Defence personnel and remuneration under the Parliamentary microscope


When it meets on Wednesday, the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) will put the microscope on the single largest cost item in the national defence budget – salaries.

A report prepared for the committee has it, among others, that the human resources component will eventually consume all resources required by the DoD (Department of Defence) to execute its mandate. It also notes there “appears to be an impasse between the DoD and National Treasury regarding compensation of employees”.

“Personnel costs in the SANDF have become a major focus point in recent years, with the cost as a percentage of the total DoD budget escalating annually. This will continue in 2020/21. According to the original pre-COVID-19 budget, the allocation for spending on Compensation of Employees (CoE) for the year was set to increase to R31.78 billion (from R29.94 billion in 2019/20). An additional allocation of R763.424 million was made for CoE during the first adjustments appropriation in response to COVID-19, bringing total expenditure on this item to R31.941 billion for 2020/21,” the report states.

According to the estimates of national expenditure (ENEs) in Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget, over the medium term 61.2% of the DoD’s total allocation is set to be spent on CoE. His adjusted budget presented in October calls for further cuts in salaries of government employees, including airmen, military medics, sailors, soldiers and public sector employees in both the DoD and SANDF. That was decreased by over R956 million, leaving Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s department with R30.984 billion to pay salaries.

The PCDMV is also informed: “it is unlikely the DoD will be able to stay within the CoE ceiling for 2020 given the indication they do not seek to reduce personnel numbers and the fact they have not implemented required reforms resulting in irregular expenditure for a number of years.”

One area where at least some military analysts and observers believe the SANDF, especially its human resources directorate under the command of Rear Admiral Elias Kubu, can look to “profitably” is rank inflation.

This phenomenon, according to the report prepared for the PCDMV, is not a SANDF one only, having its origins in what was the SA Defence Force (SADF) prior to democracy and the integration process leading to formation of the national defence force.

“Rank inflation continued after 1994 with a marked increase in the number of senior positions while junior positions declined. Other general examples are SA Army directors have gone from colonel posts with a small staff to brigadier-generals with several colonels and many other officers on staff at the time the corps have become smaller. Several brigadier generals are for instance in command of only a military school or training institution and one or two units other than reserve units (often defunct) under their control. There are similar examples in the SA Air Force (SAAF) that went from a brigadier handling personnel matters to a brigadier general in each of the Air Office and Air Command, despite a centralised Human Resources Division. The SA Navy also has many senior admirals for a relatively small navy with limited vessels,” it states.

Going back to 2019, military analyst Helmoed Heitman, quoted in the report, estimated roughly 406 generals, admirals and civilian officials in equivalent ranks. “This translates into a general, admiral or equivalent official for every 184 SANDF and DoD members, which seems a little over the top.”

Putting a more negative spin on this number the report notes “only” 80 are in the three combat services – air force, army and navy – with another 17 at Defence Intelligence.

“The 2018/19 DoD annual report notes 275 senior and top management level employees in comparison to a total DoD personnel strength of 74 508. This equates to a senior manager for every 269 people in the DoD.”