Service commission report: What now?

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There is not much that is new in the final report of the interim National Defence Force Commission set up to investigate service conditions in the South African National Defence Force. The report was approved by Cabinet last week after being handed to Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu the week before.

The report follows to interim reports handed to Sisulu in November and December last year and extracts were well publicised at the time. The first noted that low-ranking soldiers were so poorly paid that many were living in shacks or in squalid barracks such as that at the Doornkop Military Base in southern Johannesburg.

Bosielo and his commissioners told MPs that barracks were in decay, with ceilings collapsing, and toilets and showers not working. He said conditions were “sub-human”. 1 Military Hospital, in Pretoria, once the flagship of the SA Military Health Service, “was falling apart”. Discipline has also collapsed, the commisioners said. “At Doornkop and Lenz (two major military bases in southern Johannesburg that the commissioners visited) there is a complete breakdown of discipline – complete,” Bosielo said. “We wondered how soldiers survive with the salaries they are getting.”
“Because of the salary bracket they are in, they do not qualify for RDP (reconstruction and development programme, i.e. state subsidised low cost) houses. At the same time, because of the meagre salaries they earn, they do not qualify to go to banks to secure bonds, so they are falling [through] the cracks. And what are the cracks? To go to the informal settlements and stay in the shacks in the townships.
“This is what prompted us to draft and prepare an interim report to the minister; to draw her attention and say we are sitting on a time bomb. If you don’t attend to it today – or yesterday – you’re going to regret it,” Bosielo said. The Times newspaper reported last November that Bosielo described the situation he and his fellow commissioners found as “a ticking time bomb” and added he had urged Sisulu “to act immediately.”

The paper at the time said a private, airman or seaman with more than 10 years of service took home just R3000 to R3200 a month after deductions, including medical aid and pension contributions. If they lived in military accommodation, they paid about R500 rent a month. Entry-level pay for a Military Skills Development System soldier can be as low as R2300, compared with about R6400 for a police constable (the junior police rank but a lance corporal equivalent). The new levels are:

President Jacob Zuma effectively doubled the pay of this group in December, backdating their pay to July last year:

 

Level

Salary Grade

Number of notches

Inclusive package

Minimum

(Notch 1)

(Divide by 13 to get monthly salary)

Maximum

(Max Notch)

(Divide by 13 to get monthly salary)

A1

1

31 719

51 816

A2

4

36 894

64 122

Private, Airman Seaman

B1 Leg 1

5

49 008

94 452

Private, Airman Seaman

B1 Leg 1

9

55 233

94 452

Private, Airman Seaman

B1 Leg 2

12

63 438

117 441

Lance Corporal, Able Seaman

B2

12

73 788

127 122

Corporal, Leading Seaman

B3

12

87 288

137 601

Sergeant, Petty Officer

B4

12

107 553

151 923

Staff/Flight Sergeant, Chief Petty Officer

B5

12

132 531

174 510

Warrant Officer 2

B6

12

161 976

208 554

Warrant Officer 1

B7

12

192 540

249 243

Warrant Officer 1: WO of the Army,etc

D1

12

249 243

309 900

Warrant Officer 1 WO of the SANDF

D2

12

390 000

456 948

Candidate Officer

C1

12

73 788

127 122

Second Lieutenant, Ensign (SA Navy)

C2

12

87 288

137 601

Lieutenant, Sub Lieutenant (SA Navy)

C3

12

107 553

143 160

Captain, Lieutenant (SA Navy)

C4

12

132 531

151 220

Major, Lieutenant Commander

10

C5

12

192 540

249 243

Lieutenant Colonel, Commander

11

C6

12

240 318

309 900

Colonel, Captain-SA Navy

12

C7-1

12

381 249

456 948

Colonel, Captain-SA Navy

12

C7-2

12

451 890

546 096

This was not initially approved by the National Treasury, as the Auditor General this year marked the increase as an “unauthorised expenditure.” This was corrected in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s additional budget vote a month ago, unfortunately through virements that included stripping R2.1 billion out of the SA Army’s projects budget.

And that’s the rub of the problem. Addressing the media last Thursday, Sisulu said the recommendations made by the Commission broadly fall into four categories, including those that require Cabinet approval such as budgetary considerations and executive responsibilities that need to migrate from one department to another. “The bulk of the recommendations in the report derive from our budget shortfall. I am referring here to salaries, health support, transport, allowances, the general conditions of service and material provisions which would improve the quality of life of our armed forces, but which we have been unable to adequately provide,” she said.

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, acting commission chairman reportedly added government, business and the populace at large will need to think differently about the funding requirements of the defence force. “Creative ways will need to be considered to ensure that the necessary fundamentals for the kind of defence force this country needs and deserves- a defence at the service of humanity, but which is also a part of the development strategy for young South Africans, is effectively sustained.”

Is Treasury aboard for this ride? Phillip van Schalkwyk, the official at Treasury responsible (or to blame) for the defence budget, in March slated the DoDMV’s strategic plan for the next three years,saying the plan contained no “credible vision of what the Defence Force should be doing”, partly because it was based on the 1996 White Paper on Defence that was “14 years out of date”. He also complained that resources were “severely diluted across the military” and that although the defence budget for the coming years had been cut the defence department has not appreciably reduced its fixed costs. Having said this in response to assertions that the DoDMV was underfunded by at least R7.335 billion for the current year, will he – or his superiors – really support any increase in defence spending?

And how much more can Sisulu spend on salaries? In Gordhan’s February budget,the defence budget was R30.7 billion of which R13.4 billion was “compensation for employees.” Gordhan last month trimmed the budget to R30.4 billion, but compensation ballooned to R16.2 billion. So over 50 cents of every defence Rand goes to salaries. Already. By most measures it should not be over 40% of the budget, with 30% going to equipment and 30% to operations, training and the like.



That’s the rub. As previously, and more than once, said on these pages, South Africa spends rather little on defence. More needs to be spent. But how to get Van Schalkwyk and Gordhan to agree? The final INDFSC report, the upcoming “review of the defence review” and a copy of Rear Admiral Chris Bennett’s cautionary tale “Three Frigates, The South African Navy comes of Age”, can all play a role: provided they form part of a simple but effective plan and campaign to convince the bean-counters spending a little more now will avoid paying a lot more later…