SAPS Forensics Division on leadership, systems & turnaround strategy; with Ministry

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11 November 2020
Chairperson: Ms T Joemat-Pettersson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

In this virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed by the South African Police Service (SAPS) Forensics Division’s leadership matters, organisational systems and overall turnaround strategy.

The SAPS listed a number of reasons that caused the DNA backlog. These were:

insufficient funding for the Forensic Science Laboratory; unstable leadership and management;

no competitive market (utilising same supplier for multiple years); utilization of closed system instruments affects rotation of suppliers; load shedding; water cuts; Covid-19 pandemic; lack of internal skilled lab technician to render service and calibration of instruments/ equipment; challenges with the procurement of consumables and servicing of equipment to perform analysis and no Health risk management contract for vaccination of analysts. 

SAPS reported that some of these challenges have been addressed through the provision of additional funding from Treasury and new appointments made to the Division.

In addition, it highlighted that the leadership and turnaround strategy focused on eight strategic objectives, such as, modernising IT systems to support optimal processing of forensic exhibit material and records and capacitating forensic services with adequate staff to meet the demands for forensic products.

Notwithstanding concerns raised, the Committee indicated that the project plan should be given an opportunity to be implemented. The Committee resolved that it would receive monthly updates on the Forensic Services’ progress on its turnaround plan implementation.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said numerous petitions had been received from members. They would be dealt with in writing in order to save time.

Members had asked for a joint meeting with the Department of Public Works. A cluster meeting with the Peace and Security Cluster as well as the Department of Public Works was being organised. She asked whether the members were happy with this arrangement.  

Mr A Whitfield (DA) agreed with the Chairperson.

Mr E Shaik Emam (NFP) welcomed the meeting.

The Chairperson said that the first presentation the Committee had received had 54 pages. She asked for an indication if members wanted all 54 pages to be done.

Mr Whitfield said it was unnecessary. The members had been sent the summarised version and had already prepared questions based on this.  

Mr Shaik Emam said the matter had been dealt with previously. Presentations should be limited to a maximum of 12 slides and the lengthier documents be sent to the members ahead of time.

The Chairperson asked the Minister of Police, Mr Bheki Cele, if he was happy to deal with the shortened 24 slide version of the presentation.

Minister Cele agreed with the members.

The Chairperson asked Minister Cele to introduce the topic.

Mr H Shembeni (EFF) asked whether he was the only member having audio issues.

The Chairperson said it was Mr Shembeni’s network. She reiterated that the summarised presentation would be preferred.

SAPS Remarks

Minister Cele said it was unfortunate that problems were being received on an election day. He hoped that SAPS members would be able to deal with the issues.

He was glad that members had agreed that the first presentation was too long. The condensed presentation was more focused on issues that needed to be responded to.

Going straight to the point about laboratories, there had been leadership changes implemented, as well as a turnaround strategy.

He handed over to the National Commissioner: South African Police Service, General Kehla Sitole.

General Sitole introduced the SAPS team.

The Acting Divisional Commissioner: Forensic Services, Lieutenant General Michael Motlhala would present first, followed by the Component Head: Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Division: Forensic Services, Major General Edward Ngokha, who would deal with the substance.

In the total turnaround strategy for SAPS’ corporate renewal strategy, forensics was a key pillar. Here the issue of contract management was critical. A strategic risk analysis had been undertaken in this regard.

SAPS was also dependent on public perceptions as far as cases were concerned. For this reason, SAPS was applying project management principles in the backlog matters to improve.

A review of the personnel plan as well as a review of management in the division had also been done.

He handed over to the presenters.

Leadership, Systems and Turnaround Strategy Division: Forensic Services

Lieutenant General Motlhala outlined the presentation.

Leadership & Turnaround Strategy

The leadership and turnaround strategy focused on eight strategic objectives:

-Strategic Objective 1: Facilitate the optimal use of forensic services and products by clients (Visible Policing, Detectives, Courts)
-Strategic Objective 2: Optimise the financial and SCM process supporting the provision of forensic services;
-Strategic Objective 3: Capacitate forensic services with adequate staff to meet the demands for forensic products;
-Strategic Objective 4: Modernise and maintain specialised forensic equipment & methods;
-Strategic Objective 5: Establish specialised forensic process optimisation and development capacity to support the need for forensic products;
-Strategic Objective 6: Enhance management of forensic items, exhibit and record storage;
-Strategic Objective 7: Maintain forensic facilities in accordance to ISO standards and OHSACT in order to ensure value for money; and
-Strategic Objective 8: Modernise IT systems to support optimal processing of forensic exhibit material and records.

The presenter highlighted the deliverables and progress for each objective.


All systems were operational for Forensic Services. There was a challenge with one system – that of electronic track and trace. Here, the division was using manual tracking of exhibits, which impacted efficiency. The State Information and Technology Agency (SITA) was reviewing their electronic track and trace systems.

He handed over to Major General Ngokha for the situational analysis.

Situational Analysis, Leadership for Forensic Science Laboratory (Biology) and Project Plan on Processing DNA Backlog

Major General Ngokha outlined the presentation.

Situational Analysis

There was insufficient funding for the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL). This matter had been addressed through the provision of additional funding from Treasury.

There had been instability of leadership and management which had been addressed with new appointments.

There were few suppliers of specialised DNA machines. More suppliers needed to be encouraged in this space in order to drive more competition and provide more favourable pricing.

A number of other challenges were listed: No competitive market (utilising same supplier for multiple years); Utilization of closed system instruments affects rotation of suppliers; Load shedding; Water cuts; Covid-19 pandemic; Lack of internal skilled lab technician to render service and calibration of instruments/ equipment; Challenges with the procurement of consumables and servicing of equipment to perform analysis and No Health Risk Management Contract for vaccination of analysts. 

Project Plan on Processing DNA Backlog

There were 14 000 unassigned cases in the Pretoria headquarters. COVID-19 had reduced the capacity of analysts as fewer members could be at the office at a time. The planned finalisation of 1000 cases per week meant there was a 14-week estimated timeline to address backlogs. Incoming cases had to be dealt with in parallel with backlogs.  

Way Forward

There would be a focus on GBV cases by the FSL moving forward. Effective and efficient financial and risk management with strong internal control measures would be maintained going forward in order to support service delivery to the victims of crime. The FSL would continue to cooperate with and support internal and external stakeholders in order to address serious crimes and the priorities of the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster.

The Chairperson reported that she had received apologies from Mr K Maphatsoe (ANC), Dr P Groenewald (FF+), and Ms Z Majozi (IFP).

She said the new Committee member was Ms L Moss (ANC) who was not present that day.

She opened for questions on the project plan to address the DNA backlog.

Mr Whitfield drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that the situation forensic division found itself in, which all members agreed was unacceptable, had been a long time coming. What the Committee had been pointing out for over a year had taken too long to rectify.

The number of analysed DNA case exhibits in the first quarter of the 2019/20 financial year had been 18 846, followed by 5630 in quarter 2, 3325 in quarter 3, and 1351 in quarter 4. This showed significant challenges in contract management and procurement due to the drop by the fourth quarter. This showed signs of significant challenges at the FSL.

The Chairperson asked members to mute their mics.

Mr Whitfield continued by saying that the evidence of the drop from the first quarter meant there was no surprise that the backlog had accumulated to the current state.

What was the total number of DNA case exhibits, both registered and unregistered? The numbers in the presentation had only been relayed in their broken-down parts that the Committee was not au fait with.

How had the situation at the FSL happened? It was not OK to receive a presentation that simply stated issues such as COVID and water shortages. The Committee knew for a fact that there had been contract management and supply chain issues. These needed to be confronted.

Another matter was the shortage of reagents and consumables to analyse case exhibits which had affected the FSL’s ability to conduct analyses of DNA. In quarter one due to shortages, the total number of DNA case exhibits had climbed from 5000-50 000 in the financial year. Which contracts had been awarded, which were outstanding, which had been advertised and which had not been advertised? He said the Committee needed to be able to hold the division to detailed time frames.

It had been indicated in a previous meeting that there were contracts expiring that had not been advertised. If there were contracts expiring at the end of November 2020, which contracts were those? When would the adjudication committee sit on the matters? Contracts had been allowed to lapse. This resulted in a shortage of consumables; it was dysfunctional contract management and supply chain system within SAPS and the FSL division specifically. It was the Committee’s job to ensure this did not happen again. Violent criminals were being released from the justice system due to lack of evidence failing to link them to crimes and the accumulated backlog. The Committee knew this was a problem because the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had met with the Police Commissioner. The Committee had not been brought up to speed on all the details of which cases had been prioritised and what qualified the cases for prioritisation, as well as whether the turnaround strategy was realistic.  

A lot of the issues were dependent on budget availability. Forensics had been gifted R250 million. He welcomed this. However, not all issues had been resolved.

He said the Committee needed details on contract issues. Which had been advertised, which had not, and which were close to lapsing?

On the budget, R75 million had been cut from FSLs. What would the impact of this be on the turnaround? What was the impact on the DNA backlog?

What was the relationship between the forensic division and SITA? This was an important relationship in ensuring systems were operational. What issues was the division facing with SITA and what issues were to be overcome?

Mr Shembeni continued to have network issues.

Had General Phahlane been fired? Why had he not been replaced? No divisional commissioner had replaced the position.

On the capacity of the FSL team, what was the state of crime scene examiners?

On the infrastructure of the FSL, did it have sufficient infrastructure?

Mr Cassel Mathale, Deputy Minister of Police, advised Mr Shembeni to switch off his video in order to improve his connectivity.

The Chairperson said the Committee would move on to other members’ questions and return to Mr Shembeni. She moved to Mr Shaik Emam.

Mr Shaik Emam asked whether the team believed that the expectations given to the Committee were too optimistic? There was a backlog crisis to be dealt with. Were the targets the Committee had been given achievable?  

On the decentralisation of criminal record information, he asked for guidance. Often, particularly with domestic violence cases, offenders got bail easily. Police officers at station level were supposed to be able to check the risks prior to granting bail in order to avoid such issues.

On the supply chain issues regarding a lack of service providers, this was a matter of goods and services. What was being done to engage other departments such as Small Business and Trade and Industry? There was an emphasis in the country to create small businesses and improve capacity, this was an opportunity for collaboration.

Mr O Terblanche (DA) said he had many questions but would start with an observation. It had been a frustrating presentation. The success of the unit was critical to ensuring the successful prosecution of criminals in South Africa. The majority of the second presentation had focused on detailing the structure of the entity, which was clearly not working in its current form.

These were the same issues that had caused non-performance in the first place, how was it possible to deal with the issues at that point? Yet the same issues had been continuing since 2015. The Auditor General (AG) had raised issues in 2016/17.

Chemistry and ballistics were also critical in addition to DNA.

The failures over a lengthy period of time were a betrayal of the victims of crime such as GBV.

The Minister needed to deal with those responsible for the current crisis. There needed to be an investigation.

Three sections had been mentioned; but what was the total backlog on a countrywide basis. Figures such as 180 000 had been thrown around in the media, was this accurate.

Had all contracts been awarded, especially important ones regarding maintenance and consumables?

There had been a 29 September 2020 meeting with the NPA. What were the outcomes? There needed to be promotion of policy with other role players in the criminal justice system.

Was some work being outsourced, such as analysis of buccal samples for example?

Was the automated system in Pretoria fully operational?

Were samples able to be analysed within the prescribed period according to the law?

Ms P Faku (ANC) agreed with the issues raised by members. She always said that without a head position filled, there was never someone to take responsibility at entities. The budget constraints of the division and issues of capacity were key areas to address.

She said the progress plan assisted in this regard. She hoped it could be implemented, which was key.

How could water cuts impact such an important division? People needed to monitor bills and consumption and ensure the water supply was never turned off. The CFO’s role needed to ensure payment was available to not have water cuts and to pay bills.

A related issue was that there needed to be provision for load shedding, for example having generators. This was a critical division that could not be affected by load shedding.

She appreciated that the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal had no DNA analysis capacity. There were complaints about moving samples to other provinces to conduct analysis. The other provinces would always prioritise their own cases.

The matter of the 14-day procurement was a move in the correct direction.

In terms of manual analysis and automation, manual was not as efficient. She asked for an explanation of whether there was sufficient equipment and tools to do what was expected through automation.

On the lack of internal skills in terms of technicians, she said that it was a problem that Minister Cele needed to address. She mentioned using retirees to bring the skills back into the division and assist the interns to be groomed. There were the skills in the country. The problem is that retired police and technicians wanted to assist in handing over knowledge but were not reached out to. She urged for the matter to be explored.  

She said the backlog process was not practical. Was too much workload not being placed on the workers? She said that the FSL could not come to the Committee and try to impress with timeframes whilst placing unrealistic strain on workers.

There needed to be collaboration with Justice and Correctional Services. The work of the two entities affected one another both ways.  

When provinces that really needed services, such as KZN, they were neglected; the Western Cape “always got everything”. Similar matters needed to be looked at in Gauteng as well. Otherwise people took the law into their own hands.

On the matter of forensic examiners, it was the 4th Industrial Revolution. She was concerned that manual analysis was still being used. The Minister of Communications and the Minster of Police needed to meet to resolve the matter. She also knew that SITA had capacity issues. Since government had put the 4th Industrial Revolution as key to creating job opportunities, this should be looked at.

Ms M Molekwa (ANC) agreed with Ms Faku that the Committee needed to acknowledge the presentation and the progress made thus far. The second presentation had focused more on details and timelines. She said that all members needed to note and welcome the presentation and give the Ministry and the Department a chance to achieve it at the end of the financial year.  

The Chairperson asked members with additional questions to decide to either take another round of questions or give over for responses and submit the outstanding matters in writing. Her concern was that numerous apologies had been received from members and by 11:00 or 11:30 the meeting would not have a quorum as the members had to leave for other meetings.

She allowed the Minister and the team to respond.  

Minister Cele said there was quite a mouthful when it came to questions.

One main matter was in response to Mr Whitfield about how the Department had arrived at that point. The next was how to move away from the point that had been arrived at.

There was also the issue of laboratories having had problems with Lieutenant General Phahlane.

The relevant division regarding the close relationship with the laboratories was the IT Division.

The Chairperson asked members to mute their mics.
Minister Cele said that regarding the problems of the twin divisions of Technology Management Services (TMS) and laboratories, the arrival at the point where the issues became apparent came from the lengthy period where there had been "suspended / criminal cases, and expulsions, and being taken to court". 
He said that the Commissioner was better placed to state how the matters were being dealt with, including the replacement of divisions.

The exact figures which members had asked for would be provided.

The problem of supply chain in SAPS was not a problem of the Division alone; it was a generic problem within SAPS. This was part of the reasons for the appointment of the new head as Divisional Commissioner: Supply Chain Management, Lieutenant General J Riet. He hoped to get rid of the problems on those matters.

There had been a piecemeal approach to dealing with issues, such as with buccal samples for example. There had been the admission that contract management had been terrible. He, Deputy Minister Mathale, and the National Commissioner acknowledged this. On the status of contracts, he hoped those presenting could respond in detail. Contract management had been terrible.

The relationship between SITA and the police generally, particularly the DNA section, was not a very good relationship. This was not a new problem. Several departments had requested independence from SITA in order to be able to do things faster and “as they were seen”. This was not a problem of the Department alone. However, the relationship with SITA was a topic for another day. The two “had tried to work together”. Ms Faku had raised the issue of meeting with other relevant stakeholders to coordinate responses to common issues that were faced. There had been meetings with Ministerial Committees and the issue had been raised. However, not much ground had been “wholly covered”.  

On the budget question, it was a question that gave problems. SAPS and the Division would be worse off on the budget moving forward due to COVID-19. R1.2 billion had been cut to SAPS’ allocation. This reduction was “not child’s play”. The problem of the budget would negatively impact the work going forward.
He said to the Committee that the Department was arriving at the point where it had identified the problems that had resulted in the crises and was trying to act on these identified problems in order to move forward. The members should not "predict doomsday" regarding the proposed solutions and timeframes to the identified problems. Rather, it was fair to say that members should hold SAPS to the predictions on the time frame for addressing the backlog, rather than saying they were unachievable goals.
On the deficit of key skills in the Department, skills was a highly contested area in the Republic of South Africa. SAPS did not have space or the leeway of sustaining and competing on skills. The private sector “grabbed” skills. The public sector did not have the financial skills to retain the skills. This went back to the issue of resources, finances, budget and structure of SAPS. SAPS could not “willy nilly” retain BScs and MScs. He had heard the members urging SAPS to bring people with such skills out of retirement to assist in this matter. However, in most cases the people were not retired, they simply moved to the private sector.

On how the current point had been arrived at, General Sitole said the corporate renewal approach had been adopted in order to identify and rectify problems in the organisation. Many of the problems that forensics faced were as a result of it being highly dependent on supply chain management and efficiency, as well as TMS. When had taken office as National Police Commissioner, forensics had not had a divisional commissioner position filled. This spoke to the challenge of leadership. SAPS had later lost the divisional commissioner for supply chain due to investigations. Shortly thereafter they had lost the divisional commissioner of TMS who had been released from the service. Several other investigations were ongoing. This had affected the divisions. Investigations had been undertaken by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Treasury, as well as SAPS’ internal audit. Damage control responses had been needed to be applied in order to address crisis management. There had been no contract management strategy in the organisation when he had assumed leadership. When he came in it had required the design of a contract management strategy. This had been presented to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA). The strategy had been acknowledged, appreciated and implemented. SAPS had been the first department in the public sector to come up with a contract management strategy.

As part of the contract management strategy, Lieutenant General Motlhala had been appointed as the Acting Divisional Commissioner for Forensic Services. Lieutenant General Riet had also been appointed as the Divisional Commissioner of Supply Chain Management. This was part of the ongoing corporate renewal strategy.

TMS was undergoing a renewal process as well. A resource review of the entire division was being undertaken. These were the strategies in place to address the issues.

On the contract management strategy, a contract management committee had been established which was fully in place. It was assigned with designing a contract database for the entire organisation. Forensics would be incorporated into this database. The information would be made available to the Committee.

On the relationship with SITA, he added that there had been the appointment of a new CEO at SITA and General Sitole had attempted to renew the strategic relationship with SITA in order to cooperate.

On the question of the release of the former acting commissioner, he had officially been released from the organisation and a divisional commissioner had taken over the position.

On the question of month to month contracts within the division, there had been a decision that the matter needed to come to an end. The division would be bringing in totally new service providers.

In terms of forensic infrastructure, General Sitole had instructed supply chain management to recapitalise infrastructure. He was working with the Department of Public Works to ensure infrastructure was updated. He was however cognisant that capital projects were medium to long term in outlook.

On skills, he supported the input of members to work with universities to raise skills levels at SAPS. There were provisions to renew vacant posts in the shortest time possible. There was still a lack of capacity and it would be wise to venture into retired contracts to bring the skills back in.

On the backlog reality and achievability, at that present moment the organisation was looking at increasing capacity through robots. This was being investigated under the modernisation of SAPS initiative.

The Chairperson excused Ms Molekwa from the meeting.

Minister Cele asked Deputy Minister Mathale to explain the efforts on the Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) matter as he had a closer working relationship therein.
Deputy Minister Mathale said that on the matter of the FDA, there had been interactions undertaken by the minister to interact with Treasury and SITA through the Department of Communications. There had been a meeting of the three ministers, the two directors-general, and the CEO of SITA. From that meeting they had agreed on the process moving forward. It had made clear the determination for the appointment by Treasury of a service provider to assist in determining what was a fair value. The meeting with SAPS had been scheduled for the previous week, however the Minister of Finance had been called for an urgent meeting with the President, so the meeting had been rescheduled. However, there was determination from leadership for the matter to be resolved. Correspondence had been provided to FDA from Treasury. It had sought to commit Treasury and SITA to a meeting by the end of that week or early the following week. He hoped to have the matter resolved. It would go a long way to addressing the challenges on the matter.

He re-emphasised what Minister Cele had said regarding challenges around supply chain in the institution broadly. The matters were being dealt with in cooperation with General Sitole. They were committed to achieving the targets that had been presented. He suggested a monthly or quarterly basis being availed in order to report on progress to the Committee. He was confident in overcoming the challenges.

The Chairperson asked for the Committee to be supplied with monthly reports on progress. The matter would also be returned to in February 2021 in a meeting with the Committee and presentation of a detailed report.

She said there were certain questions that needed to be responded to, but she believed that the project plan should be given an opportunity to be implemented. SAPS had a turnaround strategy. However, there were limitations. The members had expressed concerns relating to equipment, contracts, and the impact of COVID-19. She said she was willing, if the members agreed, to receive a report on the matter in a month’s time before going into recess. The Committee would then call the team back on the topic for a full report in February 2021. The Committee would continue to monitor progress and ensure the commitments made that day would be met.

Mr Whitfield fully supported the proposal. He asked for responses to specific questions that were still outstanding if there was time in the meeting that day. If not, they should be responded to in writing in addition to the proposal of the Chairperson to receive a detailed report in a month’s time. He suggested that the report contain a detailed breakdown of the contracts entered into, as well as for detailed elements of the contract management system. This was at the heart of dysfunctionality in forensics and it was failure of leadership to ensure proper contract management and supply chain processes. It was critical that the report reflected the intimate details of supply chain matters. The Committee could not otherwise hold SAPS to account. He said there needed to be improved oversight in order to hold entities accountable.

Ms Faku agreed with the proposal. She said it had given her confidence. She urged the Committee to provide time for implementation, then exert accountability. It was a good proposal moving forward.

The issues of budget constraints had been alluded to. She asked that the operational budget of the FSL division to be given in the report. It was important. She said the FSL also needed to try to avoid underspending as well.

The Chairperson suggested to the Minister to take all questions that had not been responded to and send answers to them in writing. She would personally monitor the responses in contact with General Sitole. She would also communicate with the Minister and Commissioner’s office if she was not satisfied.

Mr Shembeni said he had a question to Minister Cele, Deputy Minister Mathale, and the Commissioner. It was on the issue of Brakenfell. What had happened there? It was totally unacceptable. Was SAPS still recognised as the frontline security agency to protect the people of South Africa? If yes, then something had to be done. South Africa was a laughingstock around the world after Brakenfell. He wanted to hear from the minister what the strategy was to stop issues of racism in South Africa. People were innocently protesting and were then attacked. Police officers had also been attacked.

The Chairperson said she was giving Mr Shembeni the opportunity to receive a response even though he was stretching the limits due to the day’s meeting topic.

Minister Cele said he did not wish to respond to Mr Shembeni in a piece meal manner. The problem with the question asked on Brakenfell was that the police were "unlucky". Everybody did "every other thing there and at the end of the day" the question was always "where are the police?". When other departments did not put their ducks in a row, it could not be that the police were the ones taking the blame and responding to all the issues that arose. He agreed that when the crime was committed, the police needed to respond. He wanted to "put this one on the table" that what the Committee had said regarding the matters, which were not (solely) the matters of policing, but they ended up with the police. These matters ended up in the budget.

The matter was being investigated and dealt with. It could not be resolved by the police alone. Matters were “supposed to be sorted where they were supposed to be sorted out” so that the police could be allowed to do their jobs, especially in the province of the Western Cape. There were big issues of crime in the Western Cape that the police should be allowed to prioritise. He asked for everyone to pick up the slack and allow the police to go and do the work they were supposed to do. He asked for people not to make matters the problem of the police when they were supposed to be sorted out by other entities. He added that he would be putting some of the matters that the police was expected to cover for but should not be dealt with by the police only but by other relevant entities in order to ensure a fairer distribution and not make it only the problem of the police. 

The Chairperson said the members would receive written responses to outstanding questions. The Committee would also receive the monthly reports prior to meeting in February 2021.

The meeting was adjourned.


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