Unabrdged speech by DA defence shadow minister David Maynier, May 4 2010

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On the 15th of April 2010 members of the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans finally broke out of the “parliamentary barracks” to spend a day at sea on aboard one of our warships, the SAS Mendi.

 

SPEECH BY DAVID MAYNIER MP DA SHADOW MINISTER OF DEFENCE AND MILITARY VETERANS 4 MAY 2010

Lindiwe Sisulu is in danger of turning into a modern-day Magnus Malan
1. Introduction

On the 15th of April 2010 members of the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans finally broke out of the “parliamentary barracks” to spend a day at sea on aboard one of our warships, the SAS Mendi.

One could not help being impressed by Captain Bravo Mhlana, Commander Graham Walker and the young and diverse crew of the SAS Mendi who represent everything that is good – not only about the South African Navy – but about the whole South African National Defence Force.

I would like to begin by recognising the loyal, disciplined and professional members of our defence force, many of whom have joined us here today, who often serve under very difficult conditions in some of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world.

Whether you are from the army, the air force, the navy or the military health service, we can only say thank you, thank you, thank you for your service to our country.

The minister was appointed nearly a year ago, and since then she has notched up some impressive achievements including:
* the appointment of a permanent civilian Secretary of Defence, Mpumi Mpofo who takes “command” of the Defence Secretariat on 01 June 2010;
* the employment of the defence force to safeguard our landward, maritime and air borders; and
* the tough action against soldiers who protested, the review of soldier’s service conditions, the commitment to de-unionize the defence force and the appointment of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission.

And anybody who doubts the minister’s commitment to achieving outcomes should know that she has promised that “if there is not a clean audit this year, there will not be enough towels to wipe the blood off the floor”.

The fact is that things are moving – perhaps not always in the right direction – but they are moving.

And the minister, the deputy-minister and the all the staff deserve credit for what has been achieved.
2. “Union Buildings”

On the 26th of August 2009 more than a thousand soldiers – most of them from the army – went on the rampage in front of the Union Buildings.

Of course, we should never forget that thousands more soldiers remained loyal, disciplined and professional and did not march on the Union Buildings.

On a lighter note:

We must have the only defence force in the world where a military commander cannot order a “strike”.

Because in our military a “strike” does not mean a “surprise attack” it means “refusing to work”.

A military commander, who orders a “strike”, cannot be sure if soldiers will pick up their rifles or pick up their placards.

However, the fact is that we were faced on that day with the grim spectacle of soldiers – some of them armed with “knobkierries” – “toy toying” through the streets brandishing placards, shouting slogans and torching vehicles.

The soldiers who went on the rampage did irreparable harm, diminishing the already diminished reputation of the defence force.

But they also focused political minds firmly on the state of the South African National Defence Force.
3. “Democratic Rollback”

I regret to say however that the portfolio committee on defence and military knows very little about the state of the defence force because the minister has surrounded it with a “ring of virtually impenetrable steel”.

You will all be aware that the minister currently finds herself at the bottom a deep and muddy parliamentary foxhole, following her decision to “absent” herself from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

Rather than stop digging and conceding that she is wrong on this issue, the minister has instead chosen to lob a “political smoke grenade” into parliament, designed to obscure and confuse the fact that she can – in fact – be summoned to appear before Scopa.

Of course, this is not an isolated incident.

It is, instead, part of a pattern of “accountability busting behaviour” for which the minister is becoming very well known.

The minister’s approach to parliament comes right out of “Yes, Minister”, where officials believe that “if people do not know what you’re doing, they don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”

The minister’s own defence policy reads that the defence department “recognizes that it has a positive duty to provide sufficient information to ensure adequate parliamentary and public scrutiny”

The defence force’s central argument is that it is underfunded, which creates “capability gaps”, which in turn result in “risks” to our national security.

The key question then is what are these “capability gaps” and what “risks” are there to our national security?

The short answer to that question is: we still don’t know because – a year after this matter was raised – we still have not been briefed on the combat readiness of the defence force.

We have never been briefed on the service conditions within the defence force, the salary increases and how they were financed or on the acquisition of capital equipment for the defence force.

We have never been briefed on the defence force’s operation in support of the police during World Cup 2010.

We have also never received copies of the interim reports – especially the so-called “ticking time bomb report” – produced by the Interim National Defence Force Commission.

And we have never received a copy of the report of the Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans.

My requests to visit military bases such as – Doornkop Military Base, Lenz Military Base, and other military formations – were effectively ignored.

Parliamentary questions are hardly ever replied to: more than ten parliamentary questions were not replied to last year and more than 20 parliamentary questions have not been replied to this year.

Why does this happen?

It happens because the minister has “tendencies”.

Not the sort of “tendencies” the Honourable Stella Ndabeni’s leader – Julius Malema – likes to talk about.

But deeply “authoritarian tendencies”.

The minister is just not ‘hardwired” for democracy because when the minister is faced with a choice between “secrecy” and “transparency”, you can be sure she will always choose “secrecy”.

The truth is that there has been so much “democratic rollback” at the defence department that the minister is in danger of turning into a modern-day Magnus Malan.

The fact is that the minister’s approach has done serious damage to the relationship between the defence department and Parliament.

And it has left members of the portfolio committee in the dark about the true state of the defence force, forcing us to try and “join the dots”, rather like Cold War Kremlinologists “reading the tea leaves”.
4. Armed Welfare?

Our defence force is clearly on its “chin straps”.

A recent assessment by Janes Defence Weekly – the world’s most prestigious defence magazine – tells us that the “South African National Defence Force is in crisis”.

The article goes on to tell us that the defence force “is in danger of becoming moribund”, is “incapable of major operations” and is “clearly in decline”.

The crisis in the defence force is perhaps best illustrated by the state of the air force. Listen to General Carlos Gagiano, Chief of the South African Air Force, who reported last year that:
“Until such time that additional funding can be allocated … the SAAF will only be able to sustain around 2000 Hawk flying hours per year versus the required 4000 flying hours per year … and the impact being that … the Gripen System will only be able to be minimally implemented post June 2010”.

This means that we have spent R15.7 billion purchasing fighter jets that we cannot afford to properly maintain and operate.

This has happened, in part, because funds have being sucked out of “operations” and they are being sucked out of “acquisition” in order to finance ballooning expenditure on “personnel” within the defence force.

We gather the army can now only afford to field four companies – that is about 580 soldiers – soldiers on our borders. The navy can only afford to sail one ship on coastal patrol on a given day. And the air force can only afford to keep two fully operational Gripens fighter jets flying.

And what does this mean?

It means that – in effect – we have a barracks-bound army, a harbour-bound navy and a hanger-bound air force.

The defence force is now in serious danger of being reduced to an armed welfare organization, whose primary purpose is to provide employment, rather than to provide security.
5. “Bang” not “Bling”

There is clearly an operating budget shortfall, and we need to deal with it as a matter of urgency.

A comprehensive analysis of defence spending – by way of an independent audit – should be conducted so that we can find ways to decrease spending on “support” and increase spending on “operations”.

Because too often we spending our “bucks” on “bling”, rather than spending our “bucks on “bang”.

Is it really necessary, for example, for the defence department to spend money on:
* a VIP Lounge at OR Tambo International Airport,
* a fleet of new luxury vehicles, because foreign military officers, cannot be transported, in the words of one official, in a mere “Uno”, and
* 36 military attaches who serve in all sorts of obscure nooks-and-crannies around the world?

We must find ways to reallocate resources within the existing budget towards the “sharp end” of the defence force.
6. A Credible Case?

The defence department’s central argument – as I have mentioned before – is that, despite an allocation of R30.7 billion, the defence force is underfunded by R7.3 billion, in the 2010/2011 Financial Year.

That may be.

But the hard fact is this – the defence department have never produced a credible case – in fact it has never produced a case – to review the defence budget.

The defence department’s draft policy document – entitled “Defence Update 2035”, which should form the foundation of the defence department’s case, and which has cost millions of rands to produce over the past five years – seems to have been buried and will not, we are told, see the light of day “any time soon”.

Never before in the history of defence policy-making have so many, laboured for so long, to produce so little.

But instead of a credible case, the defence department argues that the defence budget should be increased to approximately 1.8 percent of our total output, because that is the average “military burden” in the developing world.

That is, I am sure you will all agree, a spectacular non-argument and, frankly, complete and utter rubbish.
7. Conclusion

What this reveals is that the real problem at the defence department is not a “budget deficit”- but rather a “leadership deficit”.

The defence department seems to have lost it’s way.

The strategy seems to be to “fill the next pothole in our pathway”.

That is why we need strong political leadership that is able to put an end to the “amateur hourism” we have become used to and pull the defence force up by its bootstraps.

There is no doubt that the defence department needs a major overhaul and should be put on terms.

There should be no review of the defence budget until the defence department complies with the following conditions including:
* submitting a Green Paper on Defence to parliament in order to “reset” our 14 year old defence policy;
* conduct a Strategic Defence Review to “rebalance” the force design, force structure, human resource levels, and defence acquisition priorities, which must be fully costed and audited, not least to give some certainly to the defence industry;
* a complete overhaul of the Strategic Business Plan to ensure that it contains a clear vision, clear outputs and meaningful performance indicators;
* a complete overhaul of the performance management system;
* a complete overhaul of the annual report to ensure that it reflects what the defence force actually achieves, because the defence force does make concrete contributions to our security every day, but we just never hear about them; and
* a “clean audit”.

But most importantly the minister needs to voluntarily climb out of the parliamentary foxhole she finds herself in and begin to build up trust and break down suspicion by being properly accountable to Parliament.

I thank you.

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David Maynier MP – 071 534 6398



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