Defence minister sounds budget alarm bells


For the second year running, Minister for Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has sounded alarm bells about the continuing ability of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to carry out its constitutional mandate.

Introducing the R50.5 billion Defence and Military Veterans 2019 budget in Parliament on Wednesday, Mapisa-Nqakula reiterated that the Department of Defence had been forced to continuously adjust its plans downwards in response to the declining budget.

As a result, she says, “we’ve been forced to adopt a short-term view with an increasingly constrained value proposition to South Africa and its people. Strategically, we are now becoming forced to transition from being mandate driven to being funding driven.”

This means that the Defence Force can only perform to the extent that it is resourced and funded, which has declined since the previous year.

In her pre-2018 budget presentation, Mapisa-Nqakula noted that Defence was subjected to a Medium Term Framework (MTF) baseline reduction of R18.2 billion. This year, she says, an additional R4.7 billion reduction has been demanded, the majority of which lies in the compensation of employees. This amounts to a nominal R22.9 billion reduction in the Defence allocation over a five year period.

This reduction will have a direct impact on the training, equipment, sustainment, core capabilities and operational output of the SANDF.

As if this was not severe enough, the funding dilemma will be compounded by an even greater baseline reduction of 5% for 2020, 6% for 2021 and 7% for 2022, equating to an additional reduction of R9.6 billion.

The projected R2.9 billion shortfall in this year’s compensation of employees, Mapisa-Nqakula stated, can only be covered by funding from the operating budget.

“Over the MTF, … the shortfall increases to R4 billion, R4.5 billion and R5.5 billion respectively, with no provisions in the operating budget to cover the shortfall,” she continued, “This House should be very concerned that the funding for defence capital equipment is greatly reduced from 2021 onwards.”

The Minister had sounded a warning already in her 2018 budget speech, but it would appear that the rate of decline has accelerated, beyond the Defence Force’s ability to control and absorb the ongoing cuts.

“The Defence force is becoming progressively more unsustainable in terms of declining defence allocations and we’ve now reached a point where the Republic must decide on the kind of Defence Force it wants and what it can afford,” she said.

She asked if Parliament was satisfied if the current resourcing of the Defence Force is consistent with the obligations placed on it by the Constitution.

Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla noted that the limited budget only provided for the deployment of 15 units for border safeguarding instead of the 22 units required to effectively safeguard landline borders.

Furthermore, he said that the funding constraints have caused the acquisition of new military equipment to stagnate. Projects affected include the new Army infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and long-term plans to address the South African Air Force’s ageing Oryx helicopter fleet, Dakota maritime aircraft fleet and a new strategic airlift capability.

In response, DA defence spokesperson Kobus Marais noted that comparable countries with a GDP growth rate of 3-4% spend 2-3% on their defence budget. South Africa had a GDP growth rate of around 1%, but only allocates 0.93% of its annual GDP to defence.

“We are approaching the cliff at an alarming pace,” he stated in his reply to Parliament, “This is not in the best interest of our citizens and our integrity” in terms of the Constitution.

Marais said that the Defence Force required R80 billion to fund its current programs and projects, but only R50.5 billion was approved.

“This presents nominal increase of 4.2% on the previous year, which is a decrease of 7.5% in real terms” he explained.

The department will spend 60% of its budget on Human Resources and 40% on operations, leaving only 10% for equipment.

“This is not enough to maintain assets and equipment of the Defence Force, not to say the procurement of new equipment,” he lamented.

With the current budget proposals indicating a drastic cut in operations, such as flight and sea hours and new equipment procurement, Marais says this must be seen as a red flag.