The South African Parliament has ordered the Department of Defence and Military Veterans to do its homework and calculate the costs and number of military veterans that would be affected if benefits mooted under a new bill came into effect.
The Military Veterans Bill aims to extend numerous benefits to veterans following a report last year by a ministerial task team set up to develop policy recommendations for veterans.
But members of the portfolio committee on defense and military veterans have expressed concern that the ministerial task team’s report did not contain cost estimates or figures on how many veterans would be affected if the bill was enacted.
Military Veterans Director General, Tsepe Motumi, told the committee that the department had been engaging with National Treasury and organizations outside government to arrive at costs, adding that these would be revealed in due course.
There are presently about 57,500 military veterans on the department’s database and Motumi pointed out that the department was in the process of registering thousands more members, but he added that many more were yet to be registered by the department.
“With those that did integrate or demobilized, it is easy because they entered the system and they either got employed or got a demobilization package. But those who did not, that is where the challenge is,” Motumi said, adding that the department needed to interview applicants and verify their credentials in order for them to be accepted as bona fide members.
Though Motumi conceded that government could only fulfill its obligations with the resources it had at hand, he emphasized that the department was eager not to see delays in passing the bill.
He said the department would nonetheless endeavor to return to the committee on Tuesday next week with at least some of the figures related to costing of the bill.
The bill defines military veterans as those who served in the union defense force before 1961, those that served in the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF) after 1964 and those who served in liberation groups between 1960 and 1994.
The benefits outlined in the bill include pension, housing subsidies, health care from military hospitals, compensation for injuries, counseling, subsidies for public transport, education and training, employment placement, business opportunities, and honoring and memorialization.
Those applying for benefits will be subject to a means test. An appeal board would also be set up, with members appointed by the minister of defense.
Following concern from one member, the DA’s David Maynier, Motumi said access to business opportunities would not amount to military veterans automatically winning tenders unless they could show that could provide such services.
Maynier’s concern was that the setting aside of business opportunities for veterans represented a “real risk of massive corruption.”
But singling out the example of the US, where the state assisted veterans to obtain tenders, Motumi pointed out that international experience showed that set asides for military veterans were “not a new thing.”
He also stressed that the department would act in a “non-partisan” way when it came to assessing applicants who applied for benefits, after concern from PAC member Letlapa Mphahlele that the bill might unfairly favor some liberation groups above others.
“We are not a political party, we are a bureaucracy that has been established and we seek to act within what the law says,” said Motumi.
Motumi said the bill aimed to ensure that all veterans would be entitled to medical and other benefits.
Explained Motumi: “The fact is that some members are receiving health benefits from a military institution, but the greater number of military veterans is not accessing health care”.
Source: BUA News
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