Despite the downsizing of the number of foot soldiers, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) overspent R2.8-billion on salaries.
The over-expenditure on salaries also relates to the higher than planned use of the reserve force due to ongoing defence commitments in neighbouring countries and domestically.
A report by the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, which scrutinised the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report on the 2022/23 annual report of the Department of Defence (DOD), laid bare the state of the SANDF.
The report, now due for consideration, was released earlier this month.
It found that by the end of 2021/22, the DOD incurred a cumulative total of R10.015-billion in irregular expenditure related to compensation of employees (CoE) since 2017/18.
This amount has not been condoned by the National Treasury and therefore remains captured on the DOD total of irregular expenditure.
"For 2022/23, the DOD received a main appropriation for cost of employment (CoE) at the start of 2022/23 to the value of R30.680-billion which was adjusted upwards during the mid-year adjustments to R31.786-billion. The adjustment was made by National Treasury for Operation Vikela (R755-million) and annual salary adjustments. At the end of 2022/23, the DOD spent R34.661-billion on CoE which is 63.49% of the Department’s total expenditure.
"The DOD overspent on compensation of employees by R2.875-billion in 2022/23. Of concern is that this overspending is higher than the R2.708-billion overspending on CoE in 2021/22, despite several interventions such as the Mobility Exit Mechanism (MEM),” the report said.
In July last year, the SANDF had been allocated R1-billion to fund a "mobility exit mechanism" that would result in more than 3 000 uniformed soldiers leaving over the next two years.
At the time, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise said the National Treasury had allocated R1-billion to fund the MEMs during the financial year 2022/23 and R800-million for 2023/24 in order to assist the DOD to fit in the CoE allocation.
This will translate into the planned exit of approximately 3 048 uniformed members through MEMs over the indicated financial years.
Regarding interventions to rein in the high salary bill, the DOD highlighted that 14 504 vacant posts were scrapped.
The use of the reserve force is another factor adding to the high salary bill.
"Based on the tight fiscal conditions under which the DOD functions, MPs expressed concern around the potential for mid-year budget cuts to the DOD’s 2023/24 allocation and highlighted that if this should be implemented, it will have a devastating impact on the SANDF’s operational capabilities, training and force readiness," it said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed 2 700 SANDF members to assist the police in protecting Eskom power stations, under Operation Prosper, from 17 March 2023 to 17 April 2023. Subsequently, he deployed 800 soldiers from 17 April to 17 October 2023 for the same purpose.
In 2019, Ramaphosa deployed the SANDF to help the police in Cape Town's gang areas, in 2020 to help with the enforcement of the Covid-19 lockdown, and in July 2021 to quell the unrest engulfing KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.
The average human resources capacity as of 31 March 2023 was 69 359. Due to normal and induced attrition, a force reduction of 2 186 officials materialised.
It also said 1 295 soldiers separated through the MEM and 195 civilian personnel separated through the employee-initiated severance package.
Sick leave is another major cost driver for the SANDF.
"The total cost of sick leave has fluctuated significantly in recent years. However, in 2019/20, the total cost of sick leave increased drastically to R400.2-million and again decreased significantly to R259-million in 2020/21. The average number of days’ sick leave per employee decreased from eight in 2019/20 to seven in 2020/21.
"In 2021/22, the cost of sick leave increased to R314.5-million and the average number of sick days remained at seven per employee. This increased further in 2022/23 to R383.6-million with an average of nine sick days per employee for the year," the committee’s report said.
The DOD is also involved in litigation amounting to R8.2-billion.
Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke’s office also raised her concerns regarding the uncertainty of future outcomes of litigation. These were raised during deliberations on the annual report with the committee in September.
"The department (DOD) is the defendant in various lawsuits to the value of R8.26-billion. The ultimate outcome of these matters cannot presently be determined and no provision for any liability that may result has been made in the financial statements," the committee’s report said.
Over the last decade, budget cuts have hamstrung the SANDF's ability to maintain its prime equipment such as submarines, special armoured vehicles, fighter jets and the Rooivalk attack helicopter.
The SANDF’s financial woes have led to a loss of skills in its air force, it has critical equipment shortages for reserve members, and soldiers in specialised units are getting old.