A Member of Parliament and a military analyst are among those canvassed by defenceWeb who see the Department of Defence (DoD) annual report as not providing sufficient information, especially when it comes to operational issues.
Military analyst Darren Olivier’s view is “virtually everything related to performance has been deemed ‘classified’ and thus beyond public scrutiny, even though few of the measures are really operationally sensitive”.
“If the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) really wants public support for a higher budget it will have to become a lot more transparent as well as be ready to receive, and respond to, valid criticism.
“Hiding embarrassing figures behind classification will only create further distrust and reduce public support.”
Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marias has similar objections.
He told defenceWeb he requested more detailed information on reported SA Air Force (SAAF) flying hours during a meeting at which Secretary for Defence Sam Gulube was present.
According to the latest annual report the SAAF achieved 81% of its targeted five thousand flying hours. The majority of these – 3 629.2 – were in support of joint force requirements with 496.3 VVIP hours spent flying government ministers, including the President.
“I want a breakdown of aircraft types and the missions flown to be able to see exactly what capabilities the air force has and how these are being utilised,” Marais said adding he needed the same for the VVIP flights.
“With Inkwazi and the pair of Falcons basically grounded it would be good to know how the figure of close on 500 VVIP flying hours was reached”.
Marais feels the annual report “misses the boat” in that it does not provide sufficient information on SANDF operations and deployments.
“Surely it’s better to tell people what their defence force is doing than to hide behind the word ‘classified’. South Africa is not at war; our soldiers are supporting peacekeeping efforts, working hard to prevent unwanted people and goods from entering the country and assisting fellow citizens on the receiving end of natural disasters and in need of humanitarian aid.”
With tongue firmly in cheek, top military analyst Helmoed Heitman asked whether the “user unfriendliness” of the annual report was not possibly the whole idea.
“If no-one can be bothered to struggle through it, no-one will ask embarrassing questions,” he said adding he heard the format of annual reports was dictated by another department which might account for the difficulty in actually finding information.
“It is not a user-friendly document, nor does it give any real idea of status. There is also the problem of over-classification – we are not at war so there is very little that should be classified and the only thing classifying all sorts of information does is hide the bad situation in which the national defence force finds itself,” he said.
Still on the SANDF information front, defenceWeb was this week informed the DoD website has been down for more than a month. This is due to what Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, SANDF director: corporate communications, called “contract renewal”.
“Communication Management Information Systems (CMIS) of the SANDF is negotiating the contract with relevant service providers,” he said but did not give any indication of when the site would be operational again.