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What the Taxpayer May not Know

The Business Weekly recently informed us that spending in NDP 11 on defence and security would be increased and spending on development needs, education, health and the like, would be decreased.

(May 26) Helpfully, BDF Commander Lt General Segokgo, appearing before the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, provided more background information when stating that ‘the purchase of modern aircraft, tanks and other equipment aids peace efforts. He added that having multi-role fighter aircraft and equipment that enables land manoeuvers acts as a deterrent to external forces that may want to destabilise the country.’

He explained that the country’s founding leaders chose not to have an army in order to avoid conflict. That strategy did not work and the government then decided to form the BDF.  While some acts of aggression continued, the BDF was able to increase the country’s security levels. He further explained that ‘they’ hold dialogue with the national political executive about the needs of the army to strengthen its capacity’ (Daily News June 8). Surprisingly members of the Committee did not question any of these assertions. The problem here is that from its inception in 1977, it was generally accepted that the BDF’s affairs should be taken to be a national security secret. At the time, this may have been partly understandable because the country was under threat from the white minority regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa and because the electorate was poorly educated and poorly informed.

The situation today, however, is totally different. Ian Smith has gone and South Africa has been freed from apartheid. Neither country now represents a threat and Southern Africa continues to enjoy its hard won peace. The electorate is now well educated and well informed about many of the issues that affect it.  There was, therefore, no longer a need to keep the affairs of either the BDF or latterly of the Directorate of Security from the taxpayer. That is not, however, how matters have played out.  The BDF and the Executive continue to be insistent that the manner by which the taxpayers’ security is to be achieved is none of their business.

This strange situation was just about sustainable but only for as long as voting taxpayers continued to be unquestioning and unaware of their rights and only as long as military and security expenditure did not impact on their needs for better health and better education. 

When the Business Weekly reported that the draft NDP 11 approved by the Executive will indeed up the one and lower the other it has to be asked

if the time has now arrived when taxpayers would be fully justified to question which of these two generalised needs would be their priority? But do they have the right to question anything, even if they believe that what has been agreed on their behalf will work to their considerable disadvantage? Should they accept that the decision-makers are bound to know more than they can ever hope to do and that all decisions must be left to them? Do they have the right to wonder about the basic premise which appears to be the justification for the purchase of fighter aircraft and tanks? Do they have the right to challenge the assertion that the country’s security can only be achieved when the BDF possesses the most modern military hardware? Would they indeed have the right to suggest that the attacks on this country only occurred after and not before the BDF’s establishment and that the country’s security was, as a result, neither better nor worse off? 

Does the electorate, which now includes any number of distinguished academics, have the right to question the premise on which policy is based? Do electorates in other democratic countries have the right to be told which of their neighbours are showing signs of the aggressive intent which needs to be deterred? Here we can surely forget Zambia for geographical reasons and Zimbabwe which has its own problems which leaves only Namibia and South Africa as the potential aggressors. No amount of tanks or fighter aircraft, however, will ensure the safeguarding of the thousands of kilometres of borders with those countries. The problem, though, for the taxpayers is that both the BDF and the Executive will be fully aware of this deficiency which year by year will require ever more tanks and fighter aircraft to help fill those vast gaps. In such circumstances can there ever be a limit to the BDF’s and the DIS’s need for more and more and more? Will a cut off point ever be reached if the electorate fails to register its dismay at the increasing levels of expenditure which are required to keep it notionally safe?

The BDF has a dual role in deterring aggressive intent by external forces and in combating poaching. What happens if the military hardware required by the one is ill-suited for the needs of the other?

Etcetera II



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