by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
PRETORIA – THE South African Military Ombudsman, stakeholders and experts are advocating for more support to the Ombud to enable the office effectively execute its mandate of holding the military leadership accountable.
This was the prevailing sentiment at the sixth Annual Military Ombud Symposium held in the capital Pretoria this week.
Military Ombud, Lt Gen (Ret) Themba Matanzima, decried the fact that the Military Ombud Act 4 of 2012 – in terms of which his office is established – did not allow his office to initiate complaints against the military.
The ombudsman can only investigate cases reported by either both serving and former members of the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) or members of the public.
“This limits our intervention is holding the military accountable because even if we see a case involving the army wherein we think can provide a solution we cannot do so unless someone lodges an official complaint with us”, Matanzima said in an interview.
Various stakeholders that attended the symposium echoed these sentiments.
Military officers, serving members of the army, experts and academics attended the event that discussed how the role of the Military Ombudsman in keeping the armed forces accountable could be enhanced.
Prof. Renfrew Christie, Defence Force Service Commissioner, said establishing a military ombudsman and yet curtailing its powers amounted to “expecting a kitten to roar like a lion in the jungle.”
Christie said to be effective, the local Military Ombudsman must enjoy the same powers as its German counterpart.
The German Military Ombudsman can initiate investigations on its own. The German Ombud reports directly to Parliament unlike its South African counterpart that reports to the Minister of Defence.
Judge Bernard Ngoepe, the Tax Ombudsman, who also participated at the symposium in Pretoria, believes that the Military Ombud Act must be amended to allow the Military Ombudsman to initiate its own investigations into transgressions by the military against soldiers or members of the public.
Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, said the fact that those aggrieved by lack of implementation of the Military Ombud’s recommendations can refer such cases to her office sufficiently covered such concerns.
She said each government division should have an independent complaint office where members of the public can report lack of service by public servants.
Mkhwebane said such offices would reduce the number of cases reported to her office, thereby allowing her to serve the marginalised members of society by initiating her own investigations into cases involving the poor and the disempowered.
The Office of the Military Ombud was established in 2012 to investigate and ensure that complaints against the SANDF are resolved in a credible manner. It is entrusted with investigating complaints lodged by current and former members of the SANDF aggrieved with their conditions of service.
The office also investigates complaints reported by members of the public against the official conduct of SANDF personnel.
– CAJ News