"When the report is completed and gone to Cabinet it would be handed to Parliament", Sisulu
5 Aug 2010
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu is concerned that an impression has been created that she does not want to handover the interim report of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans. Some have gone as far as saying the minister is hiding "a ticking bomb" in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
The minister wants to clarify that she has never denied Parliament the report, but indicated that in line with Cabinet rules, any commission appointed by Cabinet must report back to Cabinet before it submits a report to Parliament or any other body. It is a process the Portfolio Committee has accepted and has been used before in relation to the report of the task team on military veterans.
The minister also wants to state that after the Portfolio Committee meeting of 29 July 2010, which was preceded by a meeting of the ANC study group in the morning, the committee meeting resolved that the minister would be allowed to submit the report to Cabinet before making it public and the public hearings on the Defence Amendment Bill would continue, as happened on 3 and 4 August 2010.
The chairperson also concluded that if there is a need for additional information on the Defence Amendment Bill, they would ask the department to appear before them and clarify these to the members.
The minister also indicated that there is no relation between the Defence Amendment Bill currently before Parliament and the commission's report. The bill deals with the establishment of a new dispensation that will cater for the unique requirements of the defence force in the same way that the Public Service Commission regulates the public service.
After the clarification, the legal opinion which was received before the committee meeting of 29 July 2010, which argued that the members needed the commission's report to consider the amendments, was cancelled and the hearings started on Tuesday, 3 August 2010.
The minister added that the Defence Amendment Bill seeks to establish a permanent commission that will not only regulate the defence force but will advise the minister on a number of issues including the conditions of service. The conditions of service are an executive responsibility. The legislature does not determine the salaries of employees but deals with legislation that guides Ministers in executing this responsibility.
The Portfolio Committee accepted minister's explanation that since the report is interim, and that Cabinet still has to express itself on the matter, it will be prudent to await a final report.
It must also be clarified that the legal opinion which the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee released to the media was received a day before the said committee's meeting and that of the study group. When the chairperson ruled that the committee will wait for the Cabinet process to be completed before receiving the report, he already had the legal opinion.
It is of serious concern to the minister that the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee who summarised the committee's decision at the conclusion of a formal meeting of Parliament and who then changed this decision unilaterally after the meeting. The minister takes the meetings between her and the Portfolio Committee very serious and regards the outcomes thereof binding to all, including the chairperson.
The minister would like to re-emphasise that she respects the oversight role of parliament, and together with the Department of Defence have been to parliament more than twenty times.
Upon her appointment, the minister invited the committee for a two days workshop to share with them the programmes and priorities of the department. The minister and the department remain available when members are available.
An impression has also been created that the minister is hiding something. The interim report has nothing to do with the period of office of the current minister; the time it covers was when Mr Terror Lekota was Minister of Defence.
Transcript of meeting: Minister of Defence and Military Veterans on release of Interim National Defence Force Service Commission reports and Defence Amendment Bill. Audio recording of the meeting, available at: http://www.pmg.org.za/node/22326.
The Interim National Defence Force Service Commission was appointed to advise the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans on the establishment of a permanent National Defence Force Service Commission and a special dispensation for the conditions of service of members of the South African National Defence Force.
The commission had submitted reports to the minister, which had not been made available to the committee. The commission had briefed the committee on the amendments required to the Defence Act at a 21 July 2010 meeting.
During the briefing, the members of the committee expressed concern over the minister's refusal to release the reports to the committee. The chairperson had written to the minister on 15 June 2010 to request that the commission's reports were made available to the Committee.
The Committee met with the minister to obtain clarity on the issue of the release of the commission's reports and to receive the minister's input on the Defence Amendment Bill.
The minister denied having received the letter from the chairperson of the committee. The minister quoted her letter to the chairperson on 27 July 2010, in which she expressed dismay that the issue concerning the commission reports had again arisen after the matter had been discussed and resolved during three previous meetings with the committee.
The minister insisted that the commission's reports had not been finalised and could not be released to the committee before the final report was submitted to and approved by the Cabinet.
The minister queried the status of the meetings held with the committee and requested that the Committee adhere to the procedures governing the release of reports to Parliament.
The members of the committee said that they required sight of the commission's report in order to consider the Defence Amendment Bill. The minister insisted that the content of the interim reports had no implications for the bill.
The members from the Democratic Alliance insisted that the reports be made available to the Committee to allow for the due processing of the Bill while the Members from the African National Congress accepted the assurance of the Minister that the reports had no bearing on the proposed legislation.
The minister summarised the main provisions of the Defence Amendment Bill. The bill provided for the establishment of a permanent commission and for a special dispensation for the conditions of service of the members of the Defence Force.
The bill specified that the chief of the Defence Force, the service chiefs as well as the chief of the SANDF Reserves formed the military command, which was appointed by the president.
Members asked if the bill resulted in the demise of the Military Bargaining Council and if the minister intended to get rid of the military labour unions. Other questions related to the omission of classified information from commission reports, the need to vet commissioners for security purposes and the appointment of commissioners.
The proceedings were marred by ill-feeling between the minister and a member from the Democratic Alliance. The minister accused the member of posturing and inciting media hype around the supposed problems in the Defence Force.
Issued by: Department of Defence
5 Aug 2010
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