The budget unveiled by former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba showed again defence is a poor relation in the government family. In real terms the amount of money allocated to the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) declined by over seven percent.
This must be galling for Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula who last May informed the National Assembly of formation of a task team from her department and National Treasury. The team, she said, would look at the serious mismatch between defence funding and expectations placed on the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
Four months later, Siphiwe Dlamini, Department of Defence head of communications, told defenceWeb positive meetings had been held where “intense discussions” took place and there was “appreciation and understanding by both parties around matters on the table”.
Sadly, this did not turn into a windfall of any sort when Minister Gigaba delivered his maiden and only budget speech in the National Assembly when spending on programmes such as free higher education took precedence over defence.
The total defence budget for the 2018/19 financial year is R47.9 billion, down on the R48.9 billion allocated for the 2017/18 financial year. When inflation is taken into account defence should have been given R51.49 billion by National Treasury just to keep tread with inflation. This can be described as a real decrease of just under seven percent, an avid military aviation and history enthusiast pointed out.
The defence portion of the budget document states, in part, “in 2017/18, the department expects to maintain its personnel establishment at 75 500. However, to remain within the government’s expenditure ceiling for compensation of employees, the department plans to reduce its personnel establishment to 74 660 by 2020/21, mainly by means of natural attrition”.
Add to this compensation of employees – wages and salaries – amounts to 56.5% of the R48.9 billion defence budget and it appears the DoD/National Treasury task team did not really make meaningful headway. The Defence Review calls for only 40% of the budget to go towards personnel spending but it would be difficult and unpopular for government to cut defence jobs, with each job cut being one more unemployed person and potentially one less ANC voter.
In number terms, the national budget for 2018/19 allocates R6 416 billion to air defence, R4 425 to maritime defence and R16 234 billion to landward defence. All three allocations are less than for the 2017.
It seems there is little support for defence as other budget needs take higher priority and there is little lobbying for a stronger SANDF at either the political or public level, with many people not realising the importance of having a military in peacetime, for peacekeeping and border protection among others.
Until the economy improves and the overall budget increases, it is unlikely the SANDF will get the funding it needs, with other needs taking precedence and the military falling further into decline.