Tough decisions ahead for the DoD in implementing Defence Review milestones
Military observers, including the shadow defence and military veterans minister in the Democratic Alliance (DA) benches of the National Assembly, agree tough decisions lie ahead for the Defence Ministry as it struggles to meet Milestone One of the Defence Review. That milestone states the decline in capabilities of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has to be halted. Among others this should see a reduction in personnel from over 78 000 to just under 70 000 in the 2017/18 financial year. A Parliamentary research unit paper tabled at this month’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) makes it even clearer stating, in part, the achievement of Milestone One “will require the employment of up to 8 736 permanent uniformed and civilian SANDF members to be terminated”. It suggests the JSCD ask the Department of Defence (DoD) how this reduction will be achieved, what it will cost and whether it will impact on future recruitment. “The impression I got during the meeting was the SANDF and National Treasury are not on the same page as regards the termination of service of close to nine thousand people,” was the reaction of DA shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais. He added he had attempted to ascertain what percentage of SANDF employees - uniformed and civilian – were over 45 and under 45 to have some indication of where retrenchment could be possible. “This was not forthcoming,” he said. Another opinion offered by a seasoned military watcher, who preferred to remain anonymous, was that “funding woes” were a contributing factor.
“The problem of the exit mechanism – the non-existent one, that is – is a real one. If National Treasury insists on numbers being cut the only way the defence force can do that will be by dropping those who joined most recently,” he said, pointing out they are the “cheapest – no gratuity, no pension, no medical for a large family”. “These are the people it should and wants to keep. The so-called ‘old and bold’ will be too expensive to ease out of the system.” He maintains there must be a mechanism in the defence force to shed people who are superfluous to needs, including those who are too old or too unfit to be of use. “The defence force cannot become a sheltered employment organisation but at the same time people cannot just be dumped with no chance of alternative employment.”