The possibility of the national defence force following the example of sister Cabinet security cluster service the SA Police by reducing the number of generals appears slim if not non-existent.
Earlier this month it was reported that SAPS national commissioner Khehla Sitole would demote “several high-ranking police officers”. This is one outcome of a National Treasury instruction to reduce the police budget by R20 billion over the next three years, EyeWitness news reported. The radio news service indicated the police service was undergoing a restructuring process that would see more officers on the ground and less senior officials.
Sithole is reported as saying: “Instead of having more lieutenant-generals, we maybe want to terminate some positions and take them down to production level, so we can hire more constables than senior officers”.
Asked if the same could happen in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais was blunt: “The Minister (Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula) has no appetite for either reducing or demoting personnel”.
He added it appeared there was no willingness by Department of Defence (DoD) and SANDF management to “even try and return to the 40:30:30 ratio”. This calls for 40% of the defence budget, currently just over R48 billion, going to wages and salaries with the reminder evenly split between operational (training and actual operations such as the border protection tasking Operation Corona) and capital expenditure.
The DoD annual report for the 2018/19 financial year has it that wages and salaries, termed compensation of employees, accounted for 61.89% of the defence budget. This provides an income to 73 343 people in uniform as well as DoD and SANDF Public Service employees.
Another who does not hold much hope of Mapisa-Nqakula following the SAPS example is African Defence Review director Darren Olivier.
“I suspect one reason the Minister and the SANDF are reluctant to substantially reduce the number of personnel is because in nearly all cases it means either getting rid of posts defined in the force structure or leaving them unfilled. Both mean a not insignificant level of restructuring I don’t believe anyone has the stomach for,” he told defenceWeb.
He accepts the SANDF is “quite top heavy” in terms of the general staff versus troop ratio and notes “some is indeed just wastage and sinecure”.
“Much of it is a result of the 1998 Defence Review’s force design, which mandated a downsized ‘core force’ able to maintain the most important capabilities and keep things ticking over in a way that would allow for it to be augmented by a much larger reserve force in the event of a war or national emergency.”
He sees the only viable solution as a new defence review focused on how to best maintain the greatest set of technical capabilities under the kinds of low budgets the near to medium term will bring. “This will require tough choices, including retiring types, closing bases and units but there’s no longer any alternative available,” he said.
A new defence review has to come to with assurances from the President and Minister of Finance that the defence budget will at least be kept stable in inflation-adjusted terms for at least 10 years to allow for effective planning.
“Should the situation continue where the SANDF continues to receive large unexpected budget cuts outside the regular three year planning cycle, no amount of cautious downsizing and efficient restructuring will save it from collapse,” Olivier warned.