National Treasury fails “abysmally” on defence

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One not impressed by suggestions that the Department of Defence (DoD) and National Treasury (NT) “engage” on budgetary constraints, irregular expenditure and the South African military salary bill is respected defence analyst Helmoed Heitman.

As an example, he points to what he terms “NT’s abysmal failure” to understand that not maintaining complex equipment and systems is more costly over time than maintaining them properly.

Reinforcing this Heitman said NT are “in essence, bookkeepers”. “They are supposed to manage government funds and allocate them as per Cabinet directives. But, as in the United Kingdom, they developed delusions of grandeur and believe it is up to them to allocate funds as they see fit.

“Unfortunately, these delusions of grandeur overreach their understanding of how government departments work,” he told defenceWeb, citing the example of “continuous whining about defence personnel costs”.

“The insistence it be cut back to match other departments simply doesn’t grasp that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is different. NT clearly has no idea at all of personnel numbers the force needs to meet its various commitments.”

To illustrate and “having done my homework”, Heitman said the SA Army is “considerably under-strength for what it is supposed to be doing”, the SA Air Force (SAAF) is in line with other countries and the SA Navy (SAN) is “a bit over-strength”. Supporting divisions such as human resources, joint operations and logistics are over-strength and cuts “could be made”.

“If all the possible surplus people are taken out of the SAN, SAHMS, DHQ et al, there would still not be enough to make up the shortfall in the Army. While the SANDF/DoD is over-ranked – particularly in the supporting divisions and DHQ, aligning that would not make much difference. The only way the SANDF could cut its personnel cost to meet the NT demand would be to terminate border patrols or external deployments and cut some posts, the loss of which would hurt later,” is his candid view.

He repeated a long-held and often stated opinion in closing saying: “South Africa needs to be clear the actual blame lies with the President and Cabinet. Either they have decided to let the country’s defence capability (and policing etc.) decline or they simply ducked the issue and leave it to the bookkeepers to decide how to spend available funds. Either way, the President and Cabinet are culpable.

“My bottom line remains the same as always: Cabinet must decide what role South Africa should play in the region and/or on the continent, what level of security risk the country should accept and fund the SANDF accordingly.”