REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON DEFENCE AND MILITARY VETERANS ON ITS OVERSIGHT VISITS TO SELECTED SOUTH AFRICAN ARMY BASES IN THE NORTHWEST PROVINCE, AND GAUTENG; 1 MILITARY HOSPITAL IN THABA TSHWANE; SELECTED EDUCATION AND TRAINING FACILITIES IN THE WESTERN CAPE AND NORTHWEST PROVINCE AS WELL AS THE ARMSCOR DOCKYARD IN THE WESTERN CAPE (30 July – 13 August 2013)

            INTRODUCTION

1.         The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans undertook oversight visits to the School of Tactical Intelligence and 1 Tactical Regiment in  Potchefstroom ( 30 July 2013); Army Support Base (ASB) Johannesburg and Doornkop Military Base (31 July 2013); 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane (1 August 2013); the South African Army Infantry School in Oudshoorn (6 August 2013); the South African Naval College in Gordons Bay ( 7 August 2013); and the Armscor Dockyard at Simonstown (13 August 2013).

2.     The report comprises observations made during each of the visits (Parts A - D) as well as the Committee’s recommendations (Part E). Challenges identified during these visits are not new to the Committee and therefore observations and recommendation made in this report should be read along with previous committee reports adopted by the National Assembly.

 

3.     Although mindful of its mandate, the Committee re-iterates previous concerns raised about the pace of and commitment to transformation of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).  Throughout these visits the Committee sought to understand the challenges hampering the development of a defence force that is appropriately skilled, gender, demographically representative and capable of operating and maintaining newly acquired defence equipment. Once again, information relating to the above was limited and such reluctance to provide information remains a cause of concern.

 

4.     The report details the numerous challenges which require urgent intervention. In spite of the limited resources at the disposal of facilities visited together with the consequences of a shortage of technically skilled personnel, the Committee commends members of the Defence Force for their dedication and professionalism.. We appeal that the necessary interventions are made to ensure that living and workings conditions of soldiers are improved and made conducive for the efficient and dedicated defence and protection of all South Africans.

PART A :          SOUTH AFRICAN MILITARY BASES

 

The Committee visited the Army Support Base Johannesburg (Lenz Military Base) and 21 Battalion, Doornkop on 31 July 2013.   During its interaction with each base’s management team, the Committee focussed on matters relating to the conditions of facilities and the interventions necessary to improve working and living conditions of soldiers; the extent to which each base succeeded in managing important human resource challenges such as the application of a fair and effective grievance resolution process, the filling of critical vacancies, as well as the extent to which transformation policies and objectives had been adhered to.

 

(a)        ARMY SUPPORT BASE JOHANNESBURG (LENZ MILITARY BASE)

 

Strategically located in Lenasia (Gauteng), the base, in support of army activities, lends procurement and logistical support, services and facilities, to the defence establishment both in Gauteng and nationally. According to presentation documents submitted to the Committee, the base is responsible for the effective and efficient administration of a centralised procurement system, monitors the application of a reliable payment system, tracks compliance to National Treasury guidelines and standard as well as Defence contractual obligations, manages effective supply chain management (SCM) system, and plays an important role in the management of defence assets.

 

1.         INFRASTRUCTURE AND EQUIPMENT

 

1.1          The Committee is of the view that the buildings’ severe state of neglect, the shortage of accommodation, together with the delays in the demolition of derelict structures, not only impact negatively on the image of the base, but also on soldiers’ morale and professionalism. 

 

1.2          The illegal occupation of Marievale buildings by both civilians and military personnel is a cause of great concern. Effortless accessibility and illegal occupation of defence facilities illustrate that security breaches could occur with ease. During its interaction with base management, the Committee was dismayed such illegal occupation of state property could have been allowed to occur.

 

1.3          The roads within the base require urgent repair, as harsh conditions impacted on the lifespan of an already aging vehicle fleet.  Forty-seven of the ninety-three vehicles assigned to the base were unserviceable and obsolete. The base was also in desperate need of passenger vehicles, including duty busses.

 

1.4          The daily upkeep and maintenance of facilities was a challenge, owing to the shortage of cleaning personnel as well as groundsman. Although the Committee notes that this is due to persistent difficulties in the finalisation of appointments of public service personnel, it also indicates to a level of discipline and pride of members within the Defence Force.

 

1.5          Owing to budgetary constraints, a vast stretch of land previously used for disposal purposes, cannot be de-contaminated. 

 

2.         HUMAN RESOURCE MATTERS

 

2.1        For the 2012/13 financial year, 31 AWOL (absent without leave) cases had been reported, 38 cases of ill-discipline as well as three cases of misconduct (including theft of state property and fraud).  The nature and number of cases lodged, suggest that greater effort is needed to ensure that members conduct themselves in a professional and disciplined manner.  

 

2.2        Seventy-nine vacancies are reported and these include 12 civilians, 8 officers, 26 Non-commissioned officers (NCO), and 33 troops. Vacancies are mostly in the operations and support services.  The Committee urges that such vacancies are filled as a matter of urgency.

                                               

2.3        With the information supplied to the Committee, it was not possible to gain an understanding of the staff profile; to assess the extent to which transformation policies and standards had been adhered to; and whether efforts to rejuvenate the SANDF had been effective at the base. 

 

 

(b)        DOORNKOP MILITRAY BASE

 

Also located in Gauteng, the base is tasked with the preparation and provision of combat ready landward defence capabilities to the South African Infantry Formation; has to manage the human resource needs of the Batallion; as well the required Prime Mission Equipment.

 

1.         INFRASTRUCTURE AND EQUIPMENT

 

1.1          While the Committee acknowledges the significant renovations of facilities and efforts to improve the living and working conditions of soldiers, morale and training of soldiers are affected by the shortage of accommodation for particularly married couples, as well as the need for a suitable training area and shooting range. 

 

1.2        The vehicle fleet is aged and must be replaced. Current vehicles are inadequate and only 56 per cent are serviceable. Delays in the acquisition and delivery of spare parts meant that vehicles are often not serviced on a regular basis, thus decreasing their lifespan.

 

2.         HUMAN RESOURCE MATTERS

 

2.1        21 Battalion has an ageing workforce, mainly due to the ineffective exit mechanism strategy. This threatens the operations of the base and, should this matter not be addressed, 21 Batallion would not be able to meet its commitments.

 

2.2        While the Committee acknowledges that steady efforts made to improve the living and working conditions, the bases successful participation in internal and external deployments, the number of incidents and cases of ill discipline (24) is too high. Much needs to be done to improve the behaviour of defence force members and to ensure that discipline and morale remain at a high level.

 

2.3        Vacant posts and slow progress made with the appointment of skilled personnel, poses a threat the base’s ability to effectively execute responsibilities. Information supplied in questionnaire and presentation documents regarding vacancies and staff shortages were inconsistent. However, of the 124 of the 1061 posts at base are vacant. Some vacancies reported were for officers (3), non-commissioned officers (14), troops (56), and civilians 46 in the human resources, operational management, facilities and Logistics areas. 

 

PART B:           1 MILITARY HOSPITAL, THABA THSWANE

 

1 Military Hospital is the largest of the three military hospitals, with a reported total bed capacity of 556. It is a tertiary medical facility and said to be the flagship of the South African Military Health Services (SAMHS). The oversight visit to 1 Military Hospital was aimed at investigating the progress made with the resolution of challenges in the repair and maintenance of facilities, as identified during a previous oversight visit to the facility in 2011.

 

1.         FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT

 

1.1          During the previous oversight visit to the medical facility, renovations to the intensive care and emergency units were incomplete. Budgetary constraints also meant that a

the Technology Renovations Plan could not be implemented, which resulted in delays in the acquisition of much needed medical equipment such as x-ray machines and the required infrastructure for x-ray rooms.

 

1.2          In the two years after the above visit, the hospital is still experiencing funding constraints. This means that the hospital cannot replace ageing medical equipment as planned which impacts on the quality of medical care and services offered at the hospital. Moreover the refurbishment programme too, has not yet been completed and the timeframes for the completion could not be confirmed.

 

1.3          Some sections of the hospital require urgent renovation. At the time of the Committee’s visit, the Casualty theatres, intensive care units, laboratories, and x-ray machines were still incomplete.  

 

1.4          The hospital believes that the above challenges could be remedied, by allowing the Defence Works Formation to take-over the repair and renovation of facilities. Poor workmanship by the service providers contracted by the Department of Public Works (DPW) meant that much of the work must be redone.  The hand-over of all maintenance and repair from DPW to the Defence Works Formation should to be finalised as soon as possible.

 

1.5          Eighty-three vehicles had been allocated to the Unit – 46 vehicles were utilised by the hospital while 37 were used by the Presidential Medical Unit (PMU).  This is an ageing fleet which is 67 per cent serviceable and 17 vehicles were more than a decade old. Seventeen vehicles had been written off and are waiting to be disposed of.

 

2.         HUMAN RESOURCE MATTERS

 

2.1        The total staff establishment is 1786, while 459 posts were vacant and 12 were not funded. The actual number of people on the ground is 1377. Critical staff shortages were reported – particularly health practitioners. The hospital requires doctors, specialists, pharmacists, occupational therapists. The loss of critical skills is a cause of concern particularly as much is invested in the training and education of personnel. Personnel’s contractual obligations should be reviewed to ensure that medical facility benefits from its investment in the training and skills development of personnel.

 

PART C:           DEFENCE TRAINING AND EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS

 

The Committee visited the School of Tactical Intelligence and Tactical Regiment (Potchefstroom), the SA Army Infantry School (Oudshoorn) as well as the South African Naval Gymnasium (Gordons Bay). Through the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) the Defence Force will be transformed and rejuvenated into an appropriately skilled, gender and demographically represented Defence Force capable of operating and maintaining sophisticated defence equipment in defence of South Africa. Visits to these training institutions focussed on the relationship between recruits and instructors, the conditions of facilities the challenges to the successful completion of training, career guidance and the further educational opportunities available to students.

 

(a)        SCHOOL OF TACTICAL INTELLIGENCE AND TACTICAL INTELLIGENCE REGIMENT

 

Located in Potchefstroom, the facility provides SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority) accredited formal and combat readiness training to South African Army intelligence corps members, other arms of services as well as international learners. In turn, the regiment  provides combat ready and supported tactical intelligence capability to the Chief of the Army. The committee visited facilities on 29 July 2013.

 

1.         FACILITIES AND TRAINING EQUIPMENT

 

1.1        The unit is in desperate need of mess facilities and accommodation for learners, the non-commissioned officers as well as married couples.  Similar challenges are experienced by the Regiment, and these include adequate bathroom facilities, stores, mess and accommodation.  The need for expansion of facilities is due to the increase in MSDS intakes as well as the establishment of a Reserve Force Regiment as well as an Airborne Squadron.

 

1.2          An adequate building for the safe storage of “Intelligence Unique” equipment is needed as the current aged building poses a safety risk and is could not be used to to store equipment. 

 

1.3          An aged sewage system poses health risks and could further damages infrastructure. The Committee urges that this challenge is resolved as a matter of urgency.

 

1.4        Training standards are compromised due to the inadequate and aging vehicle fleet – the unit requires suitable and technologically current vehicles for training exercises. The current fleet had proven to be too costly to maintain and difficult to repair. This challenge is made greater by the scarcity of spare parts which resulted in the delays in the repair and servicing of vehicle, in some instances, for up to a period of 3 years. Vehicles are often thus not serviced and often overused, which impacts on not only the availability of safe transport, but also for vehicles used for such purposes, training are often reduced and training standards could be compromised.

 

2.         HUMAN RESOURCE MATTERS

 

2.1        The Committee was informed that the current organisational structure of base required review in order for it to be consistent with the expansion of the intelligence formation and the establishment of a reserve force component. Current structure has proven to be inadequate.

 

2.2  At the time of Committee’s visit, regiment had 83 vacancies which included the need for 26 instructors. It was disclosed that, given increased responsibilities assigned base, the high number of vacancies poses made the execution of daily operations difficult. A dedicate procurement unit is required, while the filling of vacancies, particularly those for public service appointed personnel (PSAP), had proven to be difficult. The base reported a shocking seven year delay in the in the recruitment and appointment of PSAP personnel.

 

2.3  While the Committee notes from information supplied, the small number of incidents of ill-discipline, the base did was satisfied with the morale of soldiers. This was attributed to a level of job satisfaction given the increasing involvement in (internal and external) deployments as well as training exercises; the opportunity for further training to improve both life and military skills, as well as greater efforts to improve communication between the management of the base and soldiers..

 

(b)        SA ARMY INFANTRY SCHOOL

 

The SA Army Infantry School, located in Oudshoorn, conducts education, training and development to “empower and qualify infanteers as well as members of other service and divisions in infantry related training on behalf of the infantry formation.” These include foundation training (MSDS), corps training, leadership, refresher courses, and specialist training; combat readiness training, skills development as well as lending general assistance to foreign armies. 

 

1.         FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT

 

1.1        While buildings have generally been well-maintained, certain facilities require urgent repair and renovation. These are the advanced training wing, the ration store, the indoor shooting range, and lecture rooms. Roads require upgrade, while the sewage and reticulation systems need replacement, together with modern generators. Office space also requires extension and renovation.  

 

1.2        The current vehicle fleet is unsuitable for the specific terrain and for training purposes. The 755 vehicles at the base included those that were serviceable and those requiring urgent replacement; and it was reported that 202 vehicles had been written off and are earmarked for auction. Seventy-seven vehicles are due for repairs, and such routine maintenance and repairs usually take up to two months.

 

1.3        The base needed three hangars for the safekeeping and storage of disaster management equipment, furniture and vehicles. As an interim measure, existing hangars store both different types of equipment and clothing. Fencing around those items earmarked for disposal, such as furniture, had been erected to ensure minimal damage and to minimise the risk of theft.

 

2.         HUMAN RESOURCE MATTERS

 

2.1        The Committee was informed of the challenges experienced with the MSDS recruits. We are of the view that challenges such as pregnancies, arrival at base without the necessary documentation emphasises the need for the incorporation of the necessary life skills training in the MSDS training programme. Moreover, the Department and bases should, during recruitment drives ensure that the necessary information and requirements for recruitment into the MSDS programme, was understood and known.

 

2.2        While the base recorded a low level of grievances lodged and a speedy resolution of those recorded the incidents of suicides and fatalities was a cause of concern. The Officer Commanding assured the Committee that that suicide at the base was not a trend; and that fatalities occur, despite the vigorous medical fitness test underwent by all recruits.

 

(c)        SA NAVAL COLLEGE

 

Situated on Gordon’s Bay, the SA Naval College offers cost effective formative training for naval officers. The training offered is aimed at providing learners with the desired common knowledge, skills and attitudes to prepare for further functional, military and tertiary education and training.

 

1.         FACILITIES AND EQUIPMENT

 

1.1        The College had completed major renovations in 2012, which included the painting of external walls, removal of asbestos roofing and guttering, upgrade of bathrooms, improving wheelchair accessibility and securing the harbour wall. While these renovations are commended, ageing buildings suffer serious structural damage and require urgent repair to prevent any serious risks to safety. Moreover, should the base not replace its aging reticulation system, buildings could be rendered inhabitable.

 

1.2        Although the college had sufficient number of suitable vehicles at its disposal, only 41 per cent are serviceable.  

 

PART   D:         SIMONSTOWN DOCKYARD

 

The Committee visited the Simonstown Dockyard to investigate whether this facility has the capacity to meet the repair and maintenance needs of the South African Navy (SAN).

 

1.         FACILITIES AND HUMAN RESOURCE CHALLENGES

 

1.1        Funding constraints and a shortage of skilled personnel meant that the Dockyard   

could not support the South African Navy’s maintenance and other logistic requirements. While to date vessels could be maintained at an operational level, should the challenges facing the Dockyard not be addressed, the maintenance of vessels could not be guaranteed nor sustained.

 

1.2        Aging workforce, the loss of critical skills and the delays in the filling of vacancies are

key capacity challenges faced by the Dockyard. Measures had been developed to increase the technical capacity, including apprenticeships. In order to lend sustainable support to the SA Navy, the Dockyard’s planned rejuvenation efforts included development of its own maintenance capacity and less reliance on private companies, recruitment of appropriately skilled personnel as well as the sourcing of appropriate equipment.

 

1.3        Maintenance of vessels are often delayed due to the difficulties experienced with the availability of spare parts and equipment, which often had to be sourced from international suppliers.

 

PART D:           RECOMMENDATIONS

 

The Committee requests that the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans (the Minister) ensures that the following recommendations are considered and due consideration is given to their implementation. The Minister should further ensure that responses to recommendations’ feasibility and/or implementation are submitted to Parliament within reasonable time after the adoption of this report by the National Assembly (NA).

 

1.         Facilities

 

1.1          Defence Works Formation

 

1.1.1       In its previous oversight report, the Committee expressed concern over the relationship between DPW and the Department of Defence. We requested greater clarity regarding the nature of and challenges to the implementation of a service level agreement (SLA) between these departments. This remains an outstanding matter.

 

1.1.2       Notwithstanding the above, the Committee requests both these Departments to ensure that maintenance and repair responsibilities are transferred to the Department of Defence (DOD), in order for the Defence Works Formation to commence with the upgrade and renovation of defence facilities. During out interactions at various bases, training facilities and 1 Military Hospital, management teams believed that this Works Formation would assist in ensuring that defence facilities are properly maintained at acceptable standards. The Committee believes that the DOD must ensure that facilities are adequately maintained and that resources are efficiently utilised for such purposes.

 

1.1.3.    Marievale illegal occupations

 

The illegal occupation of Marievale buildings by both civilians and military personnel is a cause of great concern. Effortless accessibility and illegal occupation of defence facilities illustrate that security breaches could occur at defence facilities with ease and that defence facilities or state property are not well secured. The Department should, within one month of the adoption of this report, submit to Parliament, a status report on how this matter had been addressed, and measures put in place to ensure that such illegal occupation does not occur again.

           

1.1.4       Accommodation

 

Most facilities visited reported a shortage of accommodation facilities. The Committee proposes that funding is prioritised to ensure that exiting accommodation is adequately upgraded and where needed extended, to ensure adequate living conditions for soldiers.

 

1.1.5     Infrastructure

 

The Committee has observed common challenges such as the conditions of roads, ageing reticulation systems, and the need for safer and adequate storage facilities. Funding should be prioritised to ensure that the necessary renovations are made.

 

2.         Transformation and skills retention

 

2.1        Transformation

 

2.1.1     As in the case of our oversight visits to Air Force Bases, vital information in relation to racial and gender representatively, especially as t relates to defence capabilities and skills were not fully supplied to the Committee. As a result, the Committee could not evaluate the progress made with the transformation at facilities visited. The Committee recommends that a detailed report on challenges to the transformation of the SANDF is submitted to Parliament within one month of the adoption of this report by the National Assembly.

 

2.1.2     The Military Skills Development System (MSDS) and the establishment of an effective military exit mechanism are central to ensuring that the defence force recruits young and fit recruits, while at the same time, allowing a planned exit or retirement of soldiers, without the currently associated loss of skills or experience. The success of both these strategies are crucial in ensuring that the defence force remain appropriately skilled, young and representative,  and are able to operate and maintain defence equipment in defence of South Africa.

 

 

2.3        Skills retention

 

2.3.1     Facilities visited are experiencing similar challenges with the retention and recruitment of skilled personnel especially health care practitioners, instructors, technicians as well as engineers. While the competition over scarce skills cannot be underestimated, the Committee was also informed that challenges experienced with the promotions and access to further learning opportunities often led to the loss of scarce skilled personnel. The Committee recommends that, the Department ensures that, through the application of a fair promotions policy, together with improvement in the living and working conditions of soldiers, a sense of loyalty and dedication is created amongst SANDF members, thus minimising the exodus of experienced and skilled personnel.

 

3.         Military Discipline and Professionalism

 

The number of absence without leave incidents, misconduct and theft and fraud cases indicate to a lack of discipline and professionalism, which harm the image of the SANDF as a professional and highly disciplined organisation. The Committee believes that such incidents could only be remedied through decisive leadership.

 

4.         Armscor Dockyard

 

4.1        The Committee understands that, given the nature of the challenges faced by the Dockyard, improvement in the productivity and service rendered to the South African Navy, would take time.  Armscor should report to Parliament on a regular basis, regarding the progress made with improving the capacity of this facility.

 

 

Report to be considered.