Just how low national defence expenditure has sunk on government’s priority list is illustrated in part by a Department of Defence (DoD) presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV).
Compensation of Employees (CoE), as government report writers and the bureaucracy term salaries and wages, is an ongoing concern in Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s department. It has reached the stage where Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu has flagged CoE as “irregular expenditure” for the South African military.
The DoD presentation for the fourth and final quarter of the year under review (2019/20) has it that planning was for an average personnel strength of 74 901 at a cost of R31.89 billion. A “final letter of allocation” from National Treasury gives the CoE allocation as R29.2 billion – R2.7 billion less than what the DoD asked for to pay uniformed and civilian personnel in the last 12 month period.
Further figures from National Treasury, given in the presentation, set the defence wage bill at R31.4 billion for the 2020/21 year and R33.4 billion for 2021/22.
“The reduction in the CoE budget, as imposed by Treasury, presupposes the DoD must reduce its personnel strength to fit within the allocation whilst executing a rejuvenation strategy.
“The imposed CoE budget ceiling did not take account of ordered commitments, current operations and exercises for which trained uniformed personnel are required,” according to the presentation.
The DoD requires an average human resource strength of 77 000 to “assure a more sustainable defence capability”. This comes from 75 500 in regulars and 2.6 million mandays for the Reserve Force.
Showing the committee it is making progress in personnel reduction, the presentation states force strength was 78 632 in March 2014. Six years on in March 2020 that figure is 74 096 – “a reduction in strength of 4 536”.
The much-touted Defence Review 2015, set up by former Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, remains dependent on “an improved funding trajectory” for defence. At the same time, the presentation asserts that its implementation is “work in progress”. This indicates the DoD and SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is still busy with Milestone One of the Defence Review, which is to halt the decline of the national defence force and its capabilities across land, air and sea.