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Minister looks to Defence Review as Defence Force saviour

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is so hard pressed to continue and maintain its current level of commitments that only the 2014 Defence Review will save it.

This was the view of Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and senior Department of Defence officials in the debate on the Budget Vote of the Department of Defence and Military Veterans in Parliament on Wednesday.

The defence budget allocation is R42.8 billion for 2014/15, a decrease of 0.81 per cent in real terms when compared to 2013/14. The budget cuts over the past 20 years have had, as Mapisa-Nqakula stated, “an effect on a whole range of issues.”

The need for more funding was expressed by Sam Makhudu Gulube, Secretary for Defence and Military Veterans, when in his speech he told the parliamentarians that, “for the Department to execute its primary objective, it needs to be, at the very minimum, sufficiently resourced.”

“In reality,” he continued, “there is a persistent disconnect between the defence funding, growing defence commitments and resource allocation to the point where the Defence Force is unable to fully fulfil its constitutional responsibilities and it is hard pressed to continue and maintain its current level of commitments.”

The solution, Gulube said, is to either have a “greater budget allocation, or a scaled down level of ambition and commitment which is aligned with the current budget allocation.”

Mapisa-Nqakula noted that the Defence Review recognised that the SANDF is in a state of decline characterised by force imbalance between capabilities, ageing technology and unaffordability of many of its main operating systems.

“We do not have a choice,” she maintained, “but to respond with urgency to put plans to arrest the decline within the current five years, starting immediately during this financial year. The longer the neglect is perpetuated, the greater the effort, time and cost it will take to arrest the decline.”

In the interim, continuous engagements are being held with National Treasury for supplemental funding.

The Defence Review has been submitted to Parliament for debate and Mapisa-Nqakula is hopeful that the process will be completed by the end of August or September. Only once it has been approved will National Treasury be persuaded to loosen its tight grip on the purse strings.

Mapisa-Nqakula highlighted to her fellow lawmakers that “our work in this financial year has to be subject to the implementation programme of the Defence Review once finalised by Parliament. We do hope, therefore that, given its centrality to our planning, Parliament will treat the finalisation of the Review as a matter of critical urgency.”

The Department will spend the next five to ten years focussing on the implementation of the Defence Review. This, Mapisa-Nqakula says, will be to act “to restore the minimum capabilities which are required to safeguard South Africa, protect its maritime resources and trade routes, conduct peace missions and humanitarian interventions.”

The Department has already started applying mechanisms to implement the Defence Review, with governance structures being established that will be responsible for the day to day planning and implementation.

Whilst the Defence Review process compels the Department to engage with National Treasury and Cabinet for more money, Mapisa-Nqakula says there are things which they can do with immediate effect to turn around the situation without asking for more money from National Treasury.

Noting that the previous 1998 Defence Review took into account the socio-economic needs of South Africa at the time, this resulted in an under-funded Defence Force.

The Minister was at pains to remark that the Department was mindful of the needs of ordinary South Africans, but that there is a need to make sure the defence capabilities of the country is up scaled so that South Africa and its people are well protected and defended.

“There can never be a comparison, the two are equally important. If people have everything and very happy, but the security of the country is vulnerable, then you run into problems,” Mapisa-Nqakula explained. “But, equally we know that if we’re doing nothing about the needs of ordinary South Africans, then South Africa becomes vulnerable security wise.”

“Of course it is about money,” she says, “but it's not as though there aren't matters which we can change and turn around by way of implementing this Defence Review report which we can't do without money.”

The Defence Force has once again taken over the mandate of border safeguarding from the Police and 13 companies have been deployed on this task (Operation Corona). However, this decision was taken without considering that the SANDF budget had been cut because the Defence Force had ceased to perform this function.

Beyond the 13 companies deployed, she believes there will be a roll-out within the Medium Term Strategic Framework and money will be obtained to assist with increasing the Defence Force’s capacity in border guarding.

Thus, the Defence Force has decided to stick to the 13 companies, but is looking to deploy 22 companies in the future.

Mapisa-Nqakula says that the SANDF is strengthening its capacity and that the Defence Review has made strong recommendations about what capabilities are require to safeguard the coastline as well.

Whilst difficult to quantify the actual costs of Operation Corona, Lt Gen Derrick Mgwebi, Chief Joint Operations, said that it was presently costing around R900 million. This would increase substantially when rising to 22 companies as new facilities and equipment was required.

Part of the implementation plan for the Defence Review will be determining which one of the acquisition plans should be prioritised in order to arrest the decline of capabilities. The Air Force was recognised as requiring immediate attention, but the Navy was also facing challenges.

There was also a need to educate the public that it is not just about defending the border and coastline, it is also about food security issues, Mapisa-Nqakula said.

“If you effectively protect the border, if you effectively protect the coast, then you are assured that there us food security for South Africans. Not only that, but also economic growth.”

The Defence Reserves came in for special mention. The revitalisation of the Reserve Force remains a priority, but that progress was being inhibited by financial constraints.

The Reserves are providing an increasing proportion of the deployments, both on external peace support operations and for the protection of borders. It is believed that 7 of the 13 companies on Operation Corona are Reserve Force (55%), whilst Reserves make up 25% of each battalion on foreign deployments.

Whilst Mapisa-Nqakula would not say to how much the SANDF would continue to rely on Reserve Forces members, she did indicate that the Reserves Force members possessed skills that where not readily available within the permanent force.

Many of those that had left the permanent force were doctors and pilots who then returned as part of the 15 000 Reserve Force members who serve annually.

Salaries and service conditions continue to be highlighted and the Department had finally appointed the permanent members of the Defence Force Services Commission.

Following experiences in the Central African Republic where 15 SANDF members were killed during the Battle of Bangui, it was realised that the SANDF does not provide compensation to families of those members who die in combat. The Defence Force Services Commission has been tasked with developing a policy on the awarding of death benefits to beneficiaries of members who pass away while deployed in internal and external operations. A comprehensive policy will be finalised this year.

The Defence Force is also looking to recruit more young people to regenerate the Defence Force. A new HR strategy will provide for a military career model that will ensure that the SANDF is appropriately staffed in support of the unique military requirements and a new profile of a soldier within the SANDF.

The Department will also develop measures to retain technical and specialist personnel, including conditions of service and benefits aligned with market trends.

The minister is also looking at extending the service of certain defence personnel past their designated retirement dates to retain the experience and skills required at leadership and technical levels.

It is also possible that defence members who no longer conform to post and mustering requirements will be placed into other government departments or agencies.

Mapisa-Nqakula has also directed the service chiefs and commanders to take direct responsibility for enforcing discipline.

A Ministerial Medical Task Team was formed in March 2014 to urgently investigate the factors negatively impacting on the functioning of the three military hospitals. The report on their findings and recommendations was submitted in April this year, whereupon the mandate was extended to allow the Team to do an assessment of the medical services provided to members at bases and on deployment, both internally and external. The final report is expected on 15 August this year.

The DoD Works Formation is now established and is in the process of being fully capacitated. Its mandate is to provide the Department of Defence with an in-house capability for facility management, real estate management and maintenance and repair. It is hoped that the Works Formation will take over planned maintenance, refurbishment, capital works and demolition functions from the National Department of Public Works (NDPW).