South African Military Ombud delegation took reigns of hosting the forthcoming 10th International Conference of Ombud Institutions for the Armed Forces (ICOAF) at a glittering event in London recently. As the Military Ombud Lt Gen (Ret) TT Matanzima descended to the podium, the famous speech of ‘I am an African’ by Former President Thabo Mbeki was beamed live as it reverberated inside the packed conference room of London Tower.
South Africa was been chosen as the 10th country and the first in the continent to host this international event that sees heads of military ombud institutions coming together to share best practices in a bigger platform. The 10th ICOAF will take place from 30 September to 03 October 2018 at Sun City in North West.
ICOAF was established in 2009 with the aim of establishing best practices and to learn lessons related to the mandates, powers and functioning of these institutions. ICOAF gathers representatives of ombuds institutions for the armed forces from around the world. To date, representatives of ombuds institutions of over 50 states have participated in the ICOAF initiative.
In his acceptance speech Lt Gen (Ret) Temba Matanzima said they feel immensely honoured and privileged to be given an opportunity to host the 10th ICOAF conference in South Africa. “I am delighted that South Africa is going to host this important conference which is taking place for the first time in the continent,” said Matanzima.
Matanzima said the 10th ICOAF will continue to explore ways to share experiences to ensure that conditions of service are not violated within the armed forces.
He told delegates that they have a massive task ahead as the custodians of human rights within the armed forces in their respective countries in making sure that soldiers are protected at all times.
Matanzima further said as Ombud Institutions, should not be deterred in their efforts to hold the armed forces accountable when they are found wanting for violating the rights of current and former members of the military. “I believe that there is still much that the Ombud Institutions can learn from each other when it comes to promoting good governance. As Ombud institutions we need to recognize our responsibility in shaping the armed forces to continuously respect the fundamental rights of its soldiers.” said Matanzima.
The 10th ICOAF will be celebrated in two variants under the proposed conference topic: “THE EVOLVING ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE ARMED FORCES AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR OMBUDS INSTITUTIONS”.
The South African Military Ombud has rapidly became a big role player in this (ICOAF) event as they are always been called upon to present papers on different issues. At this London conference the Military Ombud presented a paper on ‘Maximizing the role of Ombuds Institutions within Legal and Ethical Boundaries’ which was well received by all delegates in attendance.
The Office of the Military Ombud met strategic stakeholders at the Military Ombud Symposium held under the theme: “Ombud institutions in search their independence and impartiality” at Velmore Hotel in Erasmia centurion on Friday 09 June 2017. Speaking to the delegates, the Military Ombud Lt General (Ret) TT Matanzima says they have witnessed a lot of transgression by some members of the Department of Defence since the start of their Office, when it comes to the application of policies at the expense of the soldiers.
Matanzima said a lot of complaints they have received in their 5 years in Office has to do with non-compliance with the application of policies which has disadvantaged a lot of soldiers on issues like promotion, transfers, job classification and grading, appointment and appointment processes, salaries, allowances and service benefits amongst others.
“As an Office we have seen a reduction in these transgressions by members who are supposed to apply policies in place and this is through our recommendations and remedial actions to the Minister of Defence. A number of soldiers now have confidence in our office as we have assisted them with their grievances after they couldn’t get solution through an processes ,” said Matanzima. Matanzima said this at the celebration of their Annual Symposium which also coincided with the swearing in of the Deputy Military Ombud Adv Rendani Marivate who was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in 20 February 2017. Reputable speakers such as Advocate Richard Sizani, Dr Somadoda Fikeni, Mr Mark Alves and Mr Helmoed Heitman came together to share ideas. The discussion intended to deepen an understanding of the concept of the Ombudsman’s and their functionality. In his key note address Judge Francis Legodi said an Ombud plays an important role of being a servant of people and a person who is concerned about those who have less powers and resources to fight those in a position of authority.
Judge Legodi speaking to the theme on impartiality said impartiality is a call for even handedness. “It is a call for a fair mindedness. It is a principle of justice holding that the decisions or recommendations you make as Ombuds, should be based on an objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons,” said Legodi. On Independence Judge Legodi said whilst the appointment of Military Ombud and Deputy Ombud is by the President in terms of section 5(1) of the Military Ombud Act, there are worrying features which may have a negative bearing on the independence of Military Ombud and the Deputy Military Ombud.
“In terms of subsection (11) of the Military Ombud Act, the Minister of Defence is entitled to assign to the Ombud any other additional functions which are not inconsistent with the Act”. “This raises other questions. To whom is the Ombud and the Deputy Ombud accountable? Are they accountable to the President who appointed them or to the Minister? This legislative arrangement has the potential to obscure the independence and impartiality of the Office of the Military Ombud. I suspect that other Ombud institutions have similar legislative challenges,” said Judge Legodi. Matanzima said it has been a torrid 5 years as an Office as they had to juggle the cases lodged by the SANDF members and also at the same time trying to learn the best practices in resolving cases. “It hasn’t been a smooth ride as in the beginning we have witnessed resistant by the Defence Force to provide information as we conduct our investigations. Despite all that we have soldiered on with our work and today we can proudly say more than a thousand workers of the defence have seen justice prevailing,” lamented Matanzima.
The Office of the Military Ombud was established to investigate and ensure that complaints against the SANDF are resolved in a fair, economical and expeditious manner.