Archive: Navy was catalyst in defence oversight revolution

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The SA Navy was the unwitting catalyst that triggered South Africa’s defence oversight revolution when it went to Parliament in 1995 to ask for new frigates.

FEATURE-AU-DEFENCE-SA by Leon Engelbrecht
   ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia May 1 2005 Sapa
   NAVY WAS CATALYST IN SA DEFENCE OVERSIGHT REVOLUTION
   The SA Navy was the unwitting catalyst that triggered South Africa’s defence oversight revolution when it went to Parliament in 1995 to ask for new frigates.
   Maj Gen Len le Roux (Retd) of the Pretoria-based Institute for Strategic Studies told a conference on defence budgeting in Addis Ababa over the Ethiopian Orthodox Easter that South Africa did not arrive at its current defence governance model by accident or by miracle.
   Instead, the Navy’s request triggered a response by the Department of Defence, then still largely distrusted and in the hands of the “old guard” from the apartheid military, despite the start of integration, to explain its future vision to the largely ANC-controlled Parliament.
   It was made clear to the military that until they could explain how the ships – or other equipment – would fit in with the department’s democratisation and transformation, Parliament would decline such requests.
   The result was the 1996 Defence White Paper, 1998 Defence Review – which involved substantial civil society input – and the 2002 Defence Act.
   Other reforms that distinguish the civil oversight of South Africa’s armed forces from that of nearly all others on the continent is its subordination to the constitution and other national legislation.
   “The Treasury is empowered to coordinate the national budget-preparation process, to manage the implementation of the national budget and to play a financial oversight role in all spheres of government,” he said, adding South Africa was a worthy model for others to emulate.
   “This legal empowerment has been well exercised by the minister of finance and the Treasury and has led to financial management and budgetary processes that conform to international best practice.”
   Financial policy and economic reform in South Africa have led to the introduction and implementation of medium-term planning and budgeting in the form of a three-year medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF), he said.
   The MTEF, he said, has brought greater transparency, certainty and stability to the budgetary process and has strengthened the links between policy priorities and the government’s medium-term spending plans.
   If he had one concern, ten years later, it was that the defence department had become less inclined to engage civil society on military issues.
   An ongoing review of the Defence Review, for example, was currently taking place behind closed doors.
   He was also concerned that there was now a misalignment between the stated policy and the practice.
   It was hoped the “review of the review” would sort out the mismatch.
   Responding to questions on the role of Parliamentarians, he said civil-military relations were not a one-way street.
   MPs should primarily concern themselves with supervising the state, including the military, but this does not mean they should not lobby for defence when the armed services are underfunded, miss-equipped or abused.
   “Civil military relations are not one-way control down; it is an active partnership between government, parliament and the military.
   Le Roux had a number of recommendations for the country. These included:
   – The South African defence department, in conjunction with the Portfolio Committee on Defence, revisit the assumptions on which the force design described in the Defence Review is based.
   “The main assumptions that need to be reconsidered are the internal role of the SANDF, the future role of the SANDF in peace missions and the sustainable level of the military budget. This will assist in aligning military planning and the MTEF,” Le Roux said. This could include refocusing the defence force’s composition into a mobile “expeditionary force” for peacekeeping and intervention operations.
   – Expenditure on the rent and maintenance of state property used by the military, but currently appearing in the budget of the Department of Public Works, should appear in the military budget. “This would ensure the full visibility of military expenditure and the full costing of all military activities.”
   – The process for reimbursing the DOD for non-military expenditure, such as support for the SA Police Service in maintaining internal law and order, should be streamlined in order to ensure that these expenses are clearly identifiable.
   – The DOD should continue to develop its relationship with civil society through direct interaction and develop its Internet site in order to further enhance transparency and increase public understanding of the role of the military. The military was one of the first state departments to set up a website, but underfunding and a lack of dedicated staff have caused it to fall behind nearly other state agencies.
   Sapa
   /le/np