With the defence budget vote in the National Assembly fast approaching, questions about the lack of progress on projects, maintenance and the financial wherewithal to do these were again raised.
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for defence and military veterans, Kobus Marais, consistent in support of improving the national defence force – even in the current harsh financial climate, is open about his concerns ahead of Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s budget vote on Tuesday (18 May) in the National Assembly.
He asks why it is there is no effective progress on essential defence issues, giving four examples. These are the SA Army’s new Badger infantry combat vehicle, late and non-payment for SA National Defence Force (SANDF) services to government departments; insufficient funding for the SA Navy’s new inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) and what – if anything – is going to be done as far as utilisation and maintenance of the new IPVs and the new hydrographic survey vessel (HSV). The replacement for SAS Protea (A324) is as yet unnamed and will sail under pennant number A187.
No progress was reported on Project Hoefyster, the significantly behind schedule acquisition of over 200 new infantry fighting vehicles from Denel Land Systems to partially replace the Ratel system, in the Department of Defence (DoD) 2020/21 fourth quarter budgetary review and recommendation report (BRRR). Marais notes the report’s comments on Hoefyster are “not positive” adding funding “remains a mystery”.
Seven government departments, according to the BRRR, owe the DoD unspecified amounts of money for work done. They are Justice and Correctional Service, SA Police Service (SAPS) and SA Revenue Service (SARS) for veterinary services; Health for medical assistance and patient transfer at three sites (North West, Kalafong and Steve Biko Academic hospitals); Military Veterans for medical assistance; National Treasury for medical treatment of military pension officers; and Public Works and Infrastructure for bridge building. A bemused Marais has submitted a written Parliamentary question in the hope of casting some light on how this situation has been allowed to arise.
The BRRR indicates Project Biro, for new IPVs for the SA Navy (SAN) is “not sufficiently funded to honour current contractual obligations” while noting progress “was made with allocated funding for 2020/21” which is insufficient to sustain the also under construction HSV.
“My fears about these projects are confirmed – the DoD currently does not have the money to fund both. Hopefully National Treasury will provide to prevent contractors having to call in guarantees. If this happens it will be a major embarrassment,” Marais told defenceWeb.
On the utilisation of SA Navy platforms , he notes the BRRR mentions only the new acquisitions with no detail given for the Valour Class frigates, Heroine Class submarines and the replenishment vessel SAS Drakensberg (A301).
“If these platforms are not properly maintained, including midlife upgrades, they will become worthless,” is his sanguine observation.