Slight increase in medium term defence budget

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South Africa’s Department of Defence (DoD) is getting slightly more funding from National Treasury, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has revealed in his medium-term budget delivered on Wednesday 1 November.

The adjusted defence budget vote allocates an extra R1.343 billion to the Department of Defence for 2023/24, bringing the total defence allocation to R52.468 billion.

Of the additional funds, the majority is going towards Force Employment (R680 million), followed by Landward Defence (R474 million), Air Defence (R289 million), Military Health Support (R156 million), General Support (R128 million), and Administration (R122 million). Maritime Defence is seeing a R508 million reduction.

The Defence vote explained that Cabinet approved reductions of R607 million to the defence budget, but an additional R1.2 billion was allocated to cover increased spending on the compensation of employees (CoE) in line with the 2023/24 wage agreement. “This results in a net increase of R592.72 million to the department’s baseline.”

Apart from this R592 million allocation, much of the additional funds going to defence in 2023/24 come from ‘self-financing expenditure’. As detailed in the Defence vote, “revenue of R751.035 million was generated through reimbursements from the United Nations and African Union for South Africa’s contribution towards peace support operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique (through Operation Vikela); and from the sale of equipment and spares procured through the Special Defence Account.”

These funds will be used for operational expenses related to the continued deployment of two Oryx and three Rooivalk helicopters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the United Nations peacekeeping mission there, and to provide for ‘critical elements’, such as upgrading prime mission equipment, outlined in the South African Defence Review 2015.

In his medium-term budget vote speech, Godongwana said the South African Police Service, the Defence Force, the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Department of Home Affairs and the Border Management Authority have all received additional allocations as part of providing a safe environment.

Defence expert Dean Wingrin believes that “whilst an additional allocation is always welcome, most is going to the unfunded Compensation of Employees shortfall. Both the Air Force and the Navy will be very disappointed – their already chronic serviceability and availability rates will not get any better.”

On SA National Defence Force activity for the first half of 2023/24, National Treasury reported that 3 462 hours have been flown by the Air Force, out of 12 000 a year targeted, and the Navy has spent 1 544 hours at sea, out of 8 000 targeted. “The number of hours at sea is relatively low against an annual target of 8 000 hours. This was due to delays in the repair and maintenance of vessels. Performance is expected to improve in the second half of the year,” the Defence vote read.

While sluggish in some areas, the Department of Defence had used 1 485 059 Reserve Force man days by mid‐year against an annual target of 1 989 953. “This high achievement was due to the ad hoc deployment of the South African National Defence Force to support the South African Police Service in preventing and combating the burning of trucks in KwaZulu‐Natal, and guarding power stations across the country.” It is likely the National Defence Force will again exceed its Reserve Force man days allocation as it battles with defence cuts and members leaving through the Mobility Exit Mechanism.