Modise vows to ‘fix’ underspending defence department

The department of defence and military veterans underspent its budget by 48% during the first three quarters — April to December 2021 — of its current financial year. Of its total budget appropriation of R607-million, the department used only R290.6-million. 

During a briefing to the parliament portfolio committee of defence and military veterans on Wednesday, Defence Minister Thandi Modise said she was concerned about the state of the department. She added that although she and her deputy Thabang Makwetla had signed off on the presented report, they wanted it improved.

Chief director of the department Sandisa Siyengo told the committee that of the R290.6-million spent, 67% was on employment, 48% for goods and services, 39% for transfers and subsidies, and 31% on capital assets payments. 

Democratic Alliance MP Kobus Marais questioned the manner in which the department calculated its percentages, to which director general Irene Mpolweni responded that it uses a particular formula to reach a final determination. 

The report revealed that there was gross underspending on programmes that should have assisted military veterans. For its socioeconomic support services, the department spent only 46% of its available budget; for support services such as education and housing, it spent 38% and 31%. respectively.

In the area of empowerment and stakeholder management dealing with skills development, the department spent only 42% of its available budget of more than R37.5-million.

It did manage to overspend at its administration division for management and compensation to employees, using 101% of its available budget in both instances.

The department’s average performance in reaching targets is at a staggering low of 38% over the past three-quarters of the current financial year. It achieved only 13 of its 34 targets between April and December.

Responding to the report, ANC MP Alexandra Beukes said the low spending by the department “has a direct impact on military veterans not receiving any services. The department needs to address what is important and that is to give [support] for the lives of our military veterans.”

Committee chairperson Cyril Xaba said a miracle was needed to spend the available funds left in one quarter. 

“It means you must spend 52% of the budget in the last quarter. You need a miracle to spend 52% in this quarter when you have not been able to achieve it in three quarters,” said Xaba. “It is unachievable and it is money that is going to be surrendered back to [the] treasury. We are concerned about that. It is a huge disservice to people who are waiting to be assisted by this department.”

Modise concurred, admitting: “We will do [the] wrong things if we are going to force this expenditure in the last dying weeks of this financial year.”

She said what worried her the most about the department was “when you’ve got programmes which are introduced that have serious budget implications which have not been cleared with us [the executive].”

Modise vowed before the portfolio committee to “fix the department … We will have to do things as they are supposed to be done.”

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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