Maynier: Defence in crisis while Minister Sisulu engages in political war with Parliament

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Note to readers: This is an extract of a speech to be delivered by DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, David Maynier MP, during today’s debate on the defence budget vote.

1. Introduction

I would like to begin by recognizing an important milestone in the establishment of the South African National Defence Force. Commander Handsome Matsane recently took command of the SAS Queen Modjadji, one of the submarines operated by the South African Navy. He is one of only 34 South African submarine captains; one of 1060 qualified South African submariners; but most importantly, he is the first black South African submarine captain.

This is a huge achievement for the Defence Force, given our country’s history, and should be celebrated – not just by all of us here today – but indeed by all South Africans. Commander Handsome Matsane represents everything that is good about the South African National Defence Force. We would also like to take this opportunity to recognize the soldiers, sailors, airmen (and women) and medics who serve in the Defence Force.

Whether you are in the South African Army, the South African Air Force, the South African Navy or the South African Military Health Service, we say thank you, thank you, thank you for your service to our country.

I would, of course, also like to recognize the Honourable Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, who is – thankfully – seated two-and-a-half swords lengths away from me. I feel more secure, compared to last year, when the minister was seated a mere two-and-a-half handbags lengths from me. That is because, on at least one occasion, the minister clobbered an opposition member with her handbag.

Though I suspect the minister would have liked to clobber me last year for suggesting that she scale back her military flights and try a little “chicken-or-beef”, from time-to-time, on South African Airways. I would suggest that the minister sit back, stay calm, listen and try not to blow a political gasket, as she did last year.
2.    Defence Crisis
2.1 Capability Gaps

The Joint Standing Committee on Defence has never been briefed on the military preparedness of the Defence Force. We do not know enough about the “capability gaps” which exist in the Defence Force. But we do know enough to suggest that, in the unlikely event of a conventional threat, President Jacob Zuma will require a big white flag to wave from the Union Buildings. Because the current state of the Defence Force’s military preparedness leaves the President with only one possible course of action, in the event of a conventional attack, and that is: “surrender”. Thankfully, there is no prospect of a conventional threat to South Africa in the foreseeable future.
2.2 Underfunding

We are used to the tired old argument that the “capability gaps” in the Defence Force exist because of underfunding. However, the problem is not simply underfunding, but often a failure to properly prioritise funding.

First, 50.6% of the entire Defence Force budget will be spent on “compensation of employees”, many of whom are surplus to the needs of the Defence Force. The situation is even worse at service level: 65.5% of the South African Army’s budget; 72.5% of the South African Air Force’s budget; and 58.9% of the South African Navy’s budget will be spent on “compensation of employees”.

Second, there is an enormous amount of wasteful expenditure in the Defence Force. We will spend, for example,  R197 million on more than 30 Defence Attachés, including a new Defence Attaché in Cuba, the minister’s favourite island in the Caribbean.

Third, there is a great deal of frivolous expenditure in the Defence Force. The South African Air Force, for example, which cannot afford to operate its Gripen fighter jets, has spent more than R3 million on “gardening services” since 2009. Just to be clear, that was “gardening services” – not “guarding services”. In the end, the operating budget of the Defence Force has been stripped to the bone.
2.3 “Armed Welfare”

So, it should come as no surprise that our soldiers are in the barracks, not on the border; our aircraft are in hangers, not in the air; and our ships are in harbour, not at sea. A recent incident, which exploded on social networks, demonstrates the decline in the Defence Force. Lieutenant-Colonel Ruth Ndayi, a South African Air Force officer, recently went shopping in full uniform, wearing a pair of pink slippers. She is a disgrace to the thousands of loyal, professional and disciplined members of the Defence Force. In the end, unless drastic action is taken, the Defence Force is in danger of becoming an “armed welfare service”.
2.4 Defence Review

That is why the Defence Review, being conducted by Roelf Meyer and his Defence Review committee, is so vital to the future of the Defence Force. I recall saying some time ago that never in the history of defence policy-making had so many, worked for so long, to produce so little. Well, I am pleased that the 423-page “consultative draft” of the Defence Review has finally been produced. And I look forward to interacting with the Defence Review team as we work together to produce the final draft of the South African Defence Review 2012. In the end, if the Defence Review does not succeed, the Defence Force will not succeed.
3.    Political Monster

But to succeed we need to have a proper debate on defence policy. However, this is going to be difficult in the current political climate.
3.1 Political War

Because for the past three years the minister has been engaged in a “political war” with Parliament.

The minister:
ensured that Nyami Booi, former Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, was fired;
has prevented the Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Godfrey Ngwenya, and his successor, together with the service chiefs, from briefing Parliament on the military preparedness of the Defence Force;
rarely appears before the portfolio committee, the Joint Standing Committee on Defence or the Standing Committee on Public Accounts;
refused to provide copies of the interim reports of the National Defence Force Commission to the portfolio committee, which suggested the Defence Force itself could become a threat to national security; and
either refuses to reply, or provides partial replies, to oral and written questions on the defence force in Parliament.

This year alone, I have submitted nine written questions to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, requesting him to compel the minister to provide replies to Parliament.

In the end, the minister has become a political monster, turning the Defence Force into a state-within-a-state, beyond proper oversight and scrutiny by Parliament.
3.2 Parliamentary Proxies

Of course, the minister has been aided and abetted in prosecuting her political war by “proxy forces” in Parliament. The Joint Standing Committee on Defence almost routinely begins late; rarely has sufficient members present to make up a quorum; and most importantly never schedules a hearing on the really tough issues in the Defence Force.

The Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans dealt with the entire R37.49 billion defence budget in one hearing, taking no more than two hours. Both defence committees rarely conduct oversight visits, rather tending to remain in the “parliamentary barracks”. And the chairpersons of the defence committees behave more like the minister’s parliamentary valets than committee chairs committed to real oversight and scrutiny in Parliament. In the end, the minister has got what she wanted:  “yes, madam; no, madam; three-bags-full, madam” defence committees in Parliament.
3.3 State-within-a-State

So, we must now face the hard fact that effective oversight of the defence force has collapsed in Parliament. The truth is, we do not know anything about military preparedness: Parliament has have never been briefed on the military preparedness of the Defence Force.

The minister wants Parliament to establish a new committee probably called the “Joint Parliamentary Committee on Defence”, which will operate like the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence. This means, in practice, that oversight of the Defence Force will be conducted behind “closed doors” in Parliament. The truth is that we do not know anything about capital acquisition: Parliament has never been properly briefed on the Defence Force’s capital acquisition projects under the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan.

The minister also refuses to reply to parliamentary questions on capital acquisition, arguing that: “The Department is not at liberty to release this information to the public as it may compromise security plans of the SANDF and also generate undue speculation within the country and the industry”. The truth is that we do not know anything about the Special Defence Account: Parliament has never been briefed on the Defence Force’s secret account, used, we are told, mainly for spending on weapon systems.

This, despite the fact that every year billions of rands are channelled through the Special Defence Account.

Since 1999, I would estimate that more than R80 billion has been channelled through the Special Defence Account. And, Parliament has absolutely no idea how that money has been spent by the Defence Force.

The truth is, we do not know anything about the use of “shadow planes”: Parliament has never been briefed on the use of “shadow planes” by President Jacob Zuma. We woke up one weekend to find that the President not only drives in convoy, but now flies in convoy too. It took not one, not two, but three aircraft, including an empty 250-seater South African Airways Airbus, to get President Jacob Zuma and his delegation to the United States. The minister also – surprise, surprise – refuses to reply to parliamentary questions on the use of these “shadow planes” by President Jacob Zuma. We could go on.

The minister often claims that she only refuses to disclose information on “operational matters” that would compromise national security. This – and I want to be clear – is not true. The minister often refuses to disclose information that would embarrass her, personally. Why else would the minister refuse to disclose details about her flights on aircraft operated by the South African Air Force? I will tell you why.

The minister is trying to cover up the huge cost of transporting her on official business around South Africa. When military veterans are battling to make ends meet, the minister is zooming up and down the country on aircraft operated by the South African Air Force. I hear that from time to time the minister makes use of a luxury Gulfstream Business Jet, presumably operated by the South African Air Force Reserve, for her official travel inside South Africa. I would not be surprised if we are sometimes blowing more than a million rand per month on the minister’s official travel on aircraft operated by the South African Air Force. That is what the minister is covering up.
4. Conclusion

We cannot go on like this. We are fast approaching the ANC’s 2012 Elective Conference. I am sure that members are aware of the speculation that the minister may be a candidate and could become the Deputy-President.

The thought of the minister as the Leader of Government Business in Parliament is a terrifying prospect. The minister has “yes, madam; no, madam; three-bags-full, madam’ defence committees in Parliament. But what the minister really wants is a “yes, madam; no, madam; three-bags-full, madam” Parliament. The minister seems to have gained a reputation, in the media, as a dictator masquerading as a democrat.

The truth is, if the minister fights on, it will not be long before she turns herself into a home-grown version of Imelda Marcos. The minister is now faced with a choice: submit or fight. I strongly recommend that the minister submits and finally agrees to be accountable to Parliament.

Because let me promise the minister this:

I will fight you in the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans;

I will fight you in the Joint Standing Committee on Defence;

I will fight you in the Standing Committee on Public Accounts;

I will fight you inside Parliament;

I will fight you outside Parliament; and

If necessary we will consider fighting you in the courts.

Because I will not allow you to trample on the freedoms which you – ironically – fought so hard for in the struggle for democracy in South Africa.

Media enquiries:

David Maynier MP



DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans
071 534 6398