Analysts welcome defence budget boost

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Defence analysts have welomed the R9 billion medium term increase in the defence budget, saying it shows Treasury has realised the South African National Defence Force had fallen into dire straights through underfunding.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan yesterday trimmed this year’s defence budget

R700 million, but also pencilled in increases for the next three years that will take military spending to R41 billion in 2012.

Next year’s budget – according to figures released this February – was to have been R32.389 billion. It will now be R36.5 billion, about R4 billion more. Because the MTBPS defence figure may also include the state security (intelligence budget) as well, it is not clear if the full amount will go to defence. Certainly most of it will.

The 2011 budget has also been boosted from R34.418 billion to R39.3 billion, an increase of some R5 billion. The 2012 budget is set to be R41.9 billion, according to medium term Treasury estimates.

This increase comes close to the figures sought by the defence department in its 2007/8 Annual Report. That document avered that defence needed R41.3 billion in the 2011/12 financial year to finance a credible force design (CFD) that can support a revitalised military as well as current peace operations – a key plank in SA’s foreign policy.

The DoD wanted R45 billion in 2017 and R46 billion by 2023, at which level spending would stabilise.

Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman says his reading of the budget is that given the financial crisis the DoD can feel quite happy.

“The increases over the next two years, if that money is not for the intelligence services, are good news and will go some way towards giving the SANDF room for manoeuvre as it tries to recover,” he said.

“But the 7.2% growth (over the period) is below the typical defence equipment inflation rate.”

Heitman says overall “the budget seems to suggest that government has heeded the warnings by the Joint Standing Committee on Defence last year that the SANDF was in a death spiral.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal professor Deane-Peter Baker said the MTBPS “is a move in the right direction, and I’m pleased to see government recognising the serious situation that the SANDF is in.

“If the SANDF is to be able to fulfil it’s mandate, then more funding is absolutely essential. The extra funding is also important considering the fact that responsibility for border control is being handed back to the military.

“In the end, it’s important, even in the face of severe economic times, that government remember that it’s first duty – the core justification for the existence of a state in the first place – is to protect its citizens. A properly designed and professional military is a key element in fulfilling that duty,” Baker said.

Heitman added that even the R700 million cut was insignificant. “If I read this right, the cut in effect comes almost entirely from delayed payments in respect of the (Airbus Military) A400M and exchange rate gains and is therefore, not really a cut.”

He also commented on the DoD’s CFD projections, saying “the DoD’s own views of how much it needs are largely the views of a small group who are utterly in awe of the Treasury, see the MTEF (Medium Term Expenditure Framework) as some sort of holy, unbendable edict, and have long based their calculations on how much they think Treasury will deign to dispense, rather than on what the SANDF needs in order to conduct current operations, train properly, maintain equipment and acquire new equipment to fill gaps.”

The National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Defence earlier this year called for a mandate-driven defence budget rather than one based on living within Treasury strictures.

“It will be interesting to see how Defence 2010-2030 (the update of the 1996 White Paper on Defence and 1998 Defence Review) translates into budget requests,” Heitman said. Deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla last month said that document should reach Parliament and the public domain next month.



Pic: The R8 billion Rooivalk development programme – still incomplete – stretches back to March 1984. Project Impose, as the programme is known, is the SANDF’s poster-child for the devastating impact underfunding can have on defence procurement and the fielding of military capability.