The military has many success stories, not limited to the success of supporting democracy and peace-keeping initiatives in Africa, securing the South African airspace during the Fifa World Cup Soccer, securing borders against illegal activities, humanitarian and disaster relief, and being the military provider of last resort when all else fails, such as during last year’s public service strike at 74 hospitals. We wish to commend the Minister of Defence for these achievements.
Last year, Honourable Minister, you commended the ACDP’s input as we argued passionately for more funds for the military. This follows years of underfunding. We will continue to argue for more funding.
The secretary of defence, ms Mpumi Mpofu, as well as the Minister have argued that you require additional funding after having received only R520 million of the additional R5.1 billion requested.
For us as parliamentarians to be sympathetic and exercise our powers in terms of the Monetary Bills Amendment Act, we must be assured that funds allocated will be properly spent.
This brings me to the vexed issue of VIP travel. We in the ACDP are extremely disappointed at the estimated expenditure of R808 million on the lease of two additional VIP jets. We would ask, Honourable Minister, to help us understand the motivation behind this expenditure, given that the Portfolio Committee emphasised that maximum efficiency and accounting in the use of limited resources is essential.
What message does that send out to the average person who is struggling with widespread poverty and unemployment.
This expense is in addition to the President’s Boeing which is reported to cost some R600 million to buy, fit and maintain. Surely it would be cheaper to charter a jet when the President’s Boeing is not available. The total cost of charters last year was R36.9million, less than a quarter the R160 million available per year over five years with the allocated R808 million. The department is required to save R1.3 billion over the medium term. This would have gone some way to achieve that saving.
The cost saving could also be used to finance increases in salaries and benefits for members as well as operational expenses. It is interesting that last year I travelled with former UN Secretary General Khofi Annan to Nairobi on a commercial airline. If he can fly on a commercial airline, why can’t our former presidents, considering that he also has security concerns.
Minister, you courageously cancelled the exorbitant airbus contact. Should you not do the same here, or at the very least consider leasing aircraft that are convertible between roles, having VIP modules that can be fitted when required.
As far as trade unions in the military are concerned, we support your views in opposing such trade unions and look forward to processing legislation in this regard. However, as my colleagues have pointed out, the department will have to deal with grievances properly and expeditiously.
May I conclude by saying that we can be proud of the exceptional role our Defence Force has and continues to play, in the country and on the continent, notwithstanding severe budget constraints. Let us spend funds more wisely to properly equip, train and pay our men in uniform who are prepared to offer the supreme sacrifice in defence of our country and its citizens. The ACDP also wishes to thank the Chief of the National Defence Force for his commitment and hard work and wishes him well as the ambassador to Angola.
I thank you.
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