SA defence budget falling to only .86% of GDP

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The South African defence budget for 2021/22 is just .86% of GDP, down from .97%, causing experts to caution that the reduction will have far-reaching implications for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

The 2020/21 defence budget is R54.2 billion, but for 2021/22 it falls to R46.2 billion, representing a 14% decrease. Much of this decrease comes from the shrinkage of the Special Defence Account, which goes from R5.2 billion in 2020/21 to R1.005 billion in 2021/22.

Dr Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, researcher for the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD), gave a presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) on the analysis of the defence budget on 4 May. He said it was concerning that there is a significant curtailing of ‘sharp-end’ expenditure, with major reductions in the allocation to Infantry, Air Defence Artillery, Air Combat, Maritime combat and Special Operations. “That is really problematic in the maintenance of a professional military force,” he told MPs as prime mission equipment becomes obsolete and research and development and industry capacity diminish.

The PCDMV requested more funding from National Treasury for border safeguarding, the midlife upgrade of South African Navy vessels, the Special Defence Account and an exit mechanism for Department of Defence personnel but were told there is little scope for extra funds.

While most areas of the SANDF have had their budgets cut, the compensation of employees (CoE) remains virtually unchanged, but that means the percentage of budget spent on salaries increases from 57% in 2020/21 to 63% in 2021/22 (R29 billion).

Under the Force Employment programme, the 2021/22 defence budget decrease by R1 billion, affecting the Support to the People and Special Operations subprogrammes. Landward Defence will receive R14.5 billion next year compared to R16.6 billion at present, affecting Infantry Capability, Artillery Capability and Air Defence Capability the hardest.

For Air Defence, the targeted number of flying hours remains the same (17 100) in 2021/22 but the Air Defence allocation is decreased by R1.5 billion. Air Combat is hard hit, with its allocation going from R886 million to just R343 million. The fuel, oil and gas allocation decreases from R385 million to R176 million, impacting operations even further.

Janse Van Rensburg noted that the Maritime Defence allocation will be reduced by R680 million, with sea hours going from a targeted 10 000 to 8 000 in 2021/22.

Of the Military Health Service allocation reduction of R771 million, the most concerning aspect is the Military Health Maintenance subprogramme receiving no allocation over the next three years, while limited internal capacity means outsourcing of services increases from R261 million to R708 million in 2021/22. Unlike before, the availability of medical stock has been classified, making oversight harder.

Areas of concern include the removal of the target related to the reduction in the number of audit qualifications and the continued need for 44 defence attache offices when the Department of International Relations and Cooperation aims to close ten consulates.

Other areas of concern raised by Janse van Rensburg included the allocation on contractors from R2.1 billion in 2020/21 to R3 billion in 2021/22, and Ministry costs of R125 million for 2021/22 (R97 million the previous year). He noted that the defence ministry has one of the highest costs of all ministries in South Africa.

Cyril Xaba, Co-Chairpersons of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, raised the point that the Department of Defence had its budget reduced but kept most of its targets. He said the reduced budget means the SANDF can only achieve half or three quarters of what it states it can. “Performance is a function of the budget. When the budget is less than requested to perform a target and you don’t go to revise down the target it means the target is meaningless in my view.”



Xaba said the budget can only go so far and the SANDF can only do a fraction of what they used to because of a lack of resources.