Imagine a man called the BDF. Although already reaching mid-age, Brah BDF has never known his real identity, except the one defined by the number of salespeople peddling all sorts of goods around his street. So today Brah BDF is told he needs a shirt, he buys one. The next day, a more colourful sales person with better diction, convinces BDF he needs a hat. He buys it. Then a discounted hardhat is for sale by a broke former site manager, who stays up the street. BDF buys the hardhat and a clutch bag too!
By the end of the week, BDF has boots but no socks, a hat and hardhat, long pants, a pair of jeans, some shirt, and a leather jacket. He has spent money but he is still not quite dressed yet. No underwear. No undershirt. And those colourful pants? The front zip isn’t working either. But there is the clutch bag of course.
This is how the BDF seems to be functioning at the moment. There is a lot of spending of public funds but the army never quite gets to be fully equipped for its main role. In the meantime the BDF keeps asking for more funds, and the public is only ready to oblige.
Last year Finance Minister Matambo did something dramatic. He came back to Parliament and asked for more cash, over a billion Pula of it.
The Defence Ministry would claim about half of it with BDF gobbling up P390.8 million of that. The then Defence Minister Dikgakgamatso Seretse told Parliament that over half of that would go to staff allowances and a four per cent salary hike. P244.7million would cover the operational budget. He says earlier the BDF had undertaken a study to find its fitness, a study which had concluded that the boys needed more toys. The military, therefore, wanted to increase the provision for aircraft, equipment maintenance and other recurring costs. It is important to remember that this after all was in addition to what Seretse had asked for only ten month earlier.
This was to be added to the original budget, which Seretse had requested earlier, around P5.1billion for the ministry in the financial year 2014/2015. The Development aspect of it would be P951million, while P4.1billion would be the recurrent part of it. Of that the men and women in green would gobble P627million for development alone, made up of P206.5 million spent on building projects and P420.4million for “aircraft, vehicles, communications and defence equipment projects” as Seretse puts it. As usual MPs were not too impressed with such requests to the national purse, but as always MPs zoned in on the pet subject, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services. But there is yet another elephant in the room, and it is in green camouflage.
The defence infrastructure in this country can only function efficiently, maximise on limited resources when there is an organising principle around which they work. A defence policy would stipulate, borrowing from the national vision, the main values the defence apparatus has to project and protect as part of the national agenda. The Vision 2016 document, which is about to be shredded for something fresher in about 12 months, points to this, stating “The national defence policy must have structures and mechanisms that enhance continued discipline, accountability, transparency, efficiency, gender equality and cost effectiveness. There should be a public review of the policy and role of the Botswana Defence Force within the new regional political situation” . The policy stipulates the defence priorities of a country, the threats and the ways of dealing with those threats. Everything the defence organisations seek to achieve would flow from a defence policy. In some countries specific military organisations may put together something more specific, say a doctrine, which would zone in on what the military organisation has to do to give life to the policy. The relationship between national vision, and thus nation, is such that the national vision informs the national defence policy which in turn gives life to the defence doctrine.
For example in its most recent review of its defence policy, the South African Defence Review opens up the space in which the country’s defence should function by first stating where the country sees its position in the region and the world. “South Africa’s future military capability must be commensurate with South Africa’s international status, strategic posture and its inescapable continental leadership role. South Africa’s military capability must ultimately be able to support and enable this leadership profile and the pursuit of its national interests. As South Africa assumes this leadership role, it will similarly assume the obligation to provide experienced military leaders and proficient military forces for peace missions and other military operations on the African continent” it states. It is upon this that the SA defence from army to navy would formulate their programs.
In short the document helps the SANDF decide what type of animal it should be. Some military insiders say had the BDF had a defence policy and doctrine, we would know our defence needs and meet them.
Throughout its life this lack of guiding document has led the BDF to become both wasteful and unable to play its proper role in the upkeep of the country.
The BDF is one of the country’s major institutions and often is favoured with a big chunk of the national budget. But the BDF, insiders point out, is not battle ready even up to now. This is because the army has no direction, no identity. In a way the BDF does not know whether it is a mammal or a reptile. As a result its acquisitions are often motivated by the elite’s business interests, which either misguided or outright useless to its immediate needs. It has therefore become a cash cow for military salesmen and their partners in the local elite.
The BDF, whether in this financial year or next, will give out the biggest procurement program in its history, the acquisition of fighter planes. BDF insiders and outside observers have argued that the BDF has more immediate needs. In fact some say the army does not need fighter jets given the type of security threats the country faces. A number of characters have been pushing this procurement. Initially it was some South Korean group, then some Brazilians jetted in to present their case, but reports indicate that both have since been beaten to the deal by a group “more connected”. Sometime last year a Brit of Israeli origin (name known to this publication) brought the idea of refurbished F-5s, through another intermediary within defence circles.
The Ministry gets the fourth largest share of the recurrent budget at P5.04 billion or 13.7 percent. “This is an increase of P464.12 million or 10.2 percent over the current financial year’s revised budget,” he added. The MPs will approve it, after all they are no more informed about what motivates these figures.
Brah BDF might get a helmet and a pair of shades. Or perhaps a dress!