R85 million worth of technology didn’t reach SANDF soldiers on the border

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The Joint Operations Division of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) had the wool well and truly pulled over its eyes by the officer commanding the Department of Defence (DoD) Central Procurement Service Centre (CPSC) earlier this year.

The massive and costly subterfuge was revealed by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise in reply to a Parliamentary question posed by African National Congress (ANC) parliamentarian Alexandra Beukes. She, as a member of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV), wanted to know how a National Treasury approved amount of R85 million was spent on “borderline technology” in the 2022/23 financial year. Beukes asked Modise to elaborate on “procurement challenges” standing in the way of acquisition as well as what is and will be done to prevent similar occurrences.

Modise, without once mentioning any specific equipment such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), radios or even vehicles, went into some detail on the CPSC acquisition as well as an Armscor one that didn’t meet muster.

On the CPSC, her response reads, in part: “a batch of equipment and items procurement process was conducted through the DoD CPSC in accordance with the type of equipment/items as well as the financial delegation threshold”.

It continues: “The officer in charge at the CPSC (Officer Commanding) informed the client (Joint Operations HQ) that the procurement process is progressing well and accordingly. This feedback was provided on a regular basis to Joint Ops as they conducted regular follow up on a weekly basis. However, later in January 2023 it was incidentally discovered that there were no records at the CPSC for such procurement. It was discovered that the CPSC Officer Commanding had all along deceived the client, Joint Ops, for this entire period. The Officer Commanding has since been removed from his post in January 2023 to allow investigation on various issues.”

While not in the same league, the acquisition entrusted to Armscor did not reach the expected conclusion of delivery by March 2023 as promised. The relevant part of the Ministerial response reads: “Armscor indicated to us due consultation was undertaken and the relevant suppliers/service providers confirmed to honour the requirement of the set delivery date. This did not materialise as the service providers later indicated that they are unable to deliver before end of February 2023 as agreed”.

Some time ago it was revealed Joint Operations planned to spend R85 million on border security technology for the 2022/23 financial year with a focus on high and low technology. High technology equipment was tp include tactical radios and surveillance equipment for land and sea applications and reliable communications systems.

In late 2021, Joint Operations revealed R225 million was allocated to procure or acquire prime mission equipment for border protection use for the three-year 2020/21 medium term expenditure framework (MTEF). Of this, R65 million was allocated in 2020/21 and R75 million in 2021/22. R32 million was allocated for the procurement of UAVs.

As to what’s being done to prevent recurrences of delivery issues, Modise’s response to Beukes has it: “The DoD is in the process of undertaking wide ranging programmes and activities to address the various challenges of the prevailing challenges in the procurement process and or system (sic)”.

Additional border security technology will be acquired by the SANDF in coming years. In March, it was revealed National Treasury is giving the SANDF a R700 million injection over the next three years for procurement of vehicles and surveillance technology for border security. The ‘troop pack’ vehicles (at present Toyota Land Cruisers) will be replaced with off-the-shelf vehicles and R500 million will be spent in 2024/25 for this.

R200 million worth of sensor technology will be acquired for Operation Corona in 2025/26, including a geographic information system (GIS) capability (R22.5 million); intelligence collection and processing capabilities (R47 million under Project Baobab); upgraded Chaka command and control system (R7.2 million); Reutech RSR 903 radars (R57 million); 60 observation posts (R16 million under Project Dominate); 16 quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (R16 million) and two long range UAVs (R24 million).