Defence gets short end of stick: FF+, analysts


Finance minister Pravin Gordhan gas given the military the short end of the stick. That’s the view of Freedom Front Plus defence spokesman and at leat two respected defence analysts.

The Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) published yesterday afternoon alongside Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan’s annual udget speech shows a 2010/11 budget of R30.715 billion, less than the trimmed R31.325 billion announced in October and the R32.024 allocated last year February.

The Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) published in October hinted at a joint defence and intelligence budget of R36.5 billion. The intelligence budget is classified but believed to be about R2.8 billion, meaning Gordhan has either cut the medium term figure or has allocated the state security establishment a massive budget increase.

In the MTBPS the 2011 budget was boosted from a projected R34.418 billion to R39.3 billion, an increase of some R5 billion. The 2012 budget was set to be R41.9 billion. But this has now been trimmed. The defence department can expect R33.931 billion next April and R36.386 billion in 2012. Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier say this is about R8 billion less for the over-stretched military over the MTEF period.

Defence strategist and consultant Rear Admiral (Retd) Rolf Hauter says “after spending some time looking at the figures [in the ENE] one notices that the [Airbus Military] A400M programme cancellation accounts for a large chunk of the “budget Cut”. Nevertheless. the statement wrt sustainability remains valid. Difficult decision will have to be made sooner rather than later.”

FF+ defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald says the budget … is too little and harms the combat readiness of the Defence Force. For the current financial year the SANDF only got 4% of the total budget but it is now being lowered to 3.8% of the total budget for 2010/2011. It is very clear that the Defence Force has been given the short end of the stick in the budget.
“The Defence Budget is still approximately 1.3% of GDP. The IMF and World Bank accept that developing countries such as ours should have a defence budget of approximately 2% of GDP. Given the fact that South Africa is involved in African peacekeeping operations, a figure lower than 2% threatens its operational capabilities and its combat readiness. The result of the low budget is that the Defence Force is under-staffed with regards to its permanent force members and more equipment is becoming useless and unserviceable.
“This results in members not being able to receive proper training and lowers the morale. A typical example is the number of flight hours in the Air Force of the 2008/09 year being lowered from 11 099 to only 9500 hours at present. With regards to the Navy, the number of sea-hours spent on patrol has been lowered from the current 11 000 hours to 10 000. This, despite the sophisticated weaponry such as the Hawks, Gripens, submarines and corvettes [frigates] which the taxpayers had to fork out billions for. The taxpayers are being undermined when extremely sophisticated weaponry is purchased with its money but it lies rusting away because funds are not available to use them operationally”, Groenewald said.

Defence analyst and writer Helmoed-Römer Heitman says the situation is “bad”, but is “cushioned to an extent by the A400M cancellation and the winding up of some major projects, so to an extent it is funding foregone rather than lost.
“But it will be aggravated by the money needed to fund the higher salaries and the personnel costs that are budgeted to outstrip the general budget increase over the period.
“Given the reality that it is really only the ongoing Gripen project and the ramping up Hoefyster [new generation infantry combat vehicle] project that will need really large amounts of money during this period, I expect that this is survivable. Other projects Vistula [trucks], GBADS II [air defence], Biro [offshore patrol vessels], Hotel [hydrographic vessel], etc will really only require large amounts of money after the current period. One problem is that potential bidders might simply not believe that funding will be made available, and not bother to bid. That is what happened with Hoefyster.
“Overall this is a bad step backwards that is going to cost us in the long run: The only place where immediate savings can be made is training, which is already badly under-funded, equipment maintenance and the acquisition/procurement of smaller items, all of which are needed.
“I note one particular insanity: The [ENE] proudly states that it has saved money by cutting back on “books, pamphlets, newspapers and magazines”. This in a defence force that reads so little that one really cannot call it professional. If we want to commit military suicide over time, that is a good starting point; dumb down the force to the level where we have the least professional force on the continent as well as antique equipment. And then commit it to an operation against people who do care about their soldiers.”

Pic:A Military Health Service Mfezi armoued ambulance seen through some vicious thorns at the SA Army Combat Training Centre, November 2006. A metaphor for the tough times ahead?