Will Phiyega survive? Parliament refuses to approve SAPS budget

National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega. Photo by Daneel Knoetze.

Craig Oosthuizen

16 April 2015

Craig Oosthuizen describes the dramatic events in Parliament over the past two days that have put Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s position under severe pressure.

On 14 April the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) made a presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police on the South African Police Service (SAPS) budget for the 2015/16 financial year. The presentation was given jointly by Phumeza Mlungwana, General Secretary of the Social Justice Coalition, and Zackie Achmat, Director of Ndifuna Ukwazi. In the presentation they highlighted the Khayelitsha Commission’s finding that the current way that SAPS deploys police officers, vehicles and other resources is “fundamentally irrational”.

The presentation included two maps of Cape Town Police precincts. In the first map, the more police officers allocated to a precinct the darker blue the precinct is painted. In the second map, the more murders reported in a precinct the darker red the precinct is painted. The maps show that the areas in traditionally wealthy white suburbs closer to the city centre with the highest allocation of police officers had the lowest number of reported murders. In fact, the fifteen stations with the lowest number of reported murders had on average 1 police officer for every 232 people. The fifteen stations with the highest number of murders had on average 1 police officer for every 1,153 people.

The presentation also highlighted unfair deployment of detectives, quoting Khayelitsha Detective Commander Colonel Marais’ testimony before the Khayelitsha Commission:

“We have weekends that from the Saturday morning until the Sunday night we have seven murders. And [Cape Town Central] have got 110 detectives and I have got 60 and I don’t think it is fair and I don’t think it is correct.”

Committee members asked what Ms Mlungwana and Mr Achmat felt needed to be done to make sure police resources are distributed fairly and equitably. Both presenters made it clear that SAPS has adequate resources. It doesn’t need more resources. Current resources need to be distributed equitably, taking into account precinct needs. When allocating resources SAPS needs to take into account the severity of the crimes in the area. Investigating murders takes a lot more time and resources than investigating a case of shoplifting. Police staffing allocations should take into account the number of crimes in the area, the population, and the safety needs of the local population. In many poor areas, where people cannot afford private security, people rely solely on the police to guarantee safety.

Parties present take a united stand

On Wednesday 15 April it was SAPS turn to brief the committee on their expected budget for the year. They purpose of the meeting was for the committee to review and vote on the budget.

Before the National Commissioner, Riah Phiyega, could begin her presentation MP Francois Beukman, the Chairperson of the committee, referred back to the previous day’s presentation by the SJC and NU. He said that the current way that SAPS allocated resources, leaving stations with the highest rates of crime hopelessly under-resourced, was unacceptable and could not continue. He said an urgent review of the current system was necessary.

Commissioner Phiyega began her presentation, running through the various aspects of the SAPS budget and their strategic plan for 2014-2019. When questioned about certain aspects of their report by members of the Committee the Commissioner appeared to be dismissive, even going so far as to converse with SAPS officers on either side of her and shaking her head while the committee members were speaking. MP Leonard Ramatlakane (ANC) tried repeatedly to raise the issue of the militaristic language used in SAPS Annual Performance Plan which referred to a “war on crime”, especially in light of the Minister of Police’s commitment to demilitarisation and a community-orientated approach to policing.

Ramatlakane warned that this kind of language has an effect on the way that SAPS interacts with communities and treats suspects. The Commissioner seemed bewildered at Ramatlakane’s comments, and reiterated that there is a war between criminals and citizens, and that we cannot protect or take a soft approach with criminals. This is concerning because it encourages SAPS to treat suspects differently. Everyone, whether suspected of committing a crime or not, is guaranteed the same rights under the bill of rights. Of course, certain rights may be limited once a person is convicted of a crime.

The members of the committee and the Deputy Minister of Police, who was noticeably sitting on the opposite side of the table to the police, took the Commissioner to task over the fact that she had still not begun the process of looking for a new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), even though this post had been empty for over a year. The Chairperson pointed out that it is unacceptable that no action has been taken by the Commissioner to fill this position, and he informed the committee that he would be writing a letter to the Minister of Police to raise this issue with him.

The Commissioner’s response to the Chairperson was “well then you must write the letter to the Minister”. Following that Mr Beukman asked that the committee meet privately, and he requested that the police and members of the public leave the committee room.

After thirty minutes, everyone was invited back into the committee room.

The Chairperson announced that SAPS was in violation of the Public Finance Management Act and the committee could not approve its budget. He also stressed to the National Commissioner that he would be writing to the Minister of Police. He told her that her behaviour was unacceptable, pointing out that she had been evasive when asked questions by the committee and had shown disrespect to the committee and the rules of Parliament by talking with her fellow SAPS officers while members of the committee where trying to raise issues. Each member of the committee was then invited to speak in turn.

All committee members who were present agreed with the Chairperson’s decision and expressed dismay at the Commissioner’s disrespect towards the Chairperson and the committee. Committee members from the Economic Freedom Fighters, African National Congress and Freedom Front Plus were present at the meeting.

Phiyega was visibly shaken at the end of the meeting. Mr Beukman then closed the meeting. The committee will reconvene on Friday morning at 9am to address the issues raised on Wednesday.

Oosthuizen works for Ndifuna Ukwazi, where he heads up the organisation’s Safety, Police and Justice Programme. Views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of GroundUp.