular choice with the defence industry. A number of industrialists have previously told defenceWeb that under Motumi the DoD has been all drift and that many projects have stalled for a lack of decision-making – mainly by him. However, it is common for acting directors general in government to defer decisions, something again raised by Econometrix chief economist Azar Jammine. Business Report says at a presentation in Johannesburg yesterday, he accused policy makers of “bluster but no action” and said the critical challenge for government was “how to make decisions and deliver on projects”.
Democratic Alliance defence shadow minister David Maynier this morning agreed Motumi was not the right man for the job. “Although he has experience in the department and a solid policy background, he does not have what it takes to do the top job. He can certainly contribute to policy and a new defence white paper…”
Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman added that a “SecDef must be able to not only ensure proper policy formulation, but also to defend policy. If he cannot do that, he cannot do the job. The SecDef post is not one for a back room type.”
Another analyst, a former sailor, opined Motumi “is a very pleasant man but way, way too light for the SecDef job as the parliamentarians proved the other day.
A third analyst added noted that Motumi works “in an environment dominated by self-assertive testosterone driven Alpha male generals. My impression of him is that he is diametrically the opposite of that picture. My biggest point of critique, though, is his total lack of knowledge and understanding of the nature and role of a military in society. He has, from what I could gather from my discussions with him, not the basic theoretical foundational understanding of the military. There is not a single point in his whole make-up that, in my personal view, makes him suitable for that job. He is the kind of ‘sluiper’ the military will run over.
“The Secretariat of Defence is an entity that has already been marginalised by the generals to the extent that one wonders whether it is still serving any purpose. My prediction is that this process will continue under he guidance,” the academic said.
“…his appointment might well be in line with the intention to strip down the Secretariat, dividing most of its functions between the Ministry of Defence and the SANDF. That would greatly reduce the importance of the post,” Heitman added.
A fourth commentator, a retired pilot, said although Motumi was humble and softly spoken he “has been working in that environment for several years.” He added Motumi “understands the challenges facing the SANDF most probably better than most, is accepted by the management structures within the SANDF and DOD and has siginficant exposure at international levels in country to country deliberations” However his “energy level is questionable” as is his willingness to use “the big stick”. The commentator added he was “basically a nice guy” but the question is, whether a nice guy can deliver on Sisul’s promise that during her tenure there will be no more qualified audits.
But former DA deputy defence spokesman James Lorimer added that Sisulu’s strong and very public support for Motumi may have swung the balance in his favour, giving him “top-cover” and clout he previously lacked. He noted the support may already have swayed Booi who last week was vociferous in his criticism.
A fifth source held a contrarian view saying there was a “good chance” the current Chief of Joint Operations, Lt General Themba Matanzima, would get the SecDef job. “He’s not too enchanted at prospect,” the source avered, predicting also that Motumi was likely to become director general of the new department of military veterans “when/once/if it is created”. The source also predicted that the current contract of the Chief of the SANDF, General Godfrey Ngwenya was likely to be renewed another 18 months. Ngwenya was appointed for five years from June 1, 2005.