Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian and eagle-eyed watcher of Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s Department of Defence and Military Veterans (DoDMV) Kobus Marais is adamant inappropriate and incorrect priorities along with a lack of operational and political leadership are at the core of South Africa’s declining defence capabilities.
Responding to the Ministerial introduction to the defence and military veterans budget vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday, Marais pointed to five specific examples of budget cuts which adversely affect the operational abilities of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
They are a 16% reduction in funding for the landward force, an almost 24% reduction for air defence, 17% less money for maritime defence, 16% less for military healthcare and a 36% reduction in budget for defence intelligence. These and other reduced allocations mean the national defence budget is 18% down on the previous financial year, a point alluded to by Mapisa-Nqakula when referring to an operating budget under “extreme pressure”.
Marais pointed to administration; communication; subsistence and transport (S&T) and salaries (“compensation of employees” in human resource speak) as areas where spending is increased.
“All told this leaves only 26% of the defence budget for operations, including training, equipment acquisition and maintenance. It is totally unsustainable,” he maintains.
“If matters keep going on this trajectory, the Department of Defence (DoD) and SANDF will become a safety net employment service mostly for ex-MK (Umkhonto weSizwe) members. This should not happen.”
Marais had harsh words for the Minister and her leadership cadre, including recently appointed Secretary for Defence Gladys Kudjoe and outgoing CSANDF General Solly Shoke, including, “Unwillingness by the Minister and defence leadership to comply with National Treasury and 2015 Defence Review guidelines; the lack of strong political will and leadership, including from national defence force Commander-in-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa, collectively stripped the SANDF of its essential equipment procurement and maintenance capacity. This will have detrimental effects on all South African defence industry stakeholders.
“Add consistent frustration by the NCACC (National Conventional Arms Control Committee) not considering industry permit applications on a monthly basis and there is a recipe for chaos which will destroy a once world-renowned local defence industry, compliments of the ANC,” was part of Marais’ response to the widespread malaise affecting South Africa’s defence equipment and support manufacturers.
He is also critical of the “consistent and frustrating power struggle” between the controllers of national funding (Ministry of Finance and National Treasury) and Mapisa-Nqakula’s ministry and department.
“All this takes place at the expense of South Africa’s defence readiness. Defence leadership has only one solution for budget challenges – more money – with Treasury’s standard response ‘little scope to provide additional funding’. This impasse is a significant contributor to the deterioration of South Africa’s defence readiness, preparedness and strategic capability,” Marais said.