“Disaster”, “weak political leadership”, “broken entity” and “embarrassing” were some of the words used by the Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister when responding to Minister Thandi Modise’s introduction to the defence budget vote in Parliament today (Tuesday, 24 May).
The Minister asked Parliamentarians to approve a just over R49 billion defence budget, of which well over half – 69% – will go to paying salaries of uniformed and public service employees in the Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
This was one area Kobus Marais, the official opposition watchdog on defence matters, took exception to, saying it was a R3 billion overspend on cost of employees (CoE) and “unsustainable”.
He also took Modise and the SANDF command to task for the “sad state” of prime mission equipment across the force.
Examples he gave included only one of four Valour Class frigates serviceable – “limping along the Mozambican coast due to non-maintenance and unavailability of spares”; zero of three submarines serviceable; zero of 26 Gripens serviceable; zero of four Super Lynx maritime helicopters serviceable, 13 of 39 Oryx medium transport helicopters serviceable; one of six C-130BZs airworthy and a lone 85-year-old Dakota (C-47) “unable to do maritime patrol and reconnaissance missions”.
Marais also pointed to the landward force, saying “many SA Army vehicles and equipment are also unserviceable” calling the overall availability of equipment “embarrassing” and “exposing South Africa to bad actors on land, in the air and at sea”.
The Cuban connection also came under fire from the DA parliamentarian who reiterated last week’s undertaking to lay charges against senior officers, some at service and force leadership level for their part in Operation Thusano. “It must be terminated immediately,” he said.
Other suggestions for Minister Modise to make her department and the SANDF operate better, both financially and operationally, are transfer control of the three military hospitals to the national Department of Health; liquidate unserviceable, obsolete and under-utilised assets; rationalise and integrate Armscor and Denel structures and activities to serve the SANDF cost efficiently and effectively; and set up a multi-year capital expenditure programme.
The programme would see to replacements, acquisitions and upgrades for, among others, Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters; C-130 Hercules transport aircraft (C-130J-models or even the Airbus A400M); maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft; new offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and additional inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) as well as bringing the three remaining frigates and all three Type 209 submarines back to full serviceability.
“The SANDF is a broken entity, unable to fulfil its core constitutional mandate and purpose,” Marais said, warning the Minister and her Secretary for Defence (Sonto Kudjoe) they do not have “the luxury of time to reinvent the wheel and request postponements for action”.