Chairperson, on 15 April 2010 members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans finally broke out of our parliamentary barracks to spend the day at sea on board on one of our warships, the SAS Mendi. One could not help being impressed by Captain Bravo Mhlana, Commander Graham Walker and the young and diverse crew of the SAS Mendi who represent everything that is good, not only about the SA Navy, but about the whole SA National Defence Force. [Applause.]
I would like to begin by recognising the loyal, disciplined, professional members of our Defence Force, many of whom have joined us here today, who serve under very difficult conditions, sometimes in the most dangerous conflict zones in the world. Whether you are from the army, the air force, the navy or the military health service, we can only say thank you, thank you, thank you for your service in our country. [Applause.]
The Minister was appointed a year ago, and since then she has notched up some impressive achievements. This includes the appointment of a permanent civilian Secretary of Defence, Mpumi Mpofu, who takes command of the Defence Secretariat on 1 June 2010. This also includes the employment of the Defence Force to safeguard our maritime, landward and air borders, the tough action taken against soldiers who protested the review of soldiers' service conditions, the commitment to deunionisation and the subsequent appointment of the interim National Defence Force Service Commission. Anybody who doubts the Minister's commitment to achieving outcomes should know that she has promised that if there is not a clean audit this year, there will not be enough towels to wipe the blood off the floor. [Applause.]
The fact is that things are moving, perhaps not always in the right direction, but things are moving. The Minister, the Deputy Minister and all the staff deserve credit for what has been achieved this year. [Applause.]
On 26 August 2009, more than a 1 000 soldiers, most of them from the army, went on a rampage in front of the Union Buildings. Of course, we should never forget that thousands more soldiers remained loyal, disciplined and professional and did not march on the Union Buildings. But, the fact is that on that day we were faced with the grim spectacle of soldiers, some of them armed with knobkieries, toyi-toying through the streets, brandishing placards, shouting slogans and torching vehicles. The soldiers who went on the rampage did irreparable harm, diminishing the already diminished reputation of the Defence Force, but they also focused political minds firmly on the state of the SA National Defence Force. I regret to say, however, that the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans knows very little about the state of the Defence Force, because the Minister has surrounded it with a ring of virtually impenetrable steel. You will all be aware that the Minister currently finds herself at the bottom of a deep and very muddy parliamentary foxhole following her decision to absent herself from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Rather than stop digging and conceding that she is wrong on this issue, the Minister has instead chosen to lob a political smoke grenade into Parliament, designed to obscure and confuse the fact that, in fact, she can be summoned by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Scopa. Of course, this is not an isolated incident; it is instead part of a pattern of accountability-busting behaviour for which the Minister is becoming very well known.
The Minister's approach to Parliament comes right out of "Yes, Minister", where officials believe that if people do not know what you are doing, they don't know what you are doing wrong. The Minister's own defence policy reads that the Department of Defence and Military Veterans recognises that it has a positive duty to provide sufficient information to ensure adequate parliamentary and public scrutiny. The Defence Force's central argument is that it is underfunded, which creates capability gaps which, in turn, result in risks to our national security. The key question therefore must be: What are these capability gaps and what risks are there to our national security? The short answer to that question is that we still don't know because a year after this matter was raised, we still have not been briefed on the combat-readiness of the Defence Force.
We have never been briefed on the service conditions within the Defence Force, the salary increases and how they were funded, or on acquisition of capital equipment for the Defence Force. We have never been briefed on the Defence Force's operation in support of the police for the 2010 World Cup. We have never received copies of the interim report, especially the so- called ticking time-bomb report produced by the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission. And we have never received a copy of the report from the Ministerial Task Team on Military Veterans.
My requests to visit military bases - Doornkop Military Base, Lenz Military Base and various other military formations - were effectively ignored. My parliamentary questions are hardly ever replied to. More than 10 parliamentary questions were not replied to last year and more than 20 parliamentary questions have not been replied to this year. Why does this happen? It happens because the Minister has tendencies, not the sort of tendencies that the hon Stella Ndabeni's leader Julius Malema likes to talk about, but deeply authoritarian tendencies.
The Minister is simply not hard-wired for democracy, because when the Minister is faced with a choice between secrecy and transparency, you can bet the Minister will always choose secrecy.
The truth is that there has been so much democratic roll-back in the Defence department that the Minister is in danger of becoming a modern-day Magnus Malan. [Interjections.]
The fact is that the Minister's approach has done serious damage to the relationship between the Defence department and Parliament, and it has left members of the portfolio committee in the dark about the true state of the Defence Force, forcing us to join the dots rather like Cold War Kremlinologists "reading the tea leaves".
Our Defence Force is clearly on its chin straps. A recent assessment by Jane's Defence Weekly told us that the SA National Defence Force is "in crisis". The article goes on to tell us that the Defence Force "is in danger of becoming moribund", "incapable of major operations" and is "clearly in decline". The crisis in the Defence Force, however, is perhaps best illustrated by the state of the Air Force. Don't listen to me; listen to Gen Carlos Gagiano, the Chief of the SA Air Force, who reported last year that "Until such time that additional funding can be allocated ... the SA Air Force will only be able to sustain around 2 000 Hawk flying hours per year versus the required 4 000 flying hours per year ... and the impact being that ... the Gripen System will only be able to be minimally implemented post June 2010".
What does this mean? It means that we have spent R15,7 billion on fighter jets that we cannot properly maintain and operate. This has happened, in part, because funds have been sucked out of "operations" and they have been sucked out of "acquisition" in order to pay for the ballooning costs of personnel.
We gather the army can now only afford to field four companies, that is, about 580 soldiers on our borders. The navy can only afford to sail one ship on coastal patrol on a given day and the air force can only keep two operational Gripen fighters flying.
And what does this all mean? It means, in effect, that we have a barracks- bound army, a harbour-bound navy and a hangar-bound air force. The Defence Force is now in serious danger of being reduced to an armed welfare organisation, whose primary purpose is to provide employment rather than security. [Interjections.]
The Minister, in introducing the idea of voluntary national service, appears to have morphed into the Minister of Labour. The idea of voluntary national service will have to be extensively debated. But the real question is: Where are the resources going to come from, and will this not further reinforce the armed welfare role of our Defence Force? There is clearly an operating budget shortfall, and we need to deal with it as a matter of urgency.
A comprehensive analysis of defence spending by way of an independent audit should be conducted so that we can find ways of decreasing spending on support and increasing spending on operations, because too often we spend our bucks on bling rather than spending our bucks on bang.
Is it really necessary, for example, for the Defence Force to spend money on a VIP lounge at the O R Tambo International Airport, on a fleet of luxury vehicles because foreign military officers cannot be transported, in the words of one official, in a mere "Uno", and on 36 military attachs who serve in all sorts of obscure nooks and crannies all around the world?
We must find ways to reallocate resources within the existing budget towards the sharp end of the Defence Force. The Defence department's central argument, as I have mentioned before, is that, despite an allocation of R30,7 billion, the Defence Force is underfunded by R7,3 billion in the 2010-11 financial year. That may be, but the hard fact is this: the Defence department has never produced a credible case. In fact, it has never produced a case to review the Defence budget.
The Department of Defence's draft policy document, entitled Defence Update 2035, which should form the foundation of the Department of Defence's case and which has cost millions of rand to produce over the past five years, seems to have been buried and will not, we are told, see the light of day any time soon.
Never in the history of defence policy-making have so many laboured so long to produce so little. [Laughter.] But instead of a credible case, the Defence department argues that the Defence budget should be increased to approximately 1,8% of our GDP, because that is the average military burden in the developing world. This is, I am sure you will agree, a spectacular nonargument and, frankly, complete and utter rubbish.
What it reveals is that the real problem at the Defence department is not a budget deficit. The real problem at the Defence department is a leadership deficit. The Defence department seems to have lost its way. The strategy seems to be to fill the next pothole in our pathway. That is why we need strong political leadership that is able to put an end to the "amateurism" we have become used to and pull the Defence Force up by its bootstraps. There is no doubt that the Defence Force needs a major overhaul and should be put to terms.
There should be no review of the defence budget until the Defence department complies with the following conditions: submitting a Green Paper on Defence to Parliament in order to reset our 14-year-old defence policy; conduct a strategic defence review to rebalance the force design, force structure, human resource levels and defence acquisition priorities; and, most important of all, the Minister needs to voluntarily climb out of the parliamentary foxhole she finds herself in and begin to build trust and break down suspicion by being properly accountable to Parliament. I thank you. [Applause.]