Government spend groupings show defence is low priority


Defence and spending on it is a poor relation when it comes to government budget planning and execution in South Africa.

Just how far down the priority list it has dropped can be judged by defence being clustered along with housing, environmental protection and recreation and culture in one of three 10% groupings created by the Department of Statistics (StatsSA).

These four items have a spend of R172 billion with defence accounting for R47 billion of that at three percent. The largest beneficiary in the grouping is housing at R71 billion, four percent of the group total.

A tacit admission of the lack of funds for defence came in an answer given to Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais, by Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. He was told the Department of Defence (DoD) would “reprioritise” budget items to pay for Operation Lockdown, the Western Cape anti-crime tasking where soldiers are deployed in support of police.

More than R35 million was spent on the Lockdown deployment between July and September last year which is E12 million more than was projected. Marais said this show initial budget and costing for lockdown was “way out of line”.

“No additional funds were appropriated and it has now become a situation of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ by ‘reprioritising’ the already stretched defence budget,” Marais said.

StatsSA’s other 10% groups are Public Order comprising police, prisons, courts and “other” for a total of R166 billion and economic affairs. This group is home to agriculture, general affairs, transport, mining, energy and “other” totalling R180 billion of total government spend of R1,71 trillion.

By far the largest of the six StatsSA groupings is titled “General Public Services”. At a total of R427 billion it overshadows the next biggest group – education – by six percent. In monetary terms the StatsSA breakdown shows education receiving R99 billion less from National Treasury than “General Public Services”.

Education’s R328 billion is spent on primary (six percent), tertiary and secondary (five percent each) with the ubiquitous “Other” on the receiving end of four percent to make up 19% of national spend on various components of the South African education system.

Joining defence at the lower end of government expenditure are the five component social protection grouping and three component health grouping. Social protection spend is, according to StatsSA, R237 billion and R201 billion goes to health.