The Zimbabwe finance ministry has defended the record US$380 million budget it allocated to the ministry of defence this year saying the money is required to fund the recruitment and training of more soldiers and acquisition of essential military equipment including new aircraft for the air force.
Responding to opposition calls for a downward review of the budget, which is the highest ever allocated to a single ministry in the history of the country, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said the defence forces need to recruit and train thousands of new soldiers to ensure that the army is strong enough to deter internal and external security threats.
Chinamasa said in addition to recruitment, training, salaries and troop welfare expenditure, the defence force needs to be well-equipped in order to guarantee the safety of the country as it progresses towards economic revival.
“In the past few years, we have not provided for fresh (troop) recruitments in the budget which is bad. We also have not provided for training. An army which does not train will not be good for the country when needed most.
“The first line of defence in any country is a performing economy. Let us not take the peace and tranquillity that we enjoy in Zimbabwe for granted. It is there because we have a well-trained army.”
Chinamasa said the 2015 budget will also provide for a massive recruitment exercise which seeks to inject new and younger blood into the ranks of the national defence force.
“An army which does not recruit fresh blood becomes an old dead army. Even in the absence of war we need an army which keeps recruiting, training and up-grading its equipment. What you have to understand about the defence ministry is that their major costs are not salaries, but equipment because the cost of one helicopter alone is exorbitant.
“All the activities taking place in agriculture, mining, and tourism need peace and stability and it is the security forces that deter trouble makers,” Chinamasa said.
The Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the budget should be revised downwards and all extra funds should be re-allocated to the health ministry instead.
“Zimbabwe is not at war. This country is enjoying peace and tranquillity, why should we allocate more resources to the ministry of defence instead of departments such as education, health and industry?
“We are embarrassing our president because this is the only country in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) which failed to meet the Abuja declaration when it comes to health,” Chikwinya said.
However, defence minister Sidney Sekeramayi says the $380 million budget cannot be reduced because it is far too meagre and dismally failed to reflect the overall needs of the defence forces.
“Budget allocations should respond fully to the requirements of the defence forces. These are some of the issues we will continue to debate with our colleagues in the government. If we are able to get the resources then we will be able to improve the conditions of service in the defence forces. These are matters of defence and national security and as such, they cannot be discussed with anyone who might be interested,” Sekeramayi said.
The minister said the call for increased defence expenditure is also reflected in the Zimbabwe Defence Policy which requires the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) to be pro-actively involved in contributing to peace and stability in the SADC region.
Last year, President Robert Mugabe and Air Force of Zimbabwe commander Air Marshall Perence Shiri said the force is suffering from lack of essential equipment which the country cannot access directly because of a Western arms embargo imposed in 2002.
Shiri said due to the sanctions, the air force has not been able to buy new equipment and spare parts for equipment such as radar and aerial defence systems.
“The Western imposed sanctions have not spared the AFZ from the harsh economic environment, especially the acquisition of new equipment and back-up spares. The economic sanctions affected the acquisition of new aircraft, spare parts and support equipment. The financial demands for the above have become exorbitant as most purchases have to be done using sanctions busting measures the country has established so far,” Shiri said.
Addressing a graduation ceremony of military pilots late last year, President Mugabe said the Air Force of Zimbabwe faces a severe shortage of aircraft spares. He said his government is fully aware of the need to upgrade the AFZ’s training and operational equipment.
He said efforts are under way to provide adequate financial resources for the upgrading and acquisition of new aircraft and equipment. Last year, Zimbabwe’s defence budget was pegged at US$356 million, up from US$318 million in 2012.