WINDHOEK – Retired military generals have come out in support of the N$7.23 billion budget
for the Ministry of Defence, telling New Era that the public’s criticism of the allocation tend to ignore the huge costs involved in acquiring modern military equipment and maintenance of infrastructure.
“When people say we are not at war I worry because it clearly means people do not know the mandate of the defence. Fire brigades are always on standby, why do they not build it when there is a fire?” said the former chief of defence Lieutenant General (Rtd) Epafras Denga Ndaitwah.
In agreement with him were former prime minister and defence minister Nahas Angula,
as well as another former chief of the Namibian Defence Force Lieutenant-General (Rtd) Martin Shalli.
Angula said efforts to revamp dilapidated army bases and establish new ones, and remuneration of army personnel are some of the activities which require sufficient funding. “You do not want to be caught off guard, therefore you must equip yourself adequately,” Angula said.
“Having a military is the same concept as the fire brigade. In the absence of fire people complain about the equipment being purchased but as soon as a fire breaks out everyone looks to the fire brigade to put out the fire,” said Shalli.
New Era’s estimation from the previous budget document shows that the defence spent about N$27 billion in the last five years, of which N$24 billion went through the operational budget and the rest through the development budget. The highest spending has been on ‘research and development’, a component dedicated to evaluating, researching and restocking military equipment.
Defence spending is expected to continue rising with the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) making provision for increases in the allocation for the next financial years until 2017/18.
Opposition parties, and the public on social media, have again decried the huge budget allocation to defence after the tabling of the 2015/2016 budget on Tuesday.
DTA parliamentarian Vikuapuje Muharukua and Swanu MP Usutuaije Maamberua are some of the politicians who publicly expressed concern about defence spending. Muharukua proposed that Namibia’s military should be transformed into a modernised, leaner and meaner army.
“We are a stable nation that is marching towards prosperity, therefore we should spend more on sectors such as agriculture which is one of the strong points of this nation because it has the ability to create jobs, eradicate poverty and ensure food security,” Muharukua said, adding: “It would have made more sense if money was pumped into the police force to motivate them by increasing their salaries.”
Shalli asked the public to first become acquainted with the operations of the military before questioning the allocation. “People underestimate the cost involved in acquiring modern military equipment and maintaining infrastructure. But if they want Namibia to be left behind then so be it. Look at a small country like Lesotho which is surrounded by South Africa yet it has a military to protect its sovereignty,” said Shalli.
Citing the instability in Nigeria, and its neighbouring countries because of Boko Haram, Shalli says it is simply “not an issue of money being spent but an issue of national safety and security. Eventually the spending on defence will subside but for now it is a sacrifice we need to make.”
“If you look at our coastline which stretches for about 1 300 kilometres and the size of our country, you will realize that a lot of money is required to protect our resources and sovereignty. You need boats that need to be fuelled to patrol the coastline and transport to move soldiers from one place to the other, we must start thinking carefully,” Angula said.
Ndaitwah says the peace within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) appears to influence politicians and the public into thinking that “we are developing like a family in the region, but still that does not mean we should let our guard down”.
He added: “Our defence must be ready at all times to carry out missions. There was a time when our defence was at war in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], and today DRC is what it is because of our intervention. If we were not prepared we would not have been able to help our brothers and sisters in DRC.”