I was asked the other day whether I knew when the defence budget vote would take place. I didn’t. I still don’t. And I don’t care.
I`ve heard plenty of speeches since starting to pay them attention in the mid-1980s, and I have frankly not become much the wiser. As a result, I now pay them much less attention.
All that anyone would want to know about defence spending was published on the Treasury website (www.treasury.gov.za) on Wednesday. While Finance minister Trevor Manuel did not make any reference to the military in his main speech – save a cryptic comment that more funds is now available for the Reserve Force (Applause!!!).
The Estimates of National Expenditure is another matter entirely. The Vote 19 (Defence) document brims with facts and figures, clearly articulating defence spending priorities not just for the coming year – but for the coming three.
The ENE even duplicates the defence department`s Annual Report (to some extent) by providing audited figures for the past four years. So, you and I can follow defence spending for seven years using this document – and to quite a granular level. One will also find previous years` budget estimates on the Treasury website, allowing for comparisons as well as the tracking of changing priorities. In a word: Neat!
Let`s look at money spent on the Infantry (under the Landward budget): The audited figure for the April 2005 allocation is R1713.9 billion (bn). The next year it was up to R2066.1bn, in 2007 it was R2230.1bn and last year it climbed further to R2415.5bn. This year`s allocation – for equipment, personnel, corps training and the rest of it is R2807.1bn. Treasury at this time plans to allocate slightly less – R2785.4bn next year and then increase that allocation to R3131.4 in April 2011. It is all there for those who look…
After the figures follow some useful facts, and if the “expenditure trends” for every programme in the defence budget are read with defenceWeb`s list of known projects, an interesting picture emerges. For example, the reader will learn the SA Army – and Treasury – is serious about rejuvenating the military`s truck fleet. Treasury puts it on p419 that the Landward “Support Capability subprogramme” will climb a projected 24.3% next April “due to the … acquisition of … an operational supply product support system”. That is the exact description of Project Vistula which according to some reports will see the Army acquire at least 1200 trucks on a multiyear budget of R3.2 billion.
Noteworthy too is the substantial increase – a whole 238.4% – in this year`s “Strategic Direction subprogramme” in order to fund “two annual military exercises”, namely Seboka (military skills development system integration) and Young Eagle (military skills development system airborne).
Both are only scheduled for early next year, but with much more budget available both should be more intense and perhaps longer in duration. Certainly, they will be more spectacular. Army chief Lt Gen Solly Shoke this week said there has been “remarkable improvements in the organising and execution of both these exercises” in the last year. Let`s see what he serves up next…
But to return to the theme… The ENE is a useful source of actual information, yet few seem to know about it. There is a detailed breakdown for every department – save the Intelligence Services ministry, which means all of us have quite a bit of reading ahead.
One disappointment of the ENE document is that it this year omits accosting of the Strategic Defence Package. Last year it put the consolidated cost of the 12 year project to acquire 50 fighter aircraft, 30 helicopters, four frigates and three submarines at R47.401 billion. This, sadly, is to my mind something of an “own goal”.