Hon Chairperson, hon Minister, hon members, the defence environment is unique in its nature in that the Defence Force protects and defends the Republic and its people as a whole. Therefore it is regarded as an essential service. Hence it is necessary that the personnel in the Defence Force have a functional and effective complaints resolution mechanism, which is meant to complement the chain of command structure.
Although the Department of Defence and Military Veterans led discussions of the Bill, it should be remembered that the Bill was originally championed by the Portfolio Committee on Defence in 2005. The Bill seeks to establish the office of the Military Ombud. The role of the Military Ombud is to receive and attend to complaints within and against the Defence Force from current and former members of the Defence Force regarding their conditions of service, as well as from members of the public regarding the official conduct of a member of the Defence Force.
The role of the Military Ombud is to investigate and ensure that complaints are resolved in a fair, economical and expeditious manner. This office is meant to enhance the grievance processes and ensure that grievances are addressed by an independent office.
In addition to establishing the office of the Military Ombud, this Bill prescribes the process of appointing the Military Ombud, which begins with an open and transparent portfolio committee nomination process and leads to recommendations being tabled before the National Assembly. The President appoints a candidate based on the recommendation of Parliament, which appointment will have received the majority vote of the National Assembly.
A candidate nominated for this office needs to possess adequate knowledge of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and have legal experience and, knowledge of or experience in the military and public administration acquired over a period of 10 years.
Further to this, the Bill defines the objectives, mandates and powers of this office with the distinct intention of achieving the independence of such an office. To illustrate this independence, the Bill gives the Military Ombud the right to be consulted when the President appoints his or her deputy. Further to this, the Military Ombud is given the sole responsibility of appointing the staff in his or her office.
It should be noted that this individual needs to pass the security clearance of the intelligence division of the Defence Force. It should also be noted that the issue of sufficient independence of the Military Ombud was raised. The DA raised the question as to whether or not the Ombud is sufficiently independent from any influence by the executive, noting that the Ombud reports to the Minister. The committee sought a legal opinion in this regard. The legal opinion proved that the independence of this office is successfully reflected in the Bill, in terms of the mandate of the Ombud and the powers and functions of the office.
Essentially, the Military Ombud must investigate complaints lodged in writing and must do so fairly and expeditiously without fear, favour or prejudice. All parties must be informed and given an opportunity to respond to complaints. The Military Ombud may summon any individual who is part of a complaint and resolve it through mediation or conciliation.
After investigation, the Military Ombud may make any of the following three determinations: He or she may confirm the dispute, recommend an alternative resolution to the Minister, or if it falls out of his or her jurisdiction, refer it to the appropriate public institution. If the Ombud upholds the complaint, he or she must recommend the appropriate relief for implementation to the Minister. The outcome of the inquiry must, immediately after completion, be made available to the complainant in writing.
The Military Ombud is restricted from investigating cases that are being heard or have been ruled on by the military courts or any other alternative dispute resolution mechanism. Equally, the Military Ombud has no jurisdiction over issues that may undermine the command structure or amount to insubordination. If the complaint is frivolous, if it is not lodged in reasonable time and if the member has not exhausted the internal complaints mechanism, the office of the Military Ombud must exercise ... [Time expired.]