Lack of funds pauses DoD military exit mechanism

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Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise finds herself and those under her responsible for human capital caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Work to cut a high employee compensation rate by Modise and her advisors, including Chief Director Human Resources Vice Admiral Asiel Kubu, has been cut short by a lack of money – at least temporarily.

Affected is the mobility exit mechanism (MEM), which makes provision for personnel in the four services and various divisions making up the national military apparatus to leave before reaching retirement age.

An advisory to services and divisions signed by Kubu a month ago and written by Major General NE Mkhize from the Chief Directorate (CD) of the Department of Defence (DoD) Human Resource Management (HRM) has it the “MEM threshold for 2023/24 financial year” is “exhausted, based on the budget provided by National Treasury (NT). Therefore CD HRM will no longer accept any new submissions in this FY [financial year] for processing”.

In response to a defenceWeb query, Director Defence Corporate Communication (DCC), Brigadier General Andries Mahapa, said the mobility exit mechanism for soldiers “has been successfully implemented for the financial year 2023/2024, having reached the planned separation target and its corresponding financial threshold.”

He added that, “the DoD has submitted a funding proposal to NT in order that it may continue to implement the exit strategy for soldiers over the medium term. However, the decision is awaited.”

The four services of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) – SA Army, SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Military Health (SAMHS) and SA Navy (SAN) – along with divisions including Human Resources and Joint Operations, are told MEM application dates for the 2024/25 financial year will be made known in “due time”.

The MEM, along with natural attrition and retirement, are the core pillars the DoD employs to cut personnel numbers over a period of time to what is deemed an acceptable strength of 73 000 for the SANDF over the three-year medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) to keep the budget under control.

This is the number Modise gave when responding to a Parliamentary question from Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) public representative Washington Mafanya last September.

He was told by her R1 billion is available from National Treasury in the current financial year (2022/23) to assist the DoD to fit in the compensation of employees allocation, with R800 million earmarked for the 2023/24 financial year. The funds will see the “planned exit of approximately 3 048 uniformed members through MEM (mobility exit mechanism).” She did not specify numbers per financial reporting period.

A presentation to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) by the HR Division of the SANDF revealed that some 1 500 members were ‘separated’ in 2022/23 at a cost of R990 million while nearly 1 300 will exit the SANDF in 2023/24 at a projected cost of R1.2 billion.

Over 60% of the R51 billion defence budget for 2023/24 goes to compensation of employees, with salaries taking the majority, followed by allowances for, among others, continental and in-country deployments.

Another component of reducing the human resource part of the SANDF is reducing Reserve Force mandays to 1.9 million, down from 2.6 million as well as having a military skills development (MSD) system intake every second year, with the current calendar year being the first of the biennial intakes. Plans have and are being formulated to cap annual operational and regimental allowance increases and de-activate normal posts vacant for over five years as other means of cutting the allowances and salary bill.