Speech by deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla, May 4, 2010

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In his popular works ” The Art of War”, the ancient Chinese sage, Sun Tzu reminds us that military forces consume a nation’s wealth entirely and that war empties the government’s storehouses.

SPEECH BY THE DEPUTY MINISTER HON THABANG MAKWETLA DURING THE BUDGET VOTE (21) OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE AND MILITARY VETERANS

Hon. Chairperson,

Members of the Portfolio Committee and the House at large,

In his popular works ” The Art of War”, the ancient Chinese sage, Sun Tzu reminds us that military forces consume a nation’s wealth entirely and that war empties the government’s storehouses.

He graphically captures what happens when your resources get depleted and you hollow out your military, by saying
“Broken armies will get rid of their horses.

They will throw down their amour, helmets, and arrows

They will lose their swords and shields.
(And) they will leave their wagons without oxen”.

And I may add “they will lose their discipline and morale too”.

Yet it is a syndrome we all don’t wish for our country, because our defence force is the premier guarantor for our freedom. We will all agree that there isn’t much use to be hard at work broadening horizons of freedom’s possibilities through development, when we cannot guarantee the sovereignty of our country for self-determination.

Where do we start? I believe we cannot solve problems if we think the way we thought , when we created them .The question we need to pose to ourselves is whether we can continue to deliver our defence function with the level of resources we are dedicating to this mandate today. To be fair the exercise that should help us answer this question comprehensively is a defence review. However, those who have been following our defence business can argue that the product of the previous such exercise became a still-born baby because we could not fund it. With all due respect, one can argue that the political callousness towards our country’s defence needs, has made planning in our defence environment a silly notion. It would appear unavoidable that to correct this state of affairs we indeed need an open participatory public debate so that we can all move together. To leave our defence budget hovering at 2 % of the GDP can only spell further disaster, as managers are compelled to take misaligned short-term decisions to keep the organisation going.

Honourable members, as the ministry and the department we are not seeking an easy solution to this problem by pleading for more resources. We have been self-critical too. We have turned focus on ourselves to understand the wrong things we have been doing which aggravated this problem. The departmental task team established by the minister to ensure efficiency in managing budgets, has started work. The team is tasked to curb wastages, curb leaks, tackle the syndrome of unspent budgets, and end-of –year spikes, duplications and reprioritise in order to improve overall due diligence in managing our resources.

The task team will also address flawed project-finance plans. We need to ensure that budget plans for systems acquisition take into account the maintenance costs of these systems across their life-cycle. This will improve capability management, especially of new systems, without pressure exerted on current budgets. We need to make sure that where capital projects are delivered through PPP facilities we plan their future operational costs such that they also do not exert financial pressures on the department’s budgets. We need to spend enough resources to address asset management.

The task team aims to provide short term interventions which can yield immediate albeit modest savings, while commencing on long term proposals to re-position the department in a manner that can result in macro-savings. This repositioning of the department will be realised in dialogue with those in charge of the Defence Review.

If this work unfolds well, it is anticipated that we can effect the first modest adjustments and savings in the 2011 budget, followed by major adjustments and savings in 2012.

It is worth noting that for all this improvements to be tackled immediately our department needs to overhaul several of it outdated administration and finance system, some of which dates as far back in time as 1982. To do this we hope Treasury will be kind enough to grant us a special reprieve from the moratorium imposed on systems upgrade in government.

Chairperson, honourable members, the most refreshing line item in the budgets we are here to get parliament to approve, is a modest figure of R20million for setting up the Department of Military Veterans. On Friday the 30th of April, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Minister Sisulu opened the offices of the New Department of Military Veterans in Irene, Pretoria.

This development heralds a new era in the history of the military in this country, especially in the lives of those who sacrificed for freedom. It is a development which brings healing to the direct beneficiaries of this programme, it also makes us all as a country, even more human, as we make a sacrifice for those South Africans who were not found wanting to sacrifice for us yesterday. They occupied the forward trenches in the unfortunate conflict which consumed so may of us. We now have a firm policy in government of support for military veterans. This will go a long way in restoring pride and a sense of self –worth in those who served our country and those who continue to serve our country in the military with honour. This policy will go a long way in turning military-career into an attractive option and a career of choice among young people in our country.

Honourable members, the report containing policy recommendations is being taken through cabinet. It will shortly be presented to parliament through the Portfolio Committee. Later in the year, on a date still to be identified, the President will officially launch the services of the new Department to beneficiaries and the public at large.

The work done by the Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans is indeed invaluable. The team evaluated several experiences on how governments provide support to military veterans. Let us remind the House that the most worse-off military veterans are those who served in liberation armies because they were without any form of remuneration. They were not gainfully employed to contribute to their pension days and the welfare of their families. It is important to indicate that it is this group in particular, which has challenges of verifying their particulars. We appreciate that this must be diligently executed to ensure that there are no legitimate cases which are left outside, to the discredit of the department, while at the same time we firmly guard against abuses.

In its totality the veterans’ population consists of yesterday’s problem, which has grown acute because of our neglect. But we are also dealing with veterans who are going into retirement today after serving our country with honour since the SANDF was established under the new democratic dispensation in 1994. Lastly, the veterans contemplated in policy also include the new crop of SANDF members who are today, among others, performing duties as Peace-Keepers outside our borders.

From the above, it is pretty evident that with all the best practice we were exposed to in other countries, we still needed to come back home and craft a solution that addresses our perculiar concrete conditions. With everything taken into account the new policy objectives, are aimed at:-

Recognising and honouring all military veterans in life and to memorialise them in death for their sacrifice on behalf of the nation,

To ensure a smooth and seamless transaction of military veterans from active service to civilian life;

To restore individual’s lost capabilities, to the greatest extent possible;

To improve the quality of life of veterans and that of their dependants;

Lastly, to ensure that military veterans are harnessed for reconciliation and nation building.

It became evident quite early in our assignment that to achieve the above goals we would be obliged to repeal the current legislation, in particular the Military Veterans Affairs Act, Act 17 of 1999 and to amend other pieces of legislation which are administered by other departments from which Military Veterans receive other forms of support from government. These include the Housing Act, Act 107 of 1997; The National Health Act, Act 61 of 2003, and The Social Assistance Act, Act 13 of 2004, to cite but a few.

Honourable members, an important overriding consideration of the proposed policy is to ensure that the solution to the problem of military veterans is located and informed by mainstream government policies in order for it to be sustainable. As a result the proposed benefits are aligned to government socio-economic and political policy strategies e.g. they are in synch with government social sector anti-poverty strategies, and the economic development strategies including skills development to cite but a few examples. The other key policy alignment task which must still be honed is to bring the recommendations in line with the Human Resource Policy of the Department of Defence, so that it is seamlessly factoring the needs of its members at different stages of their lives without leaving them vulnerable at any point in their life-cycle.

Chairperson, Honourable members the recommendations before cabinet, are wide – ranging and will hopefully be well received by all. Every proposed benefit was thoroughly debated taking into account best practices elsewhere but always guided by the domestic concrete material circumstances pertaining to suitability, alignment issues and affordablilty. These issues range from tax matters to job- placement versus pensions debate.

Chairperson, with the R20 million in the current budget, we hope to get the department immediately on the road. To start work on consolidating South Africa’s data-base of military veterans and their dependants; to establish work streams to detail the policy proposals and operational delivery models. It is envisaged that whereas this will essential be a national department, it will have provincial offices which interface with provinces in such a way that provinces can also augment these budgets where they are able to. To improve accessibility, it is anticipated that regional offices in different provinces will be established as resources become available.

Chairperson, honourable members, we are looking at the road ahead with anticipation and optimism, we are under no illusion that this is going to be a daunting task but we accept the challenge without hesitation. We aim to be exemplary in promoting the philosophy of “Batho-Pele” as the most caring department in government. We intend promoting the popular slogan “nothing for us without us” as we deliver to our stake-holders. However, even as we do so, we will endeavour to build a professional organisation which employs cutting-edge solutions to address its challenges.

In conclusion, in their book about getting big things done in government, titled “If we can put a man on the moon, William D. Eggers and John O’Leary in extolling the outstanding virtues of two civil servants who are discussed in the book as the type that we need to put man on the moon, they say the following about them;
“They took the responsibility of making government work seriously. They were students of process, of data, of the mechanics of governing, because they understood that making government work is a serious endeavour that deserves serious attention.”

And they conclude by saying “If our government is to reclaim a reputation – for competency, we will need a political culture that values and honours the capable management of public undertakings; a political culture that values the public servants who tell the unpleasant truths to their political masters. We don’t have enough of them today”

I THANK YOU