Lawmakers on Wednesday finalised and adopted the Military Veterans Bill, but questions remain about how much the benefits in the Bill will cost and who qualifies. The state law advisor’s office told the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCODMV) that it will cost an estimated R1.6 billion to implement the law in the current medium-term expenditure framework.
The figure of R6.4 billion contained in the memorandum to the bill – already a vast reduction from earlier estimates running into tens of billions – was termed a “typing error”, the South African Press Association reported. The correction prompted questions from the opposition as to how the fledgling department of military veterans arrived at the amount.
Director General Tsepe Motumi said the figure was “what Cabinet approved” and conceded that the amount “may go up as we move into full-scale implementation”. There would be a gradual phasing in after the legislation was passed by Parliament and enacted, he said.
Opposition Democratic Alliance party MP and defence shadow David Maynier said the processing of the bill had been “shambolic from the start” and it was frustrating that the department had never been able to properly say how much it would cost to implement. The bill was initially sent back to the department because it had been tabled without costing and was then returned without the issue fully resolved, in apparent contradiction of the 1999 Public Finance Management Act that determines all Bills must be properly costed before enactment.
Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla, who is tasked with veterans matters, argued that an exception had been made because of the difficulty ascertaining the number of ex-soldiers that would be affected. Maynier asked that his objections on the issue be placed on the record. “I’m concerned that the department has never been able to properly brief us about the cost implications and the assumptions therein,” Maynier said.
Alexander Forbes, the pension and employee benefits consultancy earlier this year told the PCODMV the Bill could cost up to R65.2 billion over the lifetime of an estimated 56 000 veterans and their dependents. This could be in excess of another 50 years as the figures show some 50% of the presumed cohort was 23 or younger in 1994. A more conservative estimate put the bill for the Bill at R19.623 billion, roughly the cost of the SAAB Gripen fighter programme. The defence budget, by contrast is some R34.6 billion. Some of the funds required are also already in the state budget, although under other departments, for example the War Veterans grant allocated in the coming year in the Department of Social Development’s budget “for the men and women who fought in World War II and the Korean War”.
SAPA said another controversy resolved was whether former apartheid-era white and Coloured national servicemen and women would qualify for recognition as military veterans under the Bill and following from this whether they would be entitled to health, housing and pension benefits under the Bill was resolved when Motumi indicated that they would. “The bill is very clear: if they are veterans and they pass the means test, they will,” he told reporters.
The bill aims to provide benefits to all former soldiers in the former South African Defence Force, liberation movement armies and ex-armies of Bantustan states. It remains unclear how many of those who fought in the country’s liberation war from 1960 to 1994 would be entitled to state assistance once it becomes law – partly because lists are being updated and partly because the means test has not been defined. Motumi said that at this point there were 57 500 registered veterans, but the “figure is changing every day” as more came forward.
Freedom Front Plus defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald said in a statement the welcomed “decision to retain the definition gives recognition to all members of military forces who at one time or another made sacrifices in the struggle, regardless of which side of the struggle they had served on.” He noted it “is the correct decision based upon reasonableness, fairness and impartiality which excludes politics. At times it is necessary to also work behind the scenes to have the correct decisions taken and politics, and especially party-politics, do not have a place in the decisions which affect the interests of members of military forces,” Groenewald said.
During the drafting process, the ruling African National Congress repeatedly warned of the urgent need to address the frustration of those who fought in the liberation movement, but had been left without state assistance. Makwetla warned that the turmoil in Zimbabwe was a historical lesson in what happened when former freedom fighters were abandoned by the state. The support of veterans of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe played a crucial role in President Jacob Zuma’s accession to the presidency of the ANC in 2007.
Maynier said it was a noble aim to take care of former fighters, but he was not satisfied that the Bill provided for “bullet proof” processes to verify whether somebody was a veteran and who his dependents were. The Democratic Alliance’s caucus will likely instruct him to oppose the Bill because of this and because of the confusion about its final cost implications for the country.
Groenewald also warned that many former members “are now being overrun by swindlers with e-mails which ask the personal particulars of members for a fee, then they qualify for certain benefits. These e-mails are false and should be rejected and members should be on the lookout so that they do not become innocent victims of crooks.”
Council of Military Veterans Associations
Tel: 012 651 5921
Fax: 086 684 8592
e-mail: [email protected]
The SA Legion
The Memorable Order of Tin Hats
Department of Military Veterans
Denel Irene Campus, Nellmapius Drive, Centurion,
Tel: (012) 671 1212
Fax: (012) 671 1108
e-mail: [email protected]