Defence Draft Bill: discussion; Budget: briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

03 April 2000
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Meeting Summary

The defence budget for this year included the execution of the strategic packages, although the R29bn in funds allocated to these acquisitions were dealt with by a special act. Despite the strategic packages allocation, the remaining R13.7bn allocated to the department of defence, represented an estimated under funding of R484m. This under funding had to be seen as a risk, which the government had to carefully manage. There were funds available to keep units operationally ready, but as soon as these units were required to actually carry out operations, the funds were not available to do so, and had to be drawn from elsewhere in the budget.

Chapters 16 and 17 of the draft Defence Bill were discussed.

Meeting report

The Chairperson of the Defence Portfolio Committee, Ms T Modise, welcomed the delegates from the Department of Defence and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The committee was informed that the budget vote would take place that Friday, instead of the following Tuesday.

Mr H Smit (NNP) objected to the late notification of the change of date for the budget vote, saying that no one in his party was aware of this change. Prof M Mabeta (UDM) added his objections to those of Mr Smit. The chairperson said she understood these objections and the members' dissatisfaction and that she in fact agreed with their objections.

Gen C Viljoen (FF) asked if the committee could please discuss, before the meeting started, the recent reports in the media of an alarmingly high incidence of HIV infections in the SANDF. The Chairperson acknowledged that it would be necessary to have a meeting devoted entirely to this issue.

Department of Defence Budget
Mr Grundling, the Chief of Finance for the Department of Defence, gave a presentation wherein he outlined some of the key elements of the Defence budget (see document). Mr Grundling spoke on four areas, namely:
- Where the department currently stood in the process of getting the budget approved.
- What the allocation for defence was for this year.
- The breakdown of funds between programmes, and an explanation of these programmes.
- Under funding and how this affected relative risk in defence.

It was indicated that various meetings had occurred to date and that compilation of the programme budgets had just been completed and the overall budget was due to be voted on that week.

The apparent dramatic increase in this year's budget for defence was due to the execution of the strategic packages that had been planned for the SANDF. The operational amounts for this year were largely the same as for the year before. Indeed a special act governed the spending of funds allocated to the strategic packages and as a result, funds earmarked for these packages could under no circumstances, be transferred to operational costs.
The total funds available, excluding those for the strategic packages therefore, were R13.7bn. This was the total allocation for the nine programmes that were spelled out in greater detail in the presentation document.

Mr Grundling stated that his department had said before that they had long believed that the defence programme was under funded. With reduced allocations in the 90's, the SANDF had not been able to re-equip itself. The new strategic packages have taken care of the Air Force and the Navy but the Army has not been able to re-equip since the 80's.

With the integration of the various non-statutory forces into the Army, the total numbers had initially swelled to 103,000. The target was to reduce the Army to 70,000 and its current level of 82,000 was therefore 12,000 in excess of what it should be. This meant that the Army was paying 12,000 salaries that it could not afford to, those funds being needed for new equipment.

With respect to the employment of the SANDF, it was noted that assisting the police was one of the ways in which the SANDF was being employed. This was part of the commitment of the SANDF to its peacekeeping role which had the potential to grow significantly. If a specific budget was used as a starting point, it was possible to work out what was the operational capability that was available with those funds, however if operational requirements exceeded the budget that was allocated, that represented a risk.

With respect to criminality and loss, the SANDF's total losses for the previous year were approximately R145m, R7m being due to crime. The losses represented a very small percentage of the total budget and the SANDF did operate a lenient policy which represented a small risk, but that was itself a political choice which had been taken. It might be possible to try to rid the SANDF of all criminal elements, but there was also an argument for keeping them in the SANDF, in that this went some way towards rehabilitating them.

Mr Grundling indicated that they believed that defence was under funded by R484m. This figure was broken down in the presentation document. In most cases the SANDF had the personnel to deploy, although the actual costs of deployment were what they could not afford.

The police were more and more inclined to lean on the SANDF for assistance, but policing was not the job of the SANDF. This was draining the energy of the SANDF and sapping funds away from maintaining its operational capability. In this regard, there either had to be a reprioritisation of responsibilities or else, supplemental funding.

The recent flood relief operation in Mozambique happened at the end of the budget year, which was unfortunate. The helicopters were used very intensively and as a result, they needed intense servicing. R4.5m of additional funds were allocated for this but that amount is insufficient.

Additional funding was also needed for peacekeeping operations that were being anticipated for the coming year and included in this, was the requirement for a sea lift capability which had recently been developed, and it was anticipated, would also be used in peacekeeping operations. Mr Grundling pointed out that none of the extra funding requirements that had been identified were for making the SANDF fatter institutionally.

With respect to tertiary healthcare, it was pointed out that the inflation rate in medicines was three times what it was in domestic goods and that caring for AIDS patients would take up a significant amount of extra funds.

The SANDF would be able to support the police with the local elections that were due to be held towards the end of this year, all things remaining more or less constant. The SANDF had nine companies available to protect the country's borders and ten companies to support the police. Funds were available for these units. However, as soon as events unfolded which increased the SANDF's requirements, they would need additional funds.

Mr Grundling gave the costs of some recent SANDF operations as follows: Operation Boleus had cost R44m in 1998/1999 and R13m in 1999/2000. Operation Maluti had cost R4.2m. The Mozambique floods support operation had cost R9.8m, all of which had been met by three sources: the Department of Foreign Affairs (R2.3m), the World Food Programme (R6.1m) and the United Nations (R1.3m). The backlog of servicing of the helicopters would however cost R92m, which was being discussed with the treasury.

A committee member asked Mr Grundling what he meant by operational costs? Were these not actually ancillary costs? Mr Grundling replied that in the past they had always spoken of unit costs. This was the basic cost of keeping a unit operationally ready and was accounted for in the budget. When a unit was asked to operate outside of South Africa, all the costs of the unit increased. A fixed investment could be seen as an operationally ready unit, actually operating the unit represented an additional cost.

Mr H Smit (NNP) asked where in the budget was the assistance to the Mozambique general elections. Mr Grundling responded that it was not in this budget but was in the previous one. He said figures would be made available to Mr Smit.

Mr Smit asked why there was no amount for intelligence for the current year, noting that there was one for the previous year. The response was that the programmes had been restructured such that for this year, intelligence was a separate programme whereas in previous years, it had fallen under administration.

Prof M Mabeta (UDM) asked why there were such large discrepancies between budgeted amounts and actual (unexpected) costs and what would happen in the future with regard to these discrepancies? If these discrepancies persisted, what was the purpose of having a budget? Mr Grundling replied that calculating the discrepancy was an exercise from the previous year's budget and that for the year just passed R47m had been added because of the extra costs incurred through supporting the police. No extra funds had been obtained though, to cover the costs of supporting the Mozambique elections. These costs had to be absorbed elsewhere in the budget.

Prof Mabeta followed up this question by asking whether the overall budget was limited in respect of its additional expenses or its core expenses? Mr Grundling replied that there were two reasons why they believed they were under funded, the first being that they had unexpected operational requirements and the second being that money was bled from their operational capability and as a result their combat readiness was being affected.

The chairperson asked Mr Grundling whether they would therefore have enough funds if there were no extra, unexpected operations? Mr Grundling replied that that was not the case but that the individual breakdowns of extra funding requirements should be checked for the details of what they additionally required.

Mr N Gogotya (ANC) enquired about the figure of R92m for the servicing of helicopters after the Mozambique operation. Why were these costs not budgeted for under operational requirements? Surely the Air Force had a stock of spares from the previous few years, which represented their preparation for this eventuality? Mr Grundling said that over the last decade, they had not been in a position to anticipate costs of operations but had to merely budget for continued costs.

Mr Botha (DP) asked why the employer initiated retrenchment packages were not working? Also, what was the detailed breakdown with respect to the costs of the Mozambique operation in terms of the number of aircraft operated and the number of operational hours they flew? He indicated that the figure of R92m seemed too high. Mr Grundling replied that the Employer Initiated Retrenchments (EIRs) needed to be developed in line with the rest of the Public Service. This had not occurred thus far because they were regulated under the Defence Act and not by public service legislation. They were however developing instruments for the SANDF, which were in line with the public service.

Mr Botha followed up by asking what was the time scale for this, to which Mr Grundling replied that at the moment they were sticking with voluntary severance packages which were less desirable than EIRs but would be replaced by them as soon as EIRs were ready for the SANDF. It would take six months from the time of finalising the instruments until the first people actually left the SANDF.

One of Mr Grundling's colleagues noted that none of the members from the non-statutory forces had service longer than since 1994 and therefore did not have equivalent pensions. This situation had to be dealt with fairly for those concerned. The Chairperson added that pensions had to be investigated further and that there was indeed some cause for concern in this respect.

Mr L Ngculu (ANC) asked about the shortfall of R484m and why some of the particular shortfalls persisted and could not be budgeted for, noting that some were indicated in the White Paper? He said there should be other mechanisms for dealing with these shortfalls. Mr Grundling replied that they had given the committee a confidential document noting three areas, which were under funded. These were border protection, supporting the police and peacekeeping operations. It was indicated what would be required for each of these three areas at the time and there was disagreement at that time. If the SANDF did not get the required funds for these areas and they had to operate entirely out of their budget, the difference would be the risk that the government would have to manage.

Mrs Z Kota (ANC) said that they understood there was a risk and yet every year they were told the same things. This was the route that had been chosen. Did the allocations for the special defence account not address some of the concerns of unexpected costs? Mr Grundling said that the allocations for the special defence accoun were governed by a specific law. These funds had to stay in the account because sometimes delivery of equipment only happened in the following budget year and yet the funds had to remain in that account.

Another member asked about the capital needs of the army as a possible pressure point in the budget. Was it funds that were needed for landward defence or for the special defence account? If it was the latter, was the department asking for funds over and above the R29bn that had been allocated? Mr Grundling replied that the army had originally asked for battle tanks, which was the first item rejected for the strategic package. This meant that the capital needs of the army were not adequately addressed. During the 80's, mobile infantry vehicles were purchased and these are still adequate but no planning is currently being made for the period ten years from today. The needs of the army had to be planned for, far in advance.

The same member asked about the 12,000 personnel that had to be retrenched. Money would eventually be released through these retrenchments and this money was to be the source of funding for the R29bn acquisitions programme. Was it correct that this had not happened thus far? Mr Grundling said that the defence budget had been topped up to make the package possible and that the department's own budget contributions to the package were scheduled to increase over the next two years. The funds for these contributions would come from retrenchments, although these were happening slower than they would have liked.

Prof Mabeta (UDM) asked whether it was possible to provide further breakdowns of the personnel within the SANDF? Mr Grundling said that it was not possible to give these breakdowns right now, although he said that many white personnel were leaving the SANDF and being replaced by black personnel. It was difficult though, to reflect in the budget, what was going towards transformation.

Mr L Ngculu (ANC) stated that they needed a more detailed review of the budget, with further breakdowns within each programme.

The chairperson stated that HIV was one area where the committee needed to go into much greater detail. She asked what was the total amount the 12000 excess people were costing? With regards to the lenient policy on crime, the committee believed in rights but not in crime and lack of discipline. She said that they cannot allow leniency on crime and it was necessary for the department to avoid ambiguity on this issue.

One of Mr Grundling's colleagues, Admiral Retief, stated that they probably needed four more hours to discussing this budget completely. The chairperson asked the committee what was the feeling on this matter, to which one member replied that they needed more follow-up meetings, which another member agreed with.

Another member asked what were the implications for the health section of the budget, of HIV infections and what was the exact prevalence of AIDS and costs associated with AIDS, in the SANDF? Mr Grundling said that he was not able to answer that question directly, lacking the necessary information. He pointed out that it was not only the members suffering from AIDS who had to be supported, but also their families. The same member asked again why there was such a huge difference in the prevalence of AIDS in members of the SANDF to which the chairperson and others agreed that they would have to hear from the surgeon-general on this.

Review of the Draft Defence Bill
Admiral Retief began by reporting back on developments since the previous Defence Bill review meeting. He said that there had been talks with the police on the use of SANDF members for policing duties and it was agreed that soldiers must be given adequate protection if they were to be used as police.

There had also been talks with the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on the vetting of members of the SANDF. The National Intelligence Act stipulated that the SANDF was responsible for the vetting of its own members although the NIA disputed this. A firm decision on this issue was needed. The SANDF did prefer to vet its own members as well as people from Armscor and the Department of Defence. However they would abide by whatever decision was taken.

Boards of compensation for injury and disability were to be established, the need for these having been made clear during previous discussions. A discipline supplementary act had also been passed to abolish courts martial and to establish two appeal courts.

Admiral Retief referred also to hearings that were due to be held on the use of SANDF personnel in the support of the police. The chairperson said that this hearing would take place in early May [submission deadline is 6 May, hearing on 10 May] and the committee would want a submission from the SANDF as well as input from the public, which was the purpose of the hearing.

Admiral Retief went through Chapters sixteen and seventeen of the draft Defence Bill, during which members once again asked questions.

Chapter 16
Mrs Z Kota (ANC) asked what was the role of the secretariat of defence? The admiral replied that it was essentially unchanged. The Secretary of Defence was the chief advisor to the President, through the Minister of Defence.

Mr N Gogotya (ANC) asked whether it would be possible for decisions to be taken without the Minister of Defence, to which the Admiral replied, no, everything would in fact be done through the Minister of Defence, even though the President has the actual powers.

Chapter 17
This chapter deals with the visits of forces from outside countries to South Africa and the status of these forces while in South Africa, and the visits of South African forces, overseas.

A committee member asked Admiral Retief what would happen when SANDF personnel were working with other forces in terms of the command and control function and with respect to visiting officers? The Admiral said that visiting officers were just advisors. They were to be treated the same as officers of the same rank from the SANDF but they did not have a command relationship unless so ordered by the Minister of Defence for a specific situation.

Mr S Makwetla (ANC) pointed out a drafting problem. The sentences of some sections of the bill were very long, making it difficult to understand what was being said. For example, the first paragraph of section 115 was nine lines long and yet one complete sentence. He asked that this be addressed in the final bill.

A member asked whether the laws of visiting forces would apply to their forces while in South Africa, even with specific regard to sentencing and possible use of the death sentence? The Admiral replied that although the laws of visiting forces did indeed apply to their forces while in South Africa, if it were so desired, South African authorities could request that a specific sentence (such as the death sentence) not be carried out in South Africa.

Mr L Ngculu (ANC) asked what was the status of a deserter, if that person was seeking asylum? He pointed out the need for further clarification in this section. Admiral Retief replied that a person was only a deserter if declared to be one and that normal laws would apply. Another section of the draft bill dealt with alleged deserters. The section needing greater clarification would be looked at again though.

Another member asked with respect to section 117.1, whether this provision applied exclusively, precluding the application of the Human Rights Commission. He expressed concern that it did not interfere with the application of the Human Rights Commission. Admiral Retief replied that this section had to do with the holding of inquests into deaths and should not affect the Human Rights Commission at all. His comments were reiterated by one of his colleagues. Admiral Retief also quoted an example, saying that if a visiting Zimbabwean soldier committed a murder of another Zimbabwean soldier, that would be covered by Zimbabwean law, unless otherwise ruled by the Minister of Defence.

Another member asked what would be the status of deserters of visiting forces who were not yet declared deserters. Admiral Retief replied that nothing would be done about such deserters, as the South African authorities would rely on the visiting forces to inform them of any deserters. He gave as an example the incident of some Chinese sailors not returning to their ship, which was docked in Durban harbour, and the Chinese forces had not declared these men to be deserters. It had taken some time for the South African authorities to become aware of these men. He added that normal rules of immigration always applied to such cases in any event.

As the time had run out, the chairperson concluded the meeting at that point.



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