Treasury funding not the only mountain SA defence industry has to climb

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It is common knowledge the South African defence industry is, to use a nautical term, in the doldrums, with a lack of government funding to finance acquisition. There is a second leg to the problem which also lies with government in the form of employees – so-called public servants.

This came forcefully to light during a Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) meeting last week when the Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association of SA (AMD) updated Parliamentarians on the SA defence industry, now widely abbreviated to the acronym SADI.

To support its presentation AMD showed committee members a six-page document listing any number of problems, “challenges” in government-speak, encountered regularly by local defence industry companies when dealing with the Directorate Conventional Arms Control (DCAC) and the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC).

One point of many highlighted by the industry’s representative body are “irregular” NCACC meetings. Monthly meetings are “cancelled” with “issues” (presumably agenda items) moved to the next scheduled meeting.

“This causes applications to be moved a further month or more after being processed by the DCAC over mostly unreasonable times. These unreasonable times include for example, DCAC receiving an application, sending it for departmental review and finding ‘error/s’ on the application. DCAC has the rule they do not contact Industry, but Industry must contact them to follow up on status of applications,” according to AMD.

DCAC, according to AMD, “seldom” answer telephones; “do not appear to work normal working hours”; “seldom work on Fridays”; and submission and collection of applications can only be done Monday to Thursday between 08h00 and 12h00. AMD continues, stating DCAC “does not respond in writing” and “there is little to no continuity in processing applications” applicable particularly when staff are on leave or off sick.

Responding to AMD, the JSCD called for “better co-ordination and improved lines of communication” between government and SADI. Joint JSCD chairs Cyril Xaba and Mamagase Nchabeleng bemoaned the non-implementation of the national aerospace and defence masterplan saying in a statement: “Again we are faced with an impressive plan on paper and implementation remains the Achilles heel. We need to resolve this urgently”.

Separately, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais, who sits on the JSCD and the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV), said the presentation exposed “shortcomings” in NCACC performance and DCAC administration. He told defenceWeb the NCACC “has a lot to answer for”.

“If they (the NCACC) snooze we all lose,” he said with reference to SADI employing more people to supply products and services to a SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in need of them to boost capabilities.

The Parliamentary oversight committee agreed there is a need to review the National Conventional Arms Control Act to reflect “a changed environment and SADI’s export outlook”.

The JSCD welcomed the “commitment” of industry and Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise to hold the “delayed defence industry lekgotla” now set for no later than March next year.