SANDF's Readiness Questioned
Johannesburg - Members of parliament and a local defence journal are accusing the SA National Defence Force of "Enron-style" accounting and say it can no longer be considered ready to discharge its constitutional mandate.
MPs say they were shocked to hear at a recent SANDF briefing that only four tanks and eight Rooikat armoured cars were in operation.
Based on regular SANDF updates and publications they had been under a different impression.
The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies believes the army has 168 Olifant tanks and 242 Rooikat armoured cars.
It also lists the army as fielding one tank regiment and another with Rooikat armoured cars. Each should have over 40 of the fighting vehicles in operation.
The briefing, held at Saldanha on June 21 and 22, had been called by the parliamentary portfolio committee on defence to answer its members' disquiet on the state of the military's reserves.
It was attended by MPs from the African National Congress, the New National Party and the Democratic Alliance.
In terms of the 1996 White Paper on Defence and the 1998 Defence Review, the SANDF's reserves are meant to provide the bulk of its manpower in case of war or national calamity.
But it has been so under-funded in recent years that many battalions that should be able to field several hundred troops can barely manage a few dozen.
Deputy Defence Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge in May said the 52 battalions and 183 commando units that make up the bulk of the reserves needed R264 million a year to function properly. This year's allocation was R6.6 million, but this has already been cut.
The commanders of several reserve regiments, outraged at having to help defend the country on around R2 000 a month, have written sharply worded letters to senior generals asking whether their units are still required.
If not, they would like to donate their time to some other worthwhile cause, one wrote in a letter.
Another said the situation is all the more tragic as SANDF commander-in-chief President Thabo Mbeki has declared 2002 the year of the volunteer.
DA defence spokesperson Hendrik Schmidt, who attended the briefing, says the present state of affairs is shocking.
"The SANDF is experiencing critical and major human resource challenges. The number of members whose age and health profile do not meet the SANDF requirements average about 53% of all personnel."
His deputy, Roy Jankielsohn is equally concerned.
"Taxpayers are paying large amounts of money towards defence," he said in reference to the SANDF's R18.4 billion budget.
"They must know they are getting value for money. This means having an operationally ready defence force."
NNP defence spokesperson Adriaan Blaas says while the SANDF's personnel and capital expenditure have climbed in recent years as a result of integration and the ongoing strategic defence acquisition package, funds available for operations have decreased.
Seventy percent of the army's annual allocation now goes directly to salaries.
"There is not enough money left to operate the defence force," he says.
This means the SANDF can only project a single battalion abroad for peacekeeping in addition to deploying a few hundred troops at home in support of the police.
But this too came at a cost, namely inadequate training time, the mothballing of equipment and cutting back on the maintenance of that still in use.
Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota has already told Parliament the Air Force has too few pilots to fly all the aircraft and helicopters it will be receiving later in the decade and lacks the funds to train sufficient numbers.
Too many 'non-core' expenses
The navy will receive three submarines but it is not clear whether it will be able to fund the required crews.
One MP familiar with the Spear-class submarine presently in service expressed anxiety over the safety of its crew, saying the boat was old and not safe.
Blaas says there was also too many "non-core" expenses in the defence budget, including support for the police and paying for President Mbeki's Boeing business jet.
He believes the police should reimburse the SANDF for help given while the Presidency should pay for the aircraft.
Blaas is also concerned about over-ranking in the SANDF, including its now notorious number of generals, and the structure of the organisation itself.
But African Armed Forces Journal publisher Peter McIntosh believes the root of the problem is not a lack of money but a lack of responsibility and accountability on the part of the SANDF's leadership.
"The SANDF trots out the excuse of a lack of funds at every opportunity. Recently they've also taken to blaming politicians for the excessive number of generals and the unworkable structure developed by an auditing firm at a cost of around R60 million," McIntosh said.
SANDF leadership 'culpable'
"If the politicians are really responsible, it will be interesting to hear from the generals whom among them warned parliament of its folly and to what extent they protested its implementation. In many countries resignation would be the honourable thing to do."
McIntosh said the culpability of the SANDF's leadership is clear.
"A recent SANDF internal bulletin reveals a shocking state of affairs in respect of SANDF vehicles. In any commercial organisation the same facts would have led to immediate demands for the resignation of those to blame or instant dismissal and probably the pressing of criminal charges."
There is clearly a lot wrong, but they publicly give the impression that all is well, similar to what Enron did in its balance sheets prior to its collapse, he said.
In the bulletin, available on the military's website, the SANDF all but admits that it has no idea how many sedan and light vehicles it possesses or where they are.
"The DoD (Department of Defence) IG (Inspector General) recently initiated a special investigation concerning misuse of D-vehicles (sedans, bakkies, minibusses) in the DoD. Findings pointed to grievous irregular practices with regard to the marking of vehicles and the misuse of vehicles," the bulletin said.
Unless problems of this nature are resolved, McIntosh believes the taxpayer will remain saddled with a bill for an SANDF some 60 000 strong but unable to defend them.
With acknowledgements to Sapa and www.news24.co.za