Opposition, academic, cautions DoD on revenue raising plans

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The Democratic Alliance and at least one academic is cautioning the defence department on plans to aggressively sell itself as a service provider to supplement its budget. But others welcome the idea.

The admonition came after Minster of Defence Lindiwe Sisulu told the Sunday Times her department is pursuing business deals with other state departments.

The Sunday broadsheet said Sisulu believes the defence force`s large skills base— “it has thousands of trained medical personnel, engineers and artisans” — can be put to better use.

She told the paper the SANDF was already gunning for contracts from the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and the Department Human Settlements.

Sisulu reportedly also wants the defence force to train municipalities in disaster management and build houses for the Department of Human Settlements.

But DA shadow deputy defence minister James Lorimer says it is bad practice to have government competing with private businesses to offer services.

Lorimer says there is plenty of global experience that suggests corruption and inefficiency is an inevitable result when militaries generate their own income.   

“As an example of the corruption that results one only has to look at a country like Indonesia which has allowed its military forces to go into business,” he says.

The DA MP notes that even though private businesses tend to offer more efficient, cost-effective services, “inevitably government departments will opt to use services provided by their colleagues in government – based on political rather than business considerations.

“The end result is that the service delivered to the public will probably be worse, and more costly to the taxpayer. This also crowds out private enterprise.

“In addition, the temptation for the Department of Defence to make unfair use of its own structural advantages would be irresistible. Imagine how the results of a competitive tender could be skewed when one competitor specialises in the use of force and has its own, state funded, intelligence department,” he says.

“The second problem with this idea is that … the purpose of the SANDF is to defend the country. It should not be there as a job creator or an arm of the education department or to make money for government.”

Sisulu told the Sunday Times the DoD would incur unplanned expenditure this financial year because it would no longer be handing back the borderline security function to the police.

“We are not asking for more money now. But the fact that we are going back to the borders means we must find money from somebody to go back there,” Sisulu said.

Lorimer responds “that money should be provided by the Treasury. It should not be left to the SANDF to find funds to do what it is required to do by government.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal ethics professor Deane-Peter Baker welcomed the idea, saying there “are definitely areas that the SANDF can contribute services to other areas of government. “It ties in well with the planned new Engineer Maintenance Regiment,” he says.

Noted defence analyst and author Helmoed-Römer Heitman says he has been “arguing for more than thirty years “that we need to think laterally about the military. It has capabilities and equipment that must be available for war but are not used in peace (and) that can be used for other roles.

“Under the previous government the response was always a whine that this would undermine the business community (it would not, you only take on tasks that are not commercially viable but need to be done); under the new government the [concern in some academic circles] was that this would militarise society, which was nonsense. Finally somebody is looking to make cost effective use of what we have,” Heitman says.

“If we can start using people and equipment to do things rather than sit around, we will also find fewer people leave the services.

“Her one problem will be to get around Treasury and its B7 account,” Heitman says, referring to the Treasury account into which all payments and reimbursements to the state are made. He warns it would be difficult for the DoD to render services to earn an income when that defaulted to Treasury instead of the military.

“That is what killed off commercial use of the Naval Dockyard and a few other things. It is also something that has presented the DoD with a lot of financial problems in the past.”

A defence academic comments that the service battalions of the 1930s provides a historic example of this type of activity.

The academic, however, differs with Baker and Heitman on the degree of benefit to society. “My concern and first question would be: what happened to the notion of getting the military out of domestic deployments?

“Domestic deployments, in general, are an evil and one of the primary reasons underpinning military unprofessionalism in Africa. There is more than enough proof of the link between bad civil-military relations and domestic deployments.

“There is also more that enough scholarly proof of the link between military corruption and domestic deployments.

“One of the lessons of the apartheid military was the danger of military encroachment on the economic and social domains. We do not want to re-learn that lesson. I do not think the private sector will accept it lightly if the SANDF starts to compete with them in getting contracts to do xyz,” the academic adds.

“One should also distinguish between political rhetoric and practical strategic realities.If we accept the SANDF is overstretched with their peace mission deployments to the north, one also needs to draw the logical conclusion.In short, the SANDF does not have the capability to engage in these kinds of projects.

“In short, I doubt whether there will be a lot of enthusiasm for her ideas in the SANDF.This was what the Service Corps was supposed to be and it did not materialise – at least, not until now.”

 



Pic: A 41 Squadron, SA Air Force, pilot. Some of the services Sisulu mooted was aviation and pilot training.