Firearm Amnesty: SAPS briefing; IPID Amendment Bill: status & way forward

NCOP Security and Justice

11 September 2019
Chairperson: Ms S Shaik (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Police Services (SAPS) briefed on the proposed 2019/20 Firearm amnesty. The amnesty would grant indemnity against possession of illegal firearms. Owners could bring in firearms without being prosecuted, and could also apply for licensing of the surrendered weapon. The amnesty period would be from 1 October 2019 to 31 March 2020. The aim with the removal of illegal firearms was in the public interest, as firearms were the instrument most commonly used in especially violent crimes. Provinces had to conduct risks assessments, and there would be screening and vetting of amnesty officials. Nine storage facilities were identified in provinces and inspected for risk mitigation.

Members were not convinced that crime rates would be brought down, as it would be mostly law-abiding citizens who would surrender weapons. SAPS state of readiness for the project was questioned, as public trust and information about the project first had to be built and made available. There were risks attached to what would happen to collected weapons, and the possibility that criminals might target known storage facilities. Loopholes in the Firearms Control Act were alluded to. SAPS was instructed to take the Committee’s issues on board and return with a re-submission.

The Committee received two presentations on the Independent Police Investigative Directory (IPID) Amendment Bill. The Parliamentary Legal Services explained the rationale of the bill. The Content Advisor highlighted the issues raised during submissions on the bill.

The Committee discussed procedural steps to be taken to process the Bill. There was a view that the Committee should review of the entire IPID Act. However, the counter and majority view was that Committee should only focus on the amendment relating to the removal of the Executive Director by the National Assembly.

Meeting report

Introduction by the Chairperson
The Chairperson noted that the Minister had stated that the SAPS wanted to institute a firearm amnesty project. Apologies were received from the Minister and Deputy Minister of Police. She allowed the police delegation leader to introduce the delegation. The delegation was led by Lt. Gen. S Jephta, and the briefing would be presented by Major-General Mamotheti.

Briefing by the SAPS on the firearm amnesty
The briefing was presented by Major-General Maropeng Mamotheti.

Section 139(1) provides that the Minister of Police may, by notice in the Gazette declare an amnesty if the amnesty may result in the reduction of the number of illegally possessed firearms in South Africa and it is in the public interest to do so.  Section 139(2) of the Firearms Control Act, 2000 (Act No 60 of 2000), also provides that such amnesty will only be valid if it is approved by Parliament.

The 2019/20 firearm amnesty would grant indemnity against possession of illegal firearms. Owners could bring in firearms without being prosecuted, and could also apply for licensing of the surrendered weapon. The amnesty period would be from 1 October 2019 to 31 March 2020.

The aim of the amnesty is
-To reduce the number of illegally possessed firearms in circulation in South Africa
- To provide firearm owners with the opportunity to hand in unwanted firearms
- To prevent crime and violence and to promote safety
- To address the fundamental causes of crime, in order to effectively protect our communities

The project would be conducted in 5 phases:
Phase 1: Planning
Phase 2: Implementation
Phase 3: Reporting and Monitoring
Phase 4: Destruction
Phase 5: Debriefing

A Steering Committee, consisting of all the role players was established and developed the action plan in terms of work breakdown structure. Provinces will conduct risks assessment and identify stations to be excluded in the project, before 15 September 2019. The implementation process flow and draft guidelines were developed and will be distributed to the provinces when the Amnesty is announced. A total of nine centralised storage facilities were identified in provinces and inspected for risks mitigations.

SAPS identified a number of risks and mitigating actions:

Theft of firearms
Process flow with actual days. o Vetting and screening of DFO’s, including SAPS 13 members
Ensure security measures and accountability within the SAPS 13 stores

Damage to firearms
Identified central storage facilities in provinces to alleviate overcrowding

Delay in IBIS Testing process
Trained additional members in IBIS testing

Inadequate security and attacks on police stations
Police Stations to comply with the criteria on minimum standards
Access Control, in accordance with National Instruction 17 of 2019
Enhancement of security at Centralised storage facilities
Risk assessment will be conducted on continuous basis and alert responsible Reactionary Units
Communication of operation hours

Attacks or theft during transportation
Transportation plans developed to provide escort on bulk
Risk assessment will be conducted on continuous basis and alert responsible Reactionary Units

Increase in number of application for firearm licences
Decentralisation of fingerprints
Establish task teams for processing of applications

The removal of illegal or excess firearms is indeed in the public interest and is supported by the crime statistics, which indicates that firearms are the instrument most commonly used in the commission of crime, especially violent crimes. In order to ensure the success of the 2019 Firearm Amnesty, it is imperative that all the people of South Africa be involved in this project, to ensure that all people in South Africa are and feel safe.

Mr E Mthetwa (ANC, KZN) remarked that he could see a gap. There had at first been the green firearm licence and then a card. Some owners still had the old form. When re-application was a month late, the licence could not be renewed and the firearm had to be handed in.

Mr G Michalakis (DA, Free State) commented that for the amnesty to be successful, trust had to be built among the public. How was that to be done? If weapons had to be stored centrally, there would have to be checks for weapons going missing. There was a case where a police officer had sold confiscated guns. The previous time a big chunk of the weapons got lost. What happened there had to be avoided in future. There were challenges around the operational status of the Central Firearm Registry (CFR). Did the moratorium on the intake of firearms affect the amnesty? It could be that most of the guns handed in would be from honest people who did not renew their licences. The amnesty could not bring down crime rates. There were loopholes in the Firearms Control Act that had to be closed, and only then could an amnesty be called for. The proposed exercise would not bear fruit.

Ms M Mmola (ANC, Mpumalanga) referred to slide 4, where it was stated that there would be no indemnity for weapons used for crimes like murder and robbery. There had been problems with that, the previous time. She referred to slide 7, where it was stated that provinces had to conduct risks assessments and identify stations to be used in the project, before 15 September. It was already 11 September. In how many provinces had assessments been conducted? There were nine centralised storage facilities. How would these be secured? There would be screening and vetting of officers employed in the project. Had any training been done for officers?

Mr Gxoylya (ANC, Northern Cape) referred to planning vis a vis the commencement date. It was stated in the draft letter that there would be no amnesty if the previous owner could not be identified. There would also not be amnesty for firearms used for murder or robbery. Those are the weapons that are wanted, but most owners of such weapons would keep them.

Mr T Dodovu (ANC, North West) remarked that the project would not work. It was supposed to commence in 2017, but it was not finalised due to administrative delays. What had caused the delays? People were killed daily with illegal weapons, and it was not known how to quell that. The project was to start in three weeks and yet the public was not exposed to information. There had to be a campaign to make every SA aware of the project. He agreed with Mr Michalakis that it would only be the law-abiding owners who would hand in the guns. The police had to go out and hunt for the illegal weapons. He was not convinced that any headway was being made, and there were risks attached to the project.

Mr S Mfayela (IFP, North West)  remarked that when he was growing up police stations were safe places, but it was no longer the case. Ammunition was stored at police stations, with only a security guard to watch over it. Stations that where not safe could be robbed of weapons.

Mr I Sileku (DA, Western Cape) asked about the success and failure of previous amnesty projects. The Minister of Police had admitted that SAPS members confiscated and used guns. What did the SAPS do with guns?

Ms Z Ncitha (ANC, Eastern Cape) commented that she would have expected more reference to what was achieved in previous amnesty projects. Would the amnesty be extended across provinces? The conditions and safety of police stations were relevant. Criminals would target unsafe stations. How safe were police stations? The Committee was not satisfied with the readiness of SAPS to launch the poroject. There were challenges that made very few police stations qualified for the project.

Ms Mmola asked if there was stakeholder engagement before the decision to institute the project.

The Chairperson asked about communication. Would there be a centralised helpline or complaint line? Was there the necessary capacity, and how would theft be prevented? There would have to be centralised electronic information. The Committee had many issues. Amnesty might be necessary, but with the history of firearms control, it would be crucial to build public trust. There was still outstanding information required by the Committee. She proposed that the SAPS take the Committee’s issues on board, and then return to make a re-submission.

Briefing by Parliamentary Legal Services on the IPID Amendment Bill
Mr Michael Prince, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, explained that the Bill sought to amend the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Act, 2011, to give effect to the Constitutional Court order in the matter of Robert McBride v Minister of Police and Minister of Public Service and Administration, by providing for Parliamentary oversight in relation to the suspension, discipline or removal of the IPID Executive Director. Clause one of the Bill sought to amend section 6 of the IPID Act by repealing subsection (6), which dealt with the removal of the Executive Director. Clause 2 of the Bill proposed a new section to provide for the removal from office of the Executive Director. It provided that the Executive Director might only be removed by a resolution of the National Assembly. The Minister might suspend the ED after a Parliamentary Committee had started proceedings to remove the ED. The Minister had to remove the ED after the NA had adopted a resolution to that effect.

Mr Dodovu commented that the Constitutional Court judgement prescribed that Parliament could remove the Director, not the Minister. The submissions received wanted to extend the amendment to cover other issues. Why could all suggested amendments not be considered? Two years was granted to finalise amendments. Other amendments could be considered.

Mr Michalakis remarked that the role of the Committee had to be considered.

Ms Momola found it acceptable that the Minister would not have the power to remove the Director. It was a good amendment.

Mr K Motsamai (EFF, Gauteng) asked how the Minister removed the Director.

The Chairperson answered that it was done in terms of the original Act.

Ms Ncitha stated that the Department should have closed loopholes in the Act.

The Chairperson noted that the Bill was drafted by the NA.

Mr Prince responded that legal services had to maintain a narrow focus. There was no sufficient capacity to look at the whole of the Act. The focus was on defects, as approached by the Portfolio Committee. Concerning an overall review of the Act, and policy decisions, the PC was saying that it had first to be fleshed out in the Department, and then introduced.

The Chairperson noted that it was a section 75 Bill, referred by the NA. It was opened up for public comments during the Fifth Parliament.

Briefing by the Content Adviser on submissions received on the IPID Amendment Bill
Ms Anthea van der Burg, Committee Content Adviser explained that seven submissions were received on the IPID Bill. Most of the submissions refer to a process that was broader than the amendments in the Bill before the Committee. The organisations, including IPID, wished to have the entire IPID Act reviewed. Important themes referred to in the submissions included security of tenure; institutional independence, and financial independence and security. COSATU supported the amendments to the Bill, to strengthen IPID’s role and parliamentary oversight to minimise potential executive abuse of power.

The Chairperson asked if the Committee agreed with the process. The information before the Committee was the result of public participation. The question was how the Bill was to be taken forward.

Mr Michalakis commented that he was still confused about the position of the Committee. The Constitutional Court requirement had to be dealt with. The Committee had to be clear about where it stood, and about procedural steps to be taken.

Ms Ncitha agreed with correcting the gaps pointed out by the Constitutional Court. If the Committee agreed, would the Bill be taken to the provinces?

The Chairperson noted that the Committee was dealing with a draft Bill. Ms Ncitha agreed with the process. Substantive issues could be submitted to legal services.

Ms Mmola agreed with that.

Mr Gxoylya asked if justice would be done to the IPID Act if section 6 was repealed. The Constitutional court simplified matters and supplied the wording. He was in favour of letting the Bill pass as it was.

The Chairperson noted that Mr Gxoylya was saying that the Committee was in agreement with the process. But cognisance had to be taken of the fact that there was no precedence to the process. The Constitutional court had granted time to develop that piece of legislation and to address the gaps.

Mr Michalakis proposed that, especially for the sake of new members, those who had made submissions address the Committee.

The Chairperson concluded that the Bill could be dealt with not just as it related to IPID policy matters, but IPIDs capacity and independence as well. The Select Committee was aware of the same issues as the Portfolio Committee. She proposed that the Constitutional court directives be addressed, but there were policy issues that the Select Committee also had to deal with, related to IPID as well as the relevant Minister. It was not advisable to call IPID to speak to the Committee, as that would not be the right platform for engagement, but the Committee would engage with IPID during oversight.

Consideration and adoption of the Committee Third Quarter Programme
The Annual Performance Plan and the third quarter programme was considered and adopted.

Adoption of minutes
Minutes of 31 July and 20 August were adopted without amendment.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.


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