Without funding the Defence Review will remain just another paper exercise


Roelf Meyer and the team who put together the Defence Review on instructions from former Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu were told to concentrate on finding ways and means to make a national defence force that works.

Costing was not part of their remit and there were voices who opined the Minister would follow up on Meyer’s 2012 Defence Review with a specialist investigation into all its financial aspects. This would include wages and salaries, the cost of acquiring and maintaining equipment and the all-important costs of deployment.

This did not happen, those same voices maintain, because Sisulu was moved to another Cabinet post and her successor, apart from changing the title of the Defence Review to indicate it was now a 2014 rather than a 2012 version, only got implementation of a kind up and running last year.

But, no matter what recommendations were made, the over-riding consideration behind them was and still is how much will it cost and where will the funds come from?

In the lull of the pre-Christmas slow-down, Cabinet’s Justice, Peace and Security cluster pointed this out to a largely unresponsive audience. In a statement it said – tellingly – “there is no indication the Defence Review will be funded even in the outer years due to the economic conditions prevailing in the country as state by National Treasury (sic)”.

Those at the helm of South Africa’s overall defence and security apparatus think that consideration will have to be given to alternative funding models.

In government family terms, this again highlights the ‘poor relation’ status of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

Government wants it to be a working part of its foreign policy via continental peace support and peacekeeping commitments. It also wants soldiers to be the maintainers of border security and fulfil the broadly stated Constitutional imperative of making all South Africans “feel safe and secure”.

This is a tall order that can only be accomplished if sufficient funding is available.

Defence watchers and senior officers will, off the record, say current funding levels for the military are woefully insufficient and point to the fact that more than 50% of the defence budget goes to wages and salaries.

An obvious starting point for Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is to trim numbers in the SANDF and bring down the amount spent on paying people in uniform as well as civilian employees.

Secondly, she must investigate alternative sources of funding. There has been talk in defence and military circles about the possibility of selling off assets no longer deemed to be useful. This applies to both facilities and equipment with the resultant revenue coming directly to the Department of Defence.

It will mean changes in policy but is probably the best option at present given government’s continued commitment to social and infrastructure spending.