The need to reduce the number of people working in government service, including the national defence force, was forcibly brought home by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni during his budget address to the House of Assembly.
He said the labour intensive nature of the work undertaken and executed by the Department of Defence (DoD), which includes the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), meant employee compensation was its largest spending item. Wages and salaries account for 59% (94 billion) of its total budget over the medium term.
Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s department has been allocated R50 billion in total for the 2019/2020 financial year which it has to share with State Security. The previous financial year saw the DoD allocated R47,9 billion by National Treasury.
Military analysts and observers point out when inflation and exchange rates are taken into account it means the national defence budget has shrunk – yet again. The amount of money allocated for tasks ranging from maintaining South Africa’s borders and territorial integrity through to continental peace support operations and supporting South Africans via interventions during natural and other disasters again means soldiers will have to do more with less.
According to the Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) for defence and military veterans the DoD’s “effort to remain within government’s expenditure ceiling for compensation of employees, its personnel is expected to decrease by 901, from 75 210 in 2018/19 to 74 309 in 2021/22, mainly through natural attrition”.
The ENE further has it Cabinet has approved budget reductions of R183,2 million in 2019/20, R174,2 million in 2020/21 and R5 billion in 2021/22. The reductions will be across all programmes mainly on the Special Defence Account (SDA) and various goods and service items such as computer services, contractors and travel and subsistence.
Baseline reductions of R3,8 million for the Department of Military Veterans and R96,2 million for Armscor are part of the approved reductions. Additionally Mapisa-Nqakula’s department will implement targeted interventions, including cost containment on non-core goods and services items as well as reviewing projects in the SDA, to ensure it functions sustainably.
As has become the norm, the defence budget is taken as part of National Treasury’s wider peace and security funding effort. For the 2019/20 financial year this is R211 billion with the bulk of R104,2 billion going to police services. Defence comes a distant second at R50 billion, followed by law courts and prisons (R48,4 billion) and Minister Siyabonga Cwele’s Department of Home Affairs with R8,4 billion.
The natural attrition decrease in SANDF personnel is in line with Mboweni’s intent of not retrenching government employees. Instead, incentives will be offered to more than 126 000 government workers aged between 55 and 59 to take early retirement.
Vote 19 of the National Budget points out, among others, arresting the decline in critical defence capabilities as set out in the 2015 Defence Review will continue using “funds retained through reimbursements from the United Nations”.
The reimbursements are projected to be R1,9 billion over the medium term and are part of South Africa’s contribution to peace support operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The “constrained fiscal outlook” will see the DoD “only partially implement critical elements of the Review”. These are listed as improved operational support systems and urgent equipment enhancements.
No mention is made of adding to the present 15 company Operation Corona deployment to protect South Africa’s land borders, with R3,7 billion allocated for the tasking over the next three years.
Another part of the SANDF’s constitutional mandate is to support the people of South Africa. Currently, the SA Army’s Engineer Formation is working alongside the Department of Water and Sanitation, Gauteng provincial government and Emfuleni local municipality dealing with water pollution in the Vaal River. This intervention was announced by Mboweni during his mid-term budget presentation last year.
According to the ENE the project is expected to be completed this December with the total cost still to be finalised. Indications are the cost of the project will be more than R780 million.
Also on support to the people of South Africa, R67,7 million of the defence has been earmarked for the May national and provincial elections. The funds come from the force employment programme of the SANDF and will cover cost deployment of soldiers to support police in the lead-up to election day on May 8.