CAPE TOWN - Fears are growing that the government cannot afford the cost of vastly increased benefits promised to military veterans, with estimates for higher pensions to former freedom fighters alone amounting to more than R4bn.

Military veterans are an increasingly fractious constituency within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

They played a significant role in President Jacob Zuma's election as ANC leader at the party's national conference in Polokwane in 2007.

It is understood that since then the veterans' league has secured a block of votes at the ANC's elective conference similar to those enjoyed by the party's youth and women's leagues.

This makes them even more important in Mr Zuma's campaign to retain the ANC leadership in 2012. Mr Zuma announced the establishment of a special Department of Military Veterans in 2009.

Despite the ruling in the Public Finance Management Act that no legislation should reach Parliament without the financial implications having been calculated, the Military Veterans Bill has landed with no costing attached. This has apparently raised both tensions and concerns in the Treasury.

In addition to the full recognition of service in non-statutory forces (the armed wings of the liberation movements) for pension purposes, the bill also provides for health services and medical treatment, housing, social assistance, disability compensation, education and skills development, facilitation of employment and business opportunities and subsidised public transport for all military veterans.

It is understood that the Treasury has warned that the new department will need actual numbers of military veterans before an accurate costing can be achieved and the state can decide on what level it is affordable.

This would apparently involve compiling a database of military veterans and dependants and then subjecting them to means testing - a process that would take a long time given that there is still no complete database. The Democratic Alliance's defence spokesman, David Maynier MP, said: "The Department of Military Veterans does not seem to have run the numbers and calculated the estimated cost of implementing the Military Veterans Bill.

"The cost implications of the Military Veterans Bill, which makes provision for a wide range of services, including pensions, housing and healthcare, could be massive.

"That is why we are going to have to ensure that the Department of Military Veterans goes back to the drawing board and runs the numbers with the National Treasury."

Inquiries at the Treasury were referred to the Department of Military Veterans.

Spokesman for Deputy Defence Minister Thabang Makwetla, Ntime Skosana, confirmed yesterday that a complete costing had not yet been completed. He said the bill was before Parliament and the costing and a complete database of genuine veterans would be completed once it had become law and once the department had been fully staffed.

The comprehensive list of benefits proposed in the bill was formulated by a special ministerial task team appointed by Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu which on its own cost almost R1m to complete its research, some of which involved foreign visits.

The task team was headed by Mr Makwetla with another 19 members and the total cost was R855457, including R164598 for foreign travel and R178968 for local accommodation .

hartleyw@bdfm.co.za