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GroundUp Op-Ed: Police watchdog needs R50-million from the people it watches

GroundUp Op-Ed: Police watchdog needs R50-million from the people it watches

A conflict of interest exists in the funding of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. By John Hess for GROUNDUP.

First published by GroundUp

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has in recent months been in the media for allegations of “backstabbing”, child abuse and irregular expenditure. Last week MP Zakhele Mbhele (DA Shadow Minister of Police), citing a 739.5% increase in the “irregular” spending category during the 2016-2017 financial year, wrote that “the people … need to urgently be reassured that their safety is not being risked by IPID’s inability to keep its financial affairs in order and the department must implement an urgent recovery plan”.

Most recently, reporting to the Portfolio Committee on Police on 13 September, IPID executive director Robert McBride admitted that IPID had sought funding relief from the South African Police Service (SAPS), the very organisation that IPID is mandated by statute to investigate.

IPID’s reported budget increases were only 5.1%, failing to cover even the anticipated inflation (Consumer Price Index) of 6.2%. Expenditure amounts related to contractual obligations, annual escalation of fees for goods and services, and the regulated annual wage increment were all left to the side.

There are two salient problems that should hold the public’s attention on IPID until such issues can be resolved. The first is a restatement of the obvious: How can IPID be truly independent, a true custos custodum — “guardian of the guards” — when it is forced to plead with the SAPS for funding?

The resulting conflicts of interest prove antithetical to IPID’s original mandate as a division with “effective independent oversight” fully capable of “impartial investigation of identified criminal offences allegedly committed by members of the (SAPS)”.

IPID estimates funding assistance from SAPS of at least R50-million for the three financial years beginning in 2018; no trivial amount by any standard.

But the entanglements are not just limited to finances. In McBride v Minister of Police and Another (CCT225/15) ZACC 30, the Constitutional Court declared portions of the IPID Act (2011) invalid that allowed the Minister of Police to fire the Executive Director of IPID. The court gave the legislative branch 24 months to amend the original Act, including diagnostic study and research to be completed by August 2017 for approval by the Minister of Police in September. The Civilian Secretariat for Police noted that the amended IPID Act would need to be introduced in Parliament by March 2018 to meet the court’s deadline. To date, no action on the bill has been made publicly available.

The second problem presented by IPID’s lack of adequate funding revolves around its ability to carry out its expected responsibilities. IPID’s quarterly report in mid-September sheds light on this. None of the IPID annual targets in its information and investigation management programme are listed as being more than 78%. And no related performance indicators, where achievement is measured in the number of decision-ready cases, have percentage targets over 65%: deaths in police custody (62%), discharge of an official firearm (60%), rape by a police officer (65%), torture (45%), assault (51%) and corruption (40%). Moreover, first quarter progress was woefully inadequate. Three out of 106 targeted cases of deaths as the result of police action, six out of 27 cases of rape by a police officer and no cases of torture (out of a goal of 44) were decision-ready.

For these shortcomings IPID blamed a high number of backlogged cases due to a slowdown of operations in the 2016-2017 financial year, ineffectiveness of the Case Management System “due to dilapidated network infrastructure” and outstanding reports from the Department of Health and Forensic Science Laboratory.

It is difficult to imagine that IPID’s struggle to complete its case load has no relation to its lack of financial solvency. It is similarly difficult to imagine that IPID’s independence is not affected by its reliance on SAPS for additional revenue. IPID is not unaware of these problems. In its 2015-2016 annual report, IPID acknowledged that “to implement its mandate of independence, IPID should ideally have developed its own capacity to fully investigate cases (…) however, due to limited resources, the IPID relies on (SAPS) for this expertise…(impacting) the integrity of the investigations and of IPID’s independence”.

Perhaps the criticism from Mbhele and others in their reproach of IPID is misguided. Yes, the statistics from the most recent annual report and the first quarterly report of 2017-2018 are grim, and the thanks the portfolio committee received from the IPID team in September were likely given for the members’ patience with such a statistical dumpster fire. However, it is not the case that IPID is unaware or inactive in attempting to change its reality, going so far as to ask SAPS for significant additional funding.

It is now the responsibility of the Treasury and of the working group tasked with amending the original IPID Act to ensure it is truly independent. And it is the responsibility of the South African public to keep up pressure on those in government responsible for making IPID a force for good in South Africa.

Until the government can prove it is up to the task of real change, the system tasked with bringing justice to the ranks of SAPS will be anything but judicious. DM

John Hess is a legal intern at Lawyers for Human Rights

Views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp

Photo: Robert McBride, IPID head.  Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA


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