Address in the Debate: Budget Vote 21 - Defence and Military Veterans by the UDM President (04 May 2010)

 

Chairperson, honourable Minister and Deputy Minister, and honourable Members

The UDM supports budget vote 21.

It’s a privilege and honour to participate in this debate. For the record, I’m not a member of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, nor is the UDM represented on the committee. However my interest has been occasioned by my appointment to the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission (INDFSC), where I am volunteering my services. I’m honoured that the Minister extended this invitation to serve on the Commission.

In today’s debate I’m not representing the Commission, suffice to say that the Commission has interacted with the Minister and Portfolio Committee on its mandate. I’m sure that the House has taken note of the public debate about the Commission’s work.

Chairperson, it is worth recalling that the 1998 Defence Review placed more emphasis on social security investment than military hardware. Investments that should have been made to enable real Defence Force priorities, like training and relevant equipment and improved conditions of service, were neglected. Now these funding priorities are coming back to haunt the Defence Force. An illustration of the problem is the seeming inability of the state to protect our borders from illegal entry by criminal elements, which result in the regular reports of violent robberies involving them.

It would appear that the progress made by the Defence Force in the past 16 years, especially the integration of more than 5 armed forces, has been undermined by poor decision-making, such as the Arms Deal, which at the end of the day was laced with corruption. This has triggered concerns about whether the final Arms Deal was in line with the initial recommendations of the 1998 Defence Review as approved by Parliament.

If we analyse media reports and complaints by the Minister, it is clear that as a result of the Arms Deal the Department is struggling to convince the national treasury to allocate more funds for urgent priorities such as relevant equipment, personnel transport and improved conditions of service. There is a funding deficit for the SANDF which Cabinet needs to address urgently so that the SANDF will be in a proper state of readiness.

The steady neglect of the abovementioned priorities has also had a deeply negative impact on the morale of SANDF members. We can all remember the scenes of protesting soldiers outside the Union Buildings. That should be a wake-up call. However there is a misperception that the Interim Defence Force Service Commission is investigating that incident directly, including whether there is a need for unionisation within the SANDF. In actual fact the Commission is not investigating that matter and the public have yet to be informed of the specifics of that incident.

Chairperson, one thing we cannot avoid is that South Africa is now playing an international security role and will soon be returning as a member of the United Nations Security Council. This implies far greater investment in the correct equipment and training for SANDF personnel to maintain a high standard of professionalism. On the other hand, we notice the migration of experienced former SADF, MK and TDF soldiers due to retirement. This has been coupled with well-documented reports of a skills-flight to the private sector.

The orientation and integration process that started in 1994 was always going to be challenging because of the different approaches to the military profession by the different armed forces. The emphasis must now be on investing in new future commanders who will be able to lead the SANDF in its modern responsibilities. Such an emphasis implies an intensification of training and the funding allocated for this purpose, both internally as well as in collaboration with friendly armed forces.

Another matter that is of concern is the state of the South African military industries. Despite South Africa’s long history of advanced military manufacturing on the continent, and our extensive participation in peace-keeping operations, it is disheartening how little of our local military hardware is used abroad, such as armed personnel carriers. It does not serve our national interest to be viewed as a Father Christmas that sponsors peace-keeping operations but do not actively promote the products of our local manufacturers for this purpose.

I thank you.