South African Defence Minister Accuses Parliament of Delaying Defence Review

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is concerned that the National Assembly has not approved the Defence Review more than a year after it was tabled. The delay is impeding the implementation of some of her department’s programmes aimed at revitalising the army.

Speaking at a media briefing before delivering her budget vote speech in Parliament on Tuesday, Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said the delay was hindering the immediate implementation of a long-term plan to stop the decline of the South African military.

The minister undertook to focus on building a defence force that reflects the country’s demographics. She said she would instruct the defence force to devise strategic plans that would lead to the creation of a more representative army.

The defence force had met its gender equity target of 30% women.

Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said she was concerned about the demographics at the entry level of the defence force, particularly in the army.

While she did not see the Defence Review as a panacea for the defence force, the government had to apply itself to its recommendations, which included increased defence spending.

“The delay in the approval by Parliament of the Defence Review 2014 means that the financial year 2015-16 will be devoted to planning and implementation during the financial year 2016/17 and beyond,” Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The defence review committee, an independent panel of experts, last year unveiled its comprehensive report, which includes recommendations.

The review aims to create a balanced, flexible and modern force that uses advanced technology in response to the changing nature of the defence function globally.

The review, approved by Cabinet in March last year and subsequently sent to Parliament, points to a decline in the capabilities of the defence force because an insufficient budget was allocated to it.

The department has a R44.5bn budget for the 2015-16 financial year, which is about 1.1% of gross domestic product (GDP). Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said she hoped that in the next five years the defence budget would rise to 2% of GDP.

David Maynier, Democratic Alliance defence spokesman, said the defence force was “in deep trouble”.

“We are spending too much on personnel, too little on operations and much too little on capital acquisition. We have a defence force geared for ‘welfare’ rather than a defence force geared for ‘warfare’. The last best hope for the defence force is the defence review.”

Mr Maynier said the Defence Review had noted that, even with an immediate intervention, it could take at least five years to halt the decline and another five years to develop a limited and sustainable defence capability.

“There is therefore an element of urgency … every day that is wasted talking about the Defence Review, rather than implementing it, accelerates the decline of the defence force.”

Mr Maynier said the review had been neglected in Parliament because the African National Congress did not care about the defence force.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said he supported the budget vote but more had to be done implement the recommendations of the Defence Review.

As reported by Bekezela Phakathi for BusinessDay Live