Defence committee throws gauntlet down for next government

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South Africa’s next government must decide the future of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
That`s the view of the view of the National Assembly`s Portfolio Committee on Defence (PCOD) in a report tabled in the National Assembly with little fanfare last week.    
The report, arising from a series of closed meetings with the Department of Defence over three days in November last year, argues that the SANDF “has come to a cross-road, namely whether it is a finance-driven … force or whether it should migrate to a mandate-driven [organisation].
MPs and commentators have been long concerned that the SANDF has become the former while it should be the latter.    
“A decision has to be made at the highest level whether the future SANDF will be relevant and be a national asset properly and adequately funded for its mandates received from government or whether it will continue its current downward spiral of becoming inadequate to fulfil its constitutional mandate.”
The report was drafted by a team that included MPs from the governing African National Congress as well as the opposition Democratic Alliance and Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. The team was further drawn from both the PCOD and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, which includes members from the National Council of Provinces, Parliament`s upper house.        
The report also describes communication between the SANDF and the political level as inadequate. “It is crucial that greater communication between the political authority (the Minister of Defence and the Commander-in-Chief, i.e. the President of the Republic) and the SANDF should be sought.
“This consultation is vital for Government to ensure that the SANDF is adequately resourced, equipped and funded to fulfil its mandate, especially as the SANDF is continuously being used as a foreign policy tool.
The nonpartisan committee also called for the finalisation of the Defence Update 2025 “as a
matter of urgency”, arguing that since “this document provides a long term indication of the defence needs, the delays in both its finalisation and implementation mean that effective monitoring of defence activities is limited.
“The Department should submit this document to Parliament as soon as possible. A date for the submission will be directly communicated to the Department. The South African Army Vision
2025 [sic, it should read 2020], which addresses the challenges in the SA Army, must be incorporated into the Defence Update.”
The report warns that the “Portfolio Committee on Defence will not be able to support an incomplete Defence Update, since this has been a long outstanding matter and should inform all operations of the SANDF.”
The committee also signalled Treasury that they expect more to be spent on defence. “The current budgetary allocation of the DoD, as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) is inadequate to address current operational challenges.
“The Committee recommends an increase in the annual budget allocation of the DoD from the current 1.2% of GDP to 1.7% during the next four years.
“All possible efforts should be made to ensure that current limited resources are effectively directed to national defence priorities. This entails improvements in the current planning, management and monitoring of departmental spending, ensuring value for money for the DoD.
“The Committee maintains that the funding of the SANDF must be mandate driven and should not be hampered by financial restrictions.
“In addition to the above-mentioned recommendation, a decision to modernise the SA Army is needed and this must be funded as a matter of urgency.”
The committee also expressed its alarm at the ongoing skills crisis in the SANDF saying the competition for scarce skills “impact negatively on the SANDF`s ability to recruit and retain personnel.
“The DoD should consult with the Department of Public Service and Administration regarding the development and implementation of a special dispensation for SANDF members, particularly those of pilots and other scarce skills positions. The Department should submit a report on the progress made in this regard.
“The Department should [also] finalise the review process of the legal contracts that bind officers contractually to serve for a specified period after the completion of their specialised training. Employment contracts should be adequately safeguarded and must be accessible.”
Parliament also wants the Reserve Force to move to the fore, saying if the Army Reserve is to fulfil its role of providing the bulk of the landward conventional capability, “it is recommended that Members of the Reserves should participate in a conventional exercise every three years, starting at unit level and building up to a combined formation level exercise.
It adds that the “budget for the continuation of training for the Reserves should be ring-fenced.”