Just how far behind the financial curve the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has fallen was aptly illustrated this week when the Defence and Military Veterans Minister told the National Assembly over R55 billion was needed to focus on the “serious mismatch” between current funding and expectations placed on the Department of Defence (DoD).
Speaking in her budget vote, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs full implementation of the Defence Review would imply a doubling of the current allocation from National Treasury over the long term.
The defence budget for the current financial year is R48 billion.
“In reality, the Defence allocation has been declining by 5% per annum in real terms over the last 20 years to a mere one percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Meanwhile, the appropriate funding level as articulated in the Defence Review 2015 would require a steady increase to at least two percent of GDP over time,” she said, adding there was “great appreciation” for the competing pressures on the fiscus.
“The persistent and continued dramatic downward trend in real terms of the funding allocation to defence has reached a point where the DoD runs the risk of losing more of its essential capabilities in addition to those already lost.”
Mapisa-Nqakula sees a closer relationship with National Treasury, now under the stewardship of Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, as part of taking implementation of the Defence Review forward.
On the Defence Review, the Minister said plans were now complete and work has started on implementing Milestone One – intended to mitigate the decline of capabilities in the SANDF.
These plans, according to her, will be the foundation of engagements with the National Planning Commission, the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation and National Treasury in “a comprehensive and robust manner”.
Mapisa-Nqakula was candid about there not being much chance of any increase in the allocation given to the DoD by Treasury and indicated other options would be investigated to boost defence coffers.
These include “developing specific policy options and funding trajectories from the fiscus”; developing and driving a comprehensive DoD efficiency programme to better utilise funding allocations and “leveraging of alternative defence revenue streams”. These, she said, would include “sweating of assets”, developing intellectual property, ensuring reimbursement from UN peacekeeping missions and other, undisclosed, initiatives.
Another topic she spoke on during her presentation to the National Assembly was human resource renewal.
Mapisa-Nqakula said a new human resource strategy for the country’s military, which maps out rejuvenation of the defence force, had been completed but due to a reduced budget the intake on new recruits was expected to decrease “negatively affecting force rejuvenation”. This was made worse by natural attrition which sees the SANDF lose about 3 500 people a year. She did not give any indication of retrenchment or exit mechanisms for uniformed personnel deemed surplus to requirements.
As far as the border protection tasking Operation Corona was concerned the Minister said it was “still” her intention to increase the number of companies from the current 15 to 22.
“This is impeded by continuous reductions in the defence budget,” she said, appealing to MPs to support efforts for more defence funding from National Treasury.
In closing Mapisa-Nqakula pointed out the R48 billion allocated to the defence budget for 2017/18 was approximately one percent of GDP.
“The medium term expenditure allocations indicate for the 2018/19 financial year our budget will decline to less than 0.98% of GDP continuing with the persistent decline of the defence budget.”
Responding, opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais was blunt, putting it that the defence budget was inadequate to protect South Africa.
“In the light of continuous budget decreases, especially in defence real terms of 12%, it is becoming ever more difficult to simply maintain the defence force we have, let alone to support the defence force envisaged in the 2015 Defence Review.
“In order to maintain a reasonable defence force, a year-on-year budget of at least two percent of GDP must be maintained,” he said, adding while it did not appear to be on the horizon it has not stopped “the Minister, Cabinet and the DoD from retaining unrealistic ideological objectives, operational plans and international commitments”.
“We must reprioritise and restructure the SANDF to balance what we can afford with what we need. Both you (the Minister), Cabinet and the DoD must realise your signed-off and idealistic plans are unaffordable, unrealistic and unachievable. Non-essential costs and commitments must be eliminated,” he said naming “our favourite aircraft Inkwazi” as an example.
“Contrary to the arguments, this luxury jet has been fully operational, while neither the President, nor the Deputy President, nor you have used Inkwazi since at least the end of June 2016.
“Yet at least 50 flights were undertaken to Langebaan, East London, Overberg, Bloemfontein, Hoedspruit, Durban and other places. Who is using it?
“The argument this is for pilot training cannot be justified. If there is no use for this aircraft, why train pilots to fly it?
“An unused, fully operational Presidential jet is a showpiece and only an attempt ‘keep up with the Joneses’. We cannot afford that.
“At the same time, you have indicated the appetite for yet another new regional VVIP jet.
“Why not rather sell Inkwazi or utilise it for the regional flight requirements? We cannot afford both as it equates to reckless trading,” Marais said.