The South African Department of Defence is facing more bad news in terms of its budget allocation. Although it has been granted an additional R2.8 billion for 2020/21, R1.2 billion has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic and R4 billion of the defence budget has been allocated to coronavirus relief purposes.
This is according to the Supplementary Budget Review 2020 published by National Treasury on 24 June. It states that additional money has been prioritised for the COVID-19 response, with government reprioritising R3.3 billion to support these interventions, primarily in the departments of Police and Defence. “Additional funding of R6.7 billion is provided to support the COVID-19 response and increased deployment of the police service and national defence force during the lockdown. These funds are provided mainly for the procurement of personal protective equipment, and operational costs associated with roadblocks and air support.”
The total proposed allocation for defence for the 2020/21 period is R55.3 billion, up from R52.4 billion in the 2020/21 main budget, but R4.092 billion of the defence budget has been allocated to COVID-19 response measures. This includes R1.8 billion for general support, R682 million for military health support and R875 million for force employment.
Other money has been taken away from the defence budget, with R1.2 billion in funds suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, mostly from general support (R507 million), landward defence (R174 million), administration (R193 million) and maritime defence (R104 million).
The 2020/21 proposed budget sees R17.4 billion allocated to landward defence, R7.6 billion to air defence, R4.9 billion to maritime defence and R6.3 billion to military health support. R31.9 billion will be spent on the compensation of employees.
To trim expenses, the Department of Defence is suspending activities such as advertising and training and development, cancelling official foreign travel and international engagements, suspending travel and training activities and the procurement of vehicles, postponing refurbishing buildings and trimming funds for Armscor.
Additional spending will go towards rations, fuel, medical supplies, persona protective equipment for deployed soldiers, the repatriation of South African citizens and additional Reserve Force personnel.
Darren Olivier, defence expert and director at African Defence Review, stated that while it appears the SANDF will receive an extra R2.88 billion, it has to outlay at least R4 billion on COVID-19-related activities, with the shortfall being taken from training and equipment budgets, which can’t be sustained for long.
“The SAAF for instance has R91 million in spending frozen and R330 million re-allocated to COVID-19 tasks, mostly flying. While this will mean transport and helicopter crews get a lot of operational hours, they won’t be able to offset that with training hours, meaning skills will deteriorate.
“In normal circumstances and over a short enough time period that’s not usually a problem, but the SAAF already has a training deficit caused by a series of flight hour budget cuts in past years. This is going to exacerbate that problem, and result in future capability losses. To be clear that doesn’t necessarily mean the crews or pilots are unsafe, but that they may lose currency and qualifications without continuation training time. The SAAF is extremely strict about enforcing those standards, as it has to be.
“Moreover, this means the SANDF can’t afford to both have such a large-scale response to COVID-19 and be meaningfully involved in providing assistance to the Mozambican government regarding the insurgency in its northern areas. It has to be one or the other,” Olivier said.
“The SANDF budget remains stagnant, obsolescent equipment is not being replaced, capabilities are not being preserved or restored after being lost.”
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s supplementary budget speech on 24 June was full of “doom and despair”, indicating the Department of Defence’s budget will not be getting much better anytime soon. Mboweni said the South African economy is expected to contract by 7.2% in 2020 – the largest contraction in nearly 90 years. Gross national debt is projected to be close to R4 trillion, or 81.8% of GDP by the end of this fiscal year.