The costs associated with deploying South African troops and equipment to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a component of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) of the United Nations mission in that country has been a budgetary bugbear for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) since it first deployed in 2013.
As part of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO), more than 1 300 SANDF personnel and South African Air Force (SAAF) rotary-winged aircraft, including three Rooivalk attack helicopters and five SAAF Oryx medium transport helicopters, are in the country at any one time as part of Operation Mistral. It is the largest contingency of peacekeepers deployed abroad by South Africa.
The UN reimburses countries that provide soldiers to peacekeeping missions, with reimbursement based on actual strength of troops in UN missions and the equipment held by them.
In the case of the SANDF contingent in the DRC, it means the costs associated with the deployment, including salaries, rations and uniforms, accommodation, fuel, maintenance, logistics and so on are paid directly from the SANDF’s annual budget. However, the UN repayment then goes into National Treasury’s B7 account. Thus, the SANDF pays for the deployment, but the proceeds go to the general fiscus, to be accessed by other government departments.
For an organisation chronically underfunded and struggling to meet its operational and maintenance requirements, it is a bitter pill to swallow.
While it is not known what the total cost of Operation Mistral has been since 2013, or what amounts have been reimbursed by the UN, an indication can be found in a letter signed by President Jacob Zuma, SANDF Commander-in-Chief and tabled at a meeting of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) on May 12. In the letter, it states the cost of the next year’s deployment (from April 1 this year to March 31, 2018) for 1 371personnel will be R979 253 751.
Responding to a post-budget vote question by defenceWeb, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula acknowledged MONUSCO expenditure comes from the current defence allocation.
She confirmed “over the years, the money reimbursed by the UN would go to the national fiscus. So every other government department would have access to that money.”
Compounding the hurt, Mapisa-Nqakula noted when it was time to service equipment leased to the UN, “the challenge is then we have to do those repairs and servicing with our own allocation.”
It now appears this inequity is about to end. Following a recent meeting between Mapisa-Nqakula and Malusi Gigaba, the Minister of Finance, an inter-departmental task team was formed, led by Secretary for Defence Dr Sam Gulube on behalf of the Ministry of Defence and the acting Director General of National Treasury, Dondo Mogajane.
As a result, Treasury was acquainted with “challenges” experienced by the SANDF, with the Ministry of Defence no longer seen “as any other government department.” It was then agreed future UN reimbursement funds would not go to the general fiscus as had previously been the case, but would be ring-fenced for the purpose of servicing SANDF equipment.
A further challenge faced by the SANDF was UN reimbursements would often be delayed as a result of incorrect paperwork.
“It is squarely the responsibility of the SANDF and the Department of Defence,” Mapisa-Nqakula explained, “If you don’t get your paperwork done, then of course there are going to be delays. If there are delays, it is because of our own incompetence.”
Another issue is the UN may make deductions for absent or unserviceable equipment. The UN has said previously aging equipment of long-deployed contingents in older missions such as MONUSCO may become unserviceable or difficult to repair.
Mapisa-Nqakula acknowledged South Africa has had to pay penalties for equipment “which is not 100%.”
Further good news on the funding front from the Minister is that Parliaments’ Appropriations Committee has begun to discuss how the SANDF could get additional funding for Operation Corona, the national border protection tasking.
MONUSCO, the largest UN peacekeeping operation, is currently headed by former SANDF Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi.
A second, far smaller SANDF deployment is involved in training the DRC’s military under Operation Thebe.