Possible Changes to Defence
Cape Town - Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota is considering important changes in the defence force that, if accepted by cabinet, will result in personnel expenditure cuts, the National Assembly's defence committee heard on Wednesday.
Briefing MPs on the defence department's R18.4 billion budget for the 2002/03 financial year, chief finance officer Jack Grundling said: "The minister is considering important force design and structure decisions, which he will take to Cabinet and this parliamentary committee."
He did not elaborate, but said if the changes were accepted, these would impact on personnel expenditure costs.
Grundling was replying to the Democratic Alliance's Hendrik Schmidt, who expressed concern that although personnel numbers were decreasing from more than 110 000 in the 1995/96 financial year to 76 520 in this financial year, and eventually to 71 000 in 2004, personnel expenditure would increase - from R5.3 billion in 1996 - to R6.6 billion in 2004.
"The concern of the honourable member is exactly the concern of the department," he said, adding that the changes Lekota was considering would impact on personnel costs and would be reflected in the 2003/04 budget.
Defence ministry spokesperson Sam Mkwanazi confirmed the plan would involve a smaller force, but said this was not the only aspect.
He too declined to elaborate further, saying the matter would have to go to Cabinet first. Schmidt said he suspected the changes would include the closing of bases, which would also result in personnel cuts.
"I expect they will come forward with far-reaching proposals, for the purpose of the unions, but how far they will go, I don't know," he said.
Schmidt said he also believed the number of generals in the force would be decreased as the number was extremely high. There were 197 generals in 2001, a ratio of 1 general to 245 ordinary soldiers. In the United States, for example, there was one army general to about 2 000 soldiers, he said.
Schmidt said he also expected that defence force stock would also be scrapped or sold.
In his reaction, Jane's Defence Weekly Southern African correspondent Helmut Romer-Heitman said he thought support services might be reduced to bring them in line with force structures.
He too believed that the number of generals might decrease.
With acknowledgements to Sapa and www.news24.co.za