Parliament has ordered the Department of Military Veterans to do its homework and calculate the costs and number of military veterans that would be affected if benefits mooted under a new bill came into effect.
The Military Veterans Bill [B1-2011] aims to extend numerous benefits to veterans following a report last year by a ministerial task team set up to develop policy recommendations for veterans, the state BuaNews agency reports. But members of the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans yesterday expressed concern that a ministerial task team report on military veterans did not contain cost estimates or figures on how many veterans would be affected if the Bill was enacted.
Director General of Military Veterans Tsepe Motumi told the committee that the department had been engaging with National Treasury and organisations outside government to arrive at costs, adding that these would be revealed in due course. There are presently about 57 500 military veterans on the department’s database and Motumi pointed out that the department was in the process of registering thousands more members, but he added that many more were yet to be registered by the department.
“With those that did integrate or demobilised, it is easy because they entered the system and they either got employed or got a demobolisation package. But those who did not, that is where the challenge is,” Motumi said, adding that the department needed to interview applicants and verify their credentials in order for them to be accepted as bona fide members. Though Motumi conceded that government could only fulfill its obligations with the resources it had at hand, he emphasised that the department was eager not to see delays in passing the Bill.
He said the department would nonetheless endeavour to return to the committee on Tuesday next week with at least some of the figures related to costing of the Bill. The draft law defines military veterans as those who served in the union defence force before 1961, those that served in the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF) after 1964 and those who served in liberation groups between 1960 and 1994.
The benefits outlined in the Bill include pension, housing subsidies, health care from military hospitals, compensation for injuries, counseling, subsidies for public transport, education and training, employment placement, business opportunities, honour and memorialisation. Those applying for benefits will be subject to a means test. An appeal board would also be set up, with members appointed by the minister of defence.
Following concern from one member, the Democratic Alliance’s David Maynier, Motumi said access to business opportunities would not amount to military veterans automatically winning tenders unless they could show that could provide such services. Maynier’s concern was that the setting aside of business opportunities for veterans represented a “real risk of massive corruption.”
But singling out the example of the US, where the state assisted veterans to obtain tenders, Motumi pointed out that international experience showed that set-asides for military veterans were “not a new thing.”
He also stressed that the department would act in a “non-partisan” way when it came to assessing applicants who applied for benefits, after concern from PAC member Letlapa Mphahlele that the Bill might unfairly favour some liberation groups above others. “We are not a political party, we are a bureaucracy that has been established and we seek to act within what the law says,” said Motumi.
Motumi said the Bill aimed to ensure that all veterans would be entitled to medical and other benefits. Explained Motumi: “The fact is that some members are receiving health benefits from a military institution, but the greater number of military veterans is not accessing health care”.
The Bill was formally introduced into Parliament last month. A memorandum attached to the Bill explains the new law was necessitated “by the fact that provisions of the current Military Veterans’ Affairs Act (Act 17 of 1999) are either obsolete or require reformulation in order to provide for new challenges.” The main aim of the Bill is to give effect to recommendations made by the Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans (‘‘the Task Team”) to Cabinet; set out benefits available to military veterans and their dependants; set out certain functions of the Department of Military Veterans; establish an Advisory Council on Military Veterans and a Military Veterans Appeal Board; and repeal the Military Veterans’ Affairs Act, 1999.
Defence and Military Veterans deputy minister Thabang Makwetla last November said the Bill would provide comprehensive benefits and services for veterans. “This represents a new epoch for military veterans in the history of our country,” Makwetla told journalists in Cape Town. The Bill will honour veterans and ensure 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.”
President Jacob Zuma added the military veterans portfolio to defence in May 2009 when naming his Cabinet. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu subsequently appointed a Ministerial Task Team, led by Makwetla to develop recommendations on the governance of the military veterans portfolio. “The Task Team concluded its assignment in six months and the report was subsequently processed through Cabinet Cluster Committees and eventually served in full cabinet wherein the recommended policy options were endorsed in June this year,” Makwetla told reporters. “As matters stand, the Department of Military Veterans was proclaimed by the President as a separate and stand alone department, within the ministry, in December 2009. This was done in order to create a department within government, whose sole responsibility is to govern and cater for the affairs of all former members of military organisations before dawn of democracy and those who served in the current South African National Defence Force (SANDF) after 1994.
“The Ministry then appointed a Director-General for the Department of Military Veterans, Mr. Tsepe Motumi, in February 2010. In April this year, we unveiled a new logo for the department and temporarily acquired office space at Denel in Centurion, Pretoria.” A submission for the organisational structure of the new department was presented to the Minister of Public Service and Administration and approval was granted in June. “A total staff compliment of 141 posts was approved. We have advertised and are currently in the process of filling 28 (top level) management posts. The second batch of posts will be advertised early next year.”