/ 11 March 2011

Groundwork for war vets Bill ‘flawed’

In a hard-hitting analysis, the Institute for Security Studies has lambasted the ministerial report on which the controversial Military Veterans Bill is based.

Costed this week at R65-billion if a means test to assess who qualifies is not applied, but much less if it is, the Bill’s provisions include housing benefits of R120 000 per veteran and healthcare payments of R6 000 for ex-combatants, their wives and children.

Also envisaged are education subsidies of R10 000 per veteran and their dependants over three years and preferential access to business opportunities.

The Bill builds on recommendations made by the task team which the minister of defence, Lindiwe Sisulu, appointed in 2009. Controversial politician Tony Yengeni was on the team, which submitted its report late last year. But the entire report was seriously flawed, the institute said on Wednesday in its submission to the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans.

The report “is silent on the research design and methodology that was employed in order to formulate the recommendations”.

It was also unclear whether the ministerial team had consulted the United Nations’ widely accepted international reference on support for former combatants and military veterans as contained in its 2006 report, “Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Standards”, the institute’s submission said.

The adequacy of the task team’s research sample of veterans came under scrutiny from the institute, which asked how the sample had been determined and whether it represented “all the views, needs and concerns of military veterans in South Africa”. Financial consultants Alexander Forbes’s indicative costing of the Bill was R65-billion. The entire allocation for public works programmes over the next three years is R73-billion.

Interim policy
Thabang Makwetla, the deputy minister of defence, told the portfolio committee this week that the task team’s report was merely an interim policy that was urgently required to deal with the needs of military veterans. The plight of South Africa’s poor could not be compared with that of veterans, who found themselves destitute as a direct result of the time they spent serving in the struggle, he said.

The costing for the Bill was merely “indicative” and proper figures would be ready by the time the committee concluded its public hearings, Makwetla said. The Bill is in part intended to cater for the many ex-combatants from non-statutory military forces such as the Azanian People’s Liberation Army and Umkhonto weSizwe.

Makwetla warned that delays in the legislation and continued failure to address the status of military veterans posed a threat to national security similar to that evident in Zimbabwe. “If we continue in neglecting the plight of former soldiers in this country, we may live to regret it,” he said.

But Guy Lamb, senior research fellow at the institute, said in its submission that the Bill did not account for the need to balance benefits for military veterans against those allotted to other sectors of society that also made sacrifices during the struggle. The institute also questioned the Bill’s provision for “facilitation of or advice on business opportunities”, saying this was contrary to the principles of best practice the task team’s report espoused.

“The setting aside of a portion of tenders for military veterans by the state and its agencies is not widely practised,” said Lamb in the submission. The US government was one of few governments to provide such support, but it did so under tight controls and only for disabled veterans, he said.

The preliminary costing document puts the total number of veterans at just over 56 000, but Makwetla said this number might increase when the state’s database was consolidated. The department also still had to determine how many dependants bona fide veterans had, he said.

If a means test was used to determine who qualified for certain benefits the total bill for the taxpayer would be closer to R20-billion, if not less, the department said.