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SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
22 October 1999
WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAMMEE: BRIEFING
The South African Witness Protection Programme (Appendix 1)
Assistant Police Commissioner Mr A Eksteen and Mr K Kuyler briefed the committee on the Witness Protection Programme, a joint operation by the Department of Justice and the SAPS that is at present having a positive effect on the prosecution of various Schedule One offences and with specific regard to organised crime. While the current successes can be attributed to the hard work of all concerned, a more professional approach should now be researched and adopted since times are changing and the criminal community regards it as a challenge to discredit the programme. Lastly, the challenge of restructuring the programme (such as introducing personnel selection criteria; addressing the psychosocial health issues of witnesses)
should be addressed in an urgent, co-operative and diligent manner to secure the ongoing success of the programme.
The Department of Justice is currently in the process of drafting a comprehensive plan of implementation for the Witness Protection Act. Work-study officials of both departments have been assigned to this task to make the proposed plan of implementation a reality.
Dr B Geldenhuys (NP) said that the Witness Protection Programme (WWP) applied only to Schedule 1 offences and wanted to know whether murder was a Schedule 1 offence, since he had read that ordinary witnesses in murder cases had been murdered. Secondly he wanted to know whether there was any other method of protection for witnesses who found it difficult to enter the WPP because of family, occupational or other reasons.
Assistant Commissioner Eksteen, who dealt with most of the questions, said that murder was a Schedule 1 offence. If any threats were made to witnesses, measures would be taken to protect such persons for most crimes. He did say that due to budget limitations, it was not possible to protect all witnesses. He said that for this year, the Department of Justice had allocated R15.25 million for the protection of all witnesses. He noted that the WPP was an extremely expensive exercise. With regard to alternative ways of protecting witnesses within the area they live, he said that this would be extremely difficult, especially in the light of people threatening victims or witnesses before the case, and was not viable.
Mr T Goniwe (ANC) said he imagined that it was a traumatic experience to be in the WPP. He wanted to know whether there was any counselling given to witnesses who were in the programme.
Mr Eksteen said that police officials in the WPP do give support to the persons in the WPP, but added that there was as yet no professional psychological help.
Mr Goniwe also asked whether witnesses were released from the WPP immediately after the case had been finalised, or whether there was first an assurance that such a witness was safe.
Mr Eksteen said that this was a very difficult question. He said that in most cases witnesses were released from the WPP immediately after testifying. He agreed that this could pose serious problems in terms of a witness's continued safety but added that to date no witnesses or victims had been lost. He assumed that the cost aspect would be considered by the Department of Justice when deciding whether or not to extend the period.
The Chairperson, Mr M George (ANC), was concerned about the fact that in a recent massacre in Johannesburg, witnesses did not want to come forward. He said that only when the Minister had intervened, had witnesses been prepared to talk. They made no bones about the fact that they would not approach the police as they simply did not trust them. He asked, therefore, what assurances there were that witnesses were safe in speaking to police and were not exposing themselves to informers who happened to be corrupt police?
Mr Eksteen said that this was a difficult question to answer but started by reiterating the fact that no witnesses had been lost as yet. He added that there were very strict procedures in place. For example, not even the investigating officer would know where a witness was being kept. In addition, all contact with a witness in the programme would have to go through the provincial coordinator. He said that there was the possibility that members of the programme could be corrupted, however they were very carefully selected.
Mr M Pheko (PAC) wanted to know, with regard to witnesses who were working or professionals, whether the WPP was able to satisfy their needs according to their status. There was also a query about what the state did in the event that persons lost their jobs. These questions were not answered.
With regard to a question on how people in the rural areas could be made aware of the WPP, Mr Eksteen agreed that this was a big problem. He said that when investigating officers go out and take witness's statements, they would market the WPP.
A committee member wanted to know what happened if a victim was shot, taken to hospital and the perpetrators then attempted to "finish him off" in the hospital. How were such situations catered for in terms of moving swiftly to protect that kind of information. Mr Koos Kuyler pointed out in summing up that a training programme needed to be developed with regard to ensuring that witnesses were protected while they were being moved from one place to another.
In response to the question about witnesses in the WPP having access to alcohol, Mr Kuyler said that if they wanted to take a drink, the WPP officials could not prevent them.
- how was it ensured that after the case the witness was still safe.
- whether the relocation of families were fruitful exercises, in respect of the expenses involved.
Mr Eksteen said that they could never completely guarantee the safety of witnesses, however all this is explained to witnesses before they are taken into the WPP. It is a completely voluntary decision on the witness's part.
A committee member related a personal experience where he was hijacked and subsequently managed to find out information on the hijackers including the residence of one of them. He was unhappy with the way in which the police officer he reported this to dealt with the matter since he was asked to accompany the police and point out the location of the alleged perpetrator.
Mr Eksteen said that this was not acceptable and assured the member that the investigating officer was in fact not following proper procedure. He explained that the police should have arrested the suspect without being accompanied by the member, and then they should have arranged for a formal identification parade. He offered to take particulars of the case and said that he would see that the matter be investigated and disciplinary action be taken if need be.
Both Mr Eksteen and Mr Kuyler were concerned that the WPP was not funded by the national government since there was not enough money in the provincial budget to cater for seconding of the SAPS officials
to the Department of Justice. They agreed that the matter of psychological support to persons in the WPP had to be looked at. The criteria for being taken into the WPP (which was the subject of the work-study investigation) was also an important issue in need of clarity. The profile of police members who will be involved with the witnesses also still requires clarity.
Finally he added that a member of the work-study investigation was proposing that the national office manage the whole WPP and therefore the budget as well since provincial government may have other priorities with regard the usage of the provincial budget. In the light of the fact that a large number of witnesses are relocated from one province to another, it made sense to centralise the management as well as the funding.
The South African Witness Protection Programme
The South African Witness Protection Programme (hereafter referred to as the WPP) is based on an amendment to section 185(a) of the Criminal Procedure Act (Act no 51 of 1977) and regulations issued in terms of this section by the Minister of Justice that came into effect in 1992. A new Witness Protection Act was approved in 1998 by Parliament but has not come into operation yet owing to financial constraints and in the absence of new regulations.
However, it was not until 1995, that the first witnesses were protected by the SAPS, in terms of this section185 (a). The WPP came into effect when investigations into politically motivated crimes in Kwazulu-Natal identified an urgent need to protect witnesses from intimidation and death. This initiative spiralled into a programme that protects and supports more than 750 persons all over South Africa at the moment.
2. GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT
The WPP is a programme of the Department of Justice, which is managed by the Director of Witness Protection in Pretoria. The management at national level manages the WPP funds that have been allocated by the Department of Justice to the subdirectorate: Witness Protection. All policies regarding the principles and functioning of the programme are also devised and managed by this office. (Funds and policy pertaining to protected witnesses). This office is run by the Director: Witness Protection with a staff of about 12 people. The rest of the day-to-day physical protection and handling of the witnesses is undertaken by the SAPS members (58 members and 3 civilian personnel) based in the nine provinces. The SAPS members are responsible for looking after the day-to-day care of witnesses, and are in direct contact with the Director: Witness Protection. The provincial offices, are represented nationally at the SAPS Head Office by the Commander: Witness Protection Programme.
3. SAPS STRUCTURE
The Commander: Witness Protection Programme (SAPS) is responsible for coordinating the activities of the SAPS relating to witness protection in this regard and policy issues between the SAPS and the Department of Justice. This task also includes internal investigations and inspection functions as well as the facilitation of statistics. As base, a provincial SAPS office consisting of a coordinator or unit commander and some personnel are responsible for the day-to-day management of the programme. This task includes:
- Facilitating of all applications to the programme
- Removal, evaluating and placing witnesses
Identifying and negotiating accommodation for short or longer periods of time (either catered/ non-catered, furnished/unfurnished)
- Creating and maintaining enabling structures for every witness to help them arrange their financial affairs, accommodation, communication with investigating officers and members of the prosecuting authority, debtors, creditors, previous employees, family members, etc,
- Physically protecting witnesses from attacks while they are being removed, during visits to their families, cultural/humanitarian meetings, criminal investigations and court attendances
- Generally being responsible for the day-to-day well-being of the witness and his/her dependants
- Logistical and financial record keeping and management of rented accommodation
Although this is a protection programme, the physical protection of witnesses plays a minor role owing to the practice of removing witnesses from the areas of danger and placing them in safe areas where there is no threat against them. Greater psychological support as the protected witness lacks a social support system. The biggest task in removing a witness and placing him and his direct family in a safe environment, is the challenge of keeping his place of residence and true identity secret. For this reason nobody is informed of the witness's new home. All contact is facilitated by the WPP SAPS offices. Witnesses are instructed not to tell anyone who they really are or why they are staying in a specific area. They are also instructed to stop any incoming communication. The safety of the members who work with them and the safety of other witnesses are ensured by covert placements and the covert operation of the provincial office. This presents the greatest risk to the programme but is also the only way in which this programme can work successfully. Witnesses who cannot keep their own life history a secret, are the greatest threat to the safety of the programme.
The psycho-social health of the witnesses, their dependants and the members concerned is greatly strained and neglected. This is due to the lack of solutions that could be identified by means of sound, scientific research. Procedures, structures, training and policy can only be formulated once all the dimensions of the programme have been identified and researched.
At present there are no covert structures in place to help the members with their tasks and they have to invent them as they go along within an overt framework. As yet, scientific studies are available to help create the necessary systems and structures. There is also as yet no scientific framework in terms of which suitable personnel can be identified and appointed. It is, however, an unwritten rule that a member should at least have a secret security clearance to be appointed to a Witness Protection office.
As indicated above 81% of the staff component are members of the SAPS.
4.2 Physical resources
90% of these resources are provided by the Directorate: Witness Protection:
Department of Justice.
At present, achievements are only measured on the following grounds:
- The number of witnesses accepted on the programme
- The number of witnesses killed while on the programme by persons representing the original threat
- The number of court cases finalized
- The sentences meted out as a direct result of the witness cooperating in the programme.
If taken into account that if more than 2 500 people have passed through the programme and that not one person has lost his/her life as a result of the original threat, the success of the programme speaks for itself.
CHALLENGES FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
The major reasons for the programme being such a success is the hard work by the SAPS members concerned and the existence of the programme in South Africa which is largely unknown to the general public and crime syndicates alike. The challenges to the programme can be summarized as follows:
- Establishing a research facility that will facilitate the proper and professional] evaluation and creation of structures and resources.
- Addressing the psychosocial health issues of members and witnesses alike
- Introducing personnel selection criteria
- Introducing workable policies
- Introducing a more accountable and participative management policy/structure within the system
- "Soft" and "hard" skills training programmes
- Introducing acceptable covert working structures/policy
7. PROGRESS REGARDING IMPLEMENTATION
The progress regarding the implementation of the proposed Witness Protection Act, its structures and mechanisms have been the subject matter at numerous meetings between the Departments of Justice and the SA Police Service. The Department of Justice is currently in the process of drafting a comprehensive plan of implementation under the structure of the Witness Protection Programme.
Work-study officials of both departments have been assigned to this task. The South African Police Service can only consider granting assistance in implementing the New Act once the plan of implementation has been reached. Both departments are at present endeavoring to make the proposed plan of implementation a reality.
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