Army pays 2,000 staff for being idle

The pressure on Social Democratic (SPÖ) Defence and Sport Minister Norbert Darabos is increasing as a new Audit Office (RH) examination indicates a waste of taxpayers’ money by the army.

The RH announced yesterday (Tues) that 2,059 army employees were inactive in 2010. The institution said that these circumstances cost the state 66.1 million Euros that year. It explained that 8.6 per cent of the military’s employees had no precise assignments or tasks in 2010. Most of the employees in question cannot be sacked due to contract clauses protecting public sector staff from such scenarios.

Some of them sat courses for further education while a low number even spent their working time at home, according to the RH report. Only a handful of the army’s public servants took on other roles within the military as part of its restructuring, the investigation reveals.

The report also highlights that the vast majority of the Austrian military’s civil servants do not want to take positions only a few kilometres away from their homes. Even more staff have such an opinion in terms of a possible change to start a career in the private sector.

A spokesman for the defence ministry said in a first reaction to the release of the RH report that the army’s internal job market had been significantly reformed since 2010. He added that the number of public servants was still high compared to troop figures due to an intensified focus on federal sport agendas.

The government coalition of SPÖ and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) invests around 2.1 billion Euros on the country’s troops a year – a sum not higher than 0.79 per cent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Around 80 million Euros are spent on the Austrian army’s peacekeeping engagements abroad. More than 1,500 Austrian soldiers are participating in operations organised by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN). Darabos promised that this sum would not be affected in the coming years despite the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition’s austerity focus. All ministries must make cuts in the coming years to eradicate the structural budget deficit until 2017.

Reports about over 2,000 public servants with no tasks in the army are unlikely to boost Darabos. The minister got into the firing line at the weekend by branding Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman “unbearable”. The Austrian defence minister told Die Presse that Israel should concentrate on increasing the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran instead of threatening to bomb the country. Iran is suspected of trying to create a nuclear bomb.

SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann tried to improve the climate in the coalition by underlining Austria’s role as a “reliable partner of Israel” while ÖVP officials said Darabos’ “apparently expressed his personal opinion”. A spokesman for the party said: “What Darabos announced does not represent the official policy of the Austrian government.”