Sisulu fights for an increased defence budget

4008

Defence departments are normally associated with wars, but the South African Department of Defence is fighting a foe that every citizen can associate with: money.

The Department of Defence and Military Veterans is waging a hard battle to gain much needed funds to maintain the Defence Force’s capabilities at a time when Cabinet is placing ever more responsibilities on its plate. This is something the Department has in common with many other defence forces around the world.

Speaking to reporters prior to her budget vote in Parliament on Thursday, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu stated, “it is well known to all South Africans … that we are the most underfunded institution in government. We have not done much complaining, we are just pointing out that that this is the situation and what the consequences are. We will be reiterating this again this afternoon.”

Sisulu had requested supplemental funding for border patrol, maritime security and anti-poaching initiatives, but Treasury provided very little, with nothing for maritime security.

This time Sisulu has a few tricks up her sleeve.

First and foremost is the matter of audit qualifications. The Department of Defence has received a qualified audit from the Auditor General for nine years in a row.

Sisulu assumed office in May 2009 and has made sure that the Department has put great effort over the last few years to eliminate audit qualifications arising from the Auditor General’s report. There was only one qualification for the 2010/11 year, down from up to six previously.

When Dr Sam Galube was appointed as Secretary for Defence in December last year, Sisulu said that her Performance Agreement with him contained only three words: No qualified audit.
“He signed on it, I signed on it. That is the only thing I want of him” Sisulu said, “We were serial offenders in the audit arena, hopefully that is something of the past.” Initial indications are that Galube is on track to keep his job.

The next bow in her arsenal is the Defence Review, the draft of which has recently been released. Currently, when the Department approaches the Treasury for additional funding, “Treasury would point out the discrepancies between what we wanted and what was in the Defence Review,” Sisulu said.
“The new Defence Review will reflect the current situation,” explained Sisulu, “that can no longer happen. We would essentially need to sit down with Treasury and the Budget Committee to go through what we now have as a defence policy.” What Sisulu now needs to do is to convince her colleagues and Treasury of the necessity for a Defence Force that is financially capable of carrying out its mandate.

Sisulu mentioned that when she was Minister of Housing, she would argue for money as the biggest chunk of money went to defence and she didn’t know what they were doing with it. As a result, the Defence budget declined significantly, with the money being prioritised to housing, health and other social recipients. Slowly, the word is getting out. “When the minister of Environmental Affairs asked us for assistance, we were there. When the Minister of Fisheries asked for assistance in the shortest possible time, we were there. Every one of them knows that we are there to ensure not only to protect the borders, but also to protect the economy. We are a vital part that adds productivity to our society,” Sisulu explained. “Significantly,” she says, “the Defence Force has shown my colleagues that they are a force to reckon with.”

In her Defence budget vote speech, Sisulu mentioned that her current budget allocation for the 2012/13 financial year was R37.5 billion up from last year’s adjusted allocation. It is expected to grow to R39.9 billion in 2013/14 by 6.5% and reach R42.332 billion in 2014/15 – up by 6%.

But not everyone agrees with Sisulu. DA Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, David Maynier in his speech said that he is used to the tired old argument that the “capability gaps” in the Defence Force exist because of underfunding. “The problem,” Maynier counters, “is not simply underfunding, but often a failure to properly prioritise funding.”

First, he says, 50.6% of the entire defence budget will be spent on “compensation of employees”, many of whom are surplus to the needs of the SANDF. “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. … 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,” Maynier said.