By Moses Matenga and Winstone Antonio
Parliament has exposed government for its failure to address the plight of soldiers by not providing essentials that include medical aid and allowances, as well as adequate food rations, resulting in the military personnel “marching on empty stomachs”.
This was revealed on Wednesday in a report by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs chaired by Umzingwane MP Levi Mayihlome (Zanu PF) which was presented during debate on the Finance Bill to do with the 2021 National Budget.
Mayihlome said as a result of poor budgetary support of the army, morale was low, hence, the need to boost determination in the army and equip the soldiers with modern technology as the current one was archaic.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, in his 2021 budget statement announced in November allocated the Defence and War Veterans Affairs ministry $23,75 billion instead of their proposed budget of $158,4 billion.
Mayihlome said the 2021 salary allocations showed that the Finance ministry did not take into cognisance the approved military salary concept.
“An army marches on its stomach. Rations are an institutional requirement, but the allocations are so paltry, one would get the impression that someone thinks he is doing the military a favour,” Mayihlome said.
“The most seriously distressed expenditure items in the ministry were employment costs that currently do not reflect the approved military salary concept. On funeral benefits for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), no funds were allocated for funerals, yet it is part of their conditions of service,” he said.
The report said ZDF members, their families and war veterans were failing to access healthcare services, posing a danger to the effectiveness of the army.
He said the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) was grossly or not funded on funeral and medical expenses for the military and their dependents.
“Currently, using PSMAS (Premier Service Medical Aid), but the claims are not being honoured. Thinking of PSMAS — can someone tell me how soldiers on operations or on important training exercises are expected to access or benefit from the use of PSMAS?”
Mayihlome said the ZDF had not been paid travel and subsistence allowances (T&S) paid when soldiers were deployed and as a result a huge backlog has been accumulated.
“The ZDF has accumulated a backlog on T&S, medical supplies and services where the war veterans, the ZDF members and their dependents are failing to access free health services,” he said.
On allocation of food, he said it was too paltry to serve that purpose.
He said as a result of Ncube’s paltry allocations to the army, the focus was now on the welfare of soldiers, instead of focusing on their training and acquisition of new combat technology.
“The military need to have the appropriate tools of the trade, when there is peace so that they practice with those tools for there is no room for trial and error in actual combat. The military must not exist to be paid monthly salaries, they must be equipped and trained for war. It follows also that military commanders should not spend most of their time thinking about how to feed and accommodate soldiers, those are given, that is why it is institutional, rather commanders ought to spend most of their time thinking about the immediate and long term threats, making strategy and operational plans, and training their men to meet those plans.”
The Defence and Home Affairs Committee said the dilapidated equipment was a danger to security.
He said Battlefield Recovery and Evacuation (BRE) was last procured over 30 to 40 years ago, adding that there was need to keep abreast with modern security techniques.
In their recommendations, the Defence and Home Affairs committee said that the military salary concept must be fully implemented to fulfil the conditions of service for the ZDF in order to boost their morale.
“Treasury should adequately finance all institutional provisions and inescapable expenditure items to guarantee an efficient discharge of statutory obligations. These relate to, medical supplies and services, payment of travel and subsistence allowances, rations, uniforms and ceremonial dress, research, training and development to enhance self-sustenance,” the committee said.
They also recommended a phased approach to replacement of the ZDF capital equipment as well as support for digitisation.
In June this year, Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri told the committee that morale among ZNA members had hit rock bottom as a result of inadequate provisions, adding that this will force many to engage in corrupt activities to make ends meet.
She said soldiers were facing a myriad of challenges in the discharge of their duties, including hunger, inadequate transport and obsolete machinery. NewsDay