There does not appear to be any real urgency regarding the Defence Review and its need to progress through the Parliamentary process enabling at least a start to be made on reversing the downward spiral of the South African military.
The latest example of tardiness can be found in the programme of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence for the first part of the 2015 Parliamentary work year.
The Parliamentary Programme Framework provides for a committee period between January 27 and February 11 for Parliamentary committees, such as defence, to meet and conduct oversight visits.
In essence it boils down to the Framework making time available for the various Parliamentary committees to work.
“It means 10 days, spanning 80 hours, of meetings could have been scheduled for the Joint Standing Committee on Defence to consider aspects of the Defence Review, by agreement the committee’s top priority. Sadly, not a single meeting has been scheduled for the committee period,” said David Maynier, opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister.
The Defence Review was completed at the request of then Defence Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, by Roelf Meyer and his team for tabling in Parliament late in 2012. A change of Minister ensured this did not happen and when current Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, eventually tabled the document in Parliament last July, its title was changed to reflect it as the 2014 Defence Review and not the 2012 Defence Review.
Among others, the Review stated the SANDF was “in a critical state of decline, characterised by force imbalance between capabilities; block obsolescence and unaffordability of many of its main operating systems; a disproportionate tooth-to-tail ratio; the inability to meet current standing defence commitments and the lack of critical mobility”.
Taking another excerpt from the Review (“even with an immediate intervention it could take at least five years to arrest the decline and another five to develop a limited and sustainable defence capability”) to illustrate the need to get on with the job as far as turning the SANDF around Maynier points out “there is an element of urgency”.
“Every day wasted talking about the Defence Review, rather the implementing it, accelerates the decline of the SANDF.”
He is not happy about the manner in which the Joint Standing Committee intends to deal with the Review.
“Its current rubberstamp programmes envisage dealing with the 344 page document, based on 435 stakeholder meetings and 76 public submissions at a cost of nearly R11 million to the taxpayer in three meetings. These meetings are set to last 10.5 hours and will take place between February 20 and March 5.”
He has proposed an alternative of 18 meetings including briefings on military preparedness, downsizing and rightsizing, acquisition priorities and affordability of Review proposals.
“In the end it is a disgrace that the SANDF is being held hostage by lazy and disinterested MPs serving on the Joint Standing Committee on Defence,” Maynier said this week.