Archive: Defence spending not unique

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Africa has to stop treating military budgets as unique, a conference on the matter heard at the weekend.

   Armed forces in Africa often cited strategic reasons or secrecy as justification for not following generally accepted rules of public expenditure management (PEM).

AU-DEFENCE-BUDGET by Leon Engelbrecht

   ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia May 1 2005 Sapa

   AFRICA ‘MUST STOP TREATING MILITARY BUDGETS AS UNIQUE’

   Africa has to stop treating military budgets as unique, a conference on the matter heard at the weekend.

   Armed forces in Africa often cited strategic reasons or secrecy as justification for not following generally accepted rules of public expenditure management (PEM).

   The conference at the African Union in Addis Ababa was also told that much of the continent’s defence spending was arbitrary, as it was not informed by policy.

   Correcting that deficiency, and introducing proper PEM, was two of eleven recommendations made by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), the African Security Dialogue and Research institute of Ghana and Ethiopia’s InterAfrica Group (IAG) after a detailed study of eight countries, including South Africa.

   “Two of these recommendations stand out, as they are key to the transformation of the military budgetary processes in the sample countries; they are also the main factors that distinguish the relatively successful South African experience from the less successful processes in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria and Sierra Leone,” the study said.

   “The two key recommendations are: a well-articulated defence policy should be developed to guide activities in the military sector, and political leaders should make a real commitment to institutionalizing the budgetary process.

   The study’s authors explained there is an urgent need in many countries to develop a defence policy that will provide guidelines for all activities in the military sector, including budgeting.

   “Such a policy should be subject to public scrutiny and should have input from critical stakeholders in the sector, including the military, civilian members of the defence ministry, the internal and foreign affairs ministries, and members of civil society.

   “There is also a need to develop a defence plan based on the guidelines provided in the defence policy. The means for attaining the objectives in the plan, in terms of both strategy and resources, should also be spelled out. This presupposes that the plan is set within the overall national objectives and economic framework in the first place since achievable defence objectives must take account of a nation’s economic realities,” the study said.

   “Transparency” was also a fundamental principle that should guide the processes of developing the defence policy and the defence plan.

   “This should not just be through the involvement of stakeholders in the processes; transparency means that the policy should be made readily accessible to the general public through various means, including the Internet and public awareness programmes.”

   Other recommendation included strengthening oversight institutions such as parliament, the auditor-general’s office and the finance ministry.

   “The parliament needs a well-staffed research unit that will support its defence committee when dealing with the executive on military matters and that will enable it to raise fundamental issues concerning the management of the defence forces.

   “Similarly, the auditor-general’s office needs more and better-qualified staff in order to perform its function as government watchdog efficiently, especially in providing timely reports.

   The process also had to be made simple since a major problem in a number of African states is the lack of personnel qualified to handle the tasks at various stages of the budgetary process.

“This should be done without undermining the main principles: transparency, accountability, discipline and honesty.

   To guarantee transparency and accountability and to encourage public participation in the process, secrecy laws need repealing and replacement by legislation guaranteeing citizens access to information.

   “This will ensure that secrecy legislation cannot be used to protect state officials by covering up their misdeeds… However, in view of the genuine need for confidentiality in certain aspects of defence, there is a requirement for legislation that regulates access to confidential information by certain categories of people or those who are expected to exercise oversight. Confidentiality should not preclude accountability.”

   There is need for a wider participation by civil society in the process in order to form a more representative policy.

   “The more people from outside government who are given the opportunity to contribute to policy formulation or review, the more legitimacy will be conferred on both the process and the resulting policy. Moreover, an inclusive process will eliminate, or reduce to a minimum, the general public’s common suspicion of military activities generally and military spending in particular.”

   In this regard, the research was generally complimentary of South Africa.

   “This study shows that what South Africa appears to have but other African countries lack is a strong commitment from the highest level of political authorities to allowing the budgetary process to function optimally with minimum interference.

   “This not only allows the process to mature but also ensures that rules guiding the process are adhered to and that no one is immune from prosecution when laws are broken… In South Africa the result is there for all to see. The countries where the leadership themselves subvert the law and fail to prosecute corrupt public officials because of their political connections have weak and dysfunctional budgetary processes that cannot achieve the result they were set up to deliver” the study’s authors said.

   Sapa



   /le/np