South Africa’s shrinking defence budget looks set to shrink even further in the coming few years and this has necessitated Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her senior command structure to think out of the box to keep the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) operational and viable.
Addressing the National Assembly this week, she pointed out it was in South Africa’s national interest to have a defence force capable of supporting national security imperatives, foreign policy objectives and the country’s economic interests.
Defence has been allocated R47 billion for the current financial year, an amount the Minister maintains is half of what is needed to train, maintain and effectively deploy airmen, military medics, sailors and soldiers.
She told MPs the SANDF must have the capacity to defend and safeguard the sovereignty of the Republic, keep and enforce peace outside its borders and have an offensive capability to deter potential aggressors.
“In order to do this, the defence force should be sufficiently resourced and skilled to execute operations across the full spectrum of conflict. An inadequately resourced defence force will have a negative impact on operational outputs, including the loss of life. As a country we have come to the point where we must make a critical decision on the future of the defence force.
“The longer we delay arresting the decline, the harder and more expensive it will become to reverse this trend.
“The budget for the financial year 2016/17 is R47 billion which is approximately 1.05% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Our MTEF [medium term expenditure framework] allocations indicate for the financial year 2017/18, our budget will decline to 1.03% of GDP and for financial year 2018/19 further decline to 0.98% of GDP. These figures indicate a persistent decline of the defence budget.”
She told MPs these decreases would have serious implications on South Africa’s defence function, giving six examples. These are the ability of the Department of Defence (DoD) to rejuvenate the SANDF; employees’ compensation will be affected; the force will continue to age; there will be insufficient soldiers to sustain operations; skills gaps in the defence force will increase and the loss of expertise will be accelerated.
An example of how the diminishing defence budget has impacted on the SANDF is the reduction in number of military skills development volunteers, down to 3 863 last year from a high of 8 955 four years earlier.
Similarly, over the last seven years the reduction in the operating and capital portions of the defence allocation has adversely affected training and operations. This, the Minister said, had far-reaching implications for the DoD and South Africa, given the ever-increasing demands placed on the SANDF.
“Defence is consistently 50% under-funded with compounding effects on the ability to conduct operations,” she said.
With no sign of a change in approach from National Treasury as regards any increase in the defence budget, Mapisa-Nqakula has asked her department and Armscor to “think creatively about a strategic investment plan to enable the SANDF to executive its constitutional mandate”.
Among options being considered to provide extra funding is leveraging DoD and SANDF property assets; a more efficient collection of reimbursement from the UN for peace support missions; leveraging DoD intellectual property; rightsizing the DoD and SANDF human resource component; disposing of redundant equipment and in-house maintenance and repair of assets and facilities.
On leveraging of SANDF utilised property, Mapisa-Nqakula told the National Assembly the DoD was engaging with National Treasury on a method to leverage a percentage of the property assets, to support both the national fiscus and the DoD. She would be taking this issue further with Parliament.
She did not give any firm timelines or indications of the amounts expected to be realised from the future funding assistance options.