Lion’s share of defence budget goes to salaries

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Compensation of employees (CoE) is the largest cost driver in the Department of Defence (DoD), according to the latest Estimates of National Expenditure (ENEs) released as part of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s national budget on Wednesday.

National Treasury’s expenditure overview for Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s area of responsibility notes the DoD’s core activities are labour intensive, accounting for 61.4% (R88.4 billion) of its total expenditure of R140.2 billion over the MTEF (Medium Term Expenditure Framework) period.

A reduction of R3.9 billion in the current financial year with further reductions of R5.3 billion in 2022/23 and R3 billion in 2023/24 was announced as part of a Cabinet decision to stabilise government debt over the medium term. Implementation will be via a freeze on salary increases for all employees in government service, including those in uniform.

Another slight saving on CoE is envisaged by a decrease in personnel numbers. This, according to National Treasury, is expected to be 342, from 73 500 in 2020/21 to 73 158 in 2023/24 mainly through natural attrition. In what can be seen as a further attempt to limit CoE, the DoD “expects to fill only critical posts as they become vacant”.

Mapisa-Nqakula’s men and women have to make do with less funding to meet the national defence force’s Constitutional mandate of making all South Africans feel they are safe and secure.

This government bean counters at National Treasury translate into a 4.5% (R15.4 billion) reduction in funds over the medium term. Expenditure decreases annually from R54.2 billion in the immediate past financial year to R47.2 billion in 2023/24. This includes reductions of R119.9 million in 2021/22, R145.2 million in 2022/23 and R140 million in 2023/24 on transfers to Armscor.

There are several areas where National Treasury sees the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) cutting expenditure: “other reductions will be effected proportionately across all programmes, mainly CoE; goods and services including computer services, contractors, fuel, oil and gas; travel and subsistence as well as food and food supplies.”

The current financial year sees defence allocated R46.268 billion of total government spending of R2 trillion over the medium term, the majority of which Mboweni told the National Assembly goes toward social services.

With, at present, marginal decreases envisaged for defence over the next two financial terms, it’s clear the commitment to spending on social services, including grants, will dominate government spending.

For the 2022/23 financial year National Treasury has pencilled in R46.777 billion, rising to R47.159 billion in 2023/24 for the South African military to use in enforcing its mandate and paying those in its service, be they in uniform or civilian clothing.

The DoD and SANDF will in the current financial year spend its allocation in eight defined areas, each including the CoE component and other expenses.



The single largest expense is landward defence at R14.523 billion, followed by “general support” of R6.323 billion; air defence at R5.969 billion; administration at R5.514 billion; military health support at R5.306 billion; maritime defence at R4.278 billion; force employment at R3.596 billion and defence intelligence at the back of the queue with R758 million.