2nd day in Parliament – a disaster? you decide…

Day Two of the Portfolio Committee on Police (PCP) review of the DNA Bill was to be a presentation by the Saps, Forensic Science Division on the proposed  Implementation Plan and cost implications of the Bill.

To say it was a disaster, is not too far from the truth. However, I have mixed feelings about the course of events of day two: I was despondent on the one hand, due to the total lack of a comprehensive implementation plan  which was supposed to have been presented by SAPS on the day; but encouraged by the fact that the PCP took this omission so seriously. It showed that the PCP are not only intent on reviewing this Bill properly, but they do not take lightly to being treated as if they are simply rubber stamps: this PCP is prepared to put their shoulders to the wheel to implement this crucial Bill, but they are going to make sure that when their job is done, they have a Bill which is worth the paper it is written on, as opposed to a token piece of legislation which will not be capable of making the changes it promises to make to this country.

Vanessa Lynch outside the Old National Assembly, Parliament Buildings, CT

Vanessa Lynch outside the National Assembly, Parliament Buildings, CT

The proceedings kicked off with the Chairperson reiterating that this Bill addresses the fragmentation that is currently present in the Justice System. She went on to say that she believes that it is important for criminals to be accountable for their actions but this entails the need for the different departments involved in crime resolution in SA which form the ‘criminal justice cluster’ to ‘talk’ to one another. Their intention, she went on, is to address the various serious issues the Bill brings to the fore, but with the overall intention to  overcome these serious obstacles in order to move ahead with the Bill.

The presentation by the SAPS then commenced with a summary of the current legal position, and went on to look at the legislative challenges the current legal position poses. A comparative analysis was made between the UK and SA insofar as DNA profiling statistics impacted on crime detection and resolution. This was followed by a number of recommendations to strengthen the SAPS forensic crime fighting capacity as well as a summary of the new Bill and the areas of the Bill which the SAPS felt needed ‘tweaking’. Some of the benefits of a strengthened forensic crime fighting capacity were then covered.

The real issue of the day, namely  the proposed “implementation plan” was then addressed on one page of the power point presentation as follows:

“The Implementation of the Bill will require significant capacity expansion in respect of both human and other resources, which will require funding to undertake the development of a business systems re-engineering plan (including current and to be process mapping). Additional personnel will have to be trained and retention strategies, such as an occupation specific dispensation, will have to implemented to retain scarce skills within the forensic science filed.

The Bill has been provisionally costed and a business plan developed to map the incremental implementation of the Bill. National Treasury has been consulted in order to secure a budget for the implementation of the Bill”.

And that, was the end of the presentation and the sum total of the implementation plan by the SAPS.

Naturally, and understandably, the Chairperson was far from satisfied with the extent and detail of the Implementation Plan presented to the PCP and she stated that they had expected a proper implementation plan, which was the sole purpose for this sitting.

Inside the Parliament Buildings

Inside the Parliament Buildings

The Divisional Commissioner of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Mr du Toit was then called on to present what he called a “High Level Draft Implementation Plan” by way of a second power point presentation to the PCP. Du Toit spoke briefly about a phased-in approach and mentioned two main aspects of the plan, namely that the R200 million that had been allocated to the FSL by the National Treasury for 2009, had needed to be ‘sliced’ between the different departments. He said that the phased-in approach would require ‘compiling inputs for DNA & fingerprinting for the Bill and new instructions based on the approved Bill’.  It would also require reviewing existing learning programs and compiling DNA awareness programs. In addition, they would need to perform a DNA Capacity ‘gap analysis’ which would  increase the capacity of DNA examinations at the FSL (i.e. they must make provision for an extra 1 million DNA samples coming through the system if the Bill is approved). They would need more equipment, further appointments & training of DNA examiners and they would need to build, equip and maintain new DNA lab facilities. The Commissioner stated that the FSL does not have the capacity right now to process the number of samples envisioned by the Bill, if it was to be implemented today – he stressed that it must therefore be a ‘phased’ in approach.

This marked the end of the Divisional Commissioner’s presentation on the anticipated cost and implementation of the Bill.

The PCP were still not satisfied with the extent to which the FSL had presented the proposed implementation of the Bill. They had expected a comprehensive and detailed plan listing what would be required by the FSL as a result of the implementation of this Bill, how they would go about implementing these requirements and what the cost of each requirement would be going forward. Members of the PCP felt that the FSL had been given ample time since the last ad hoc Portfolio Committee meeting in March this year, to put together such a plan, and they were wholly dissatisfied with the quality of the information that was being presented to them.

So strong was their reaction to the presentation, they simply said it was not acceptable. They felt that this Bill will cost the SA Government a huge amount of money and they are therefore not prepared to deal with it in a haphazard manner. The implementation was previously a big issue to the last Portfolio Committee, and it remains so and it therefore cannot be dealt with on vague assumptions and contradictory figures. They said that the starting point must be how much it will cost to implement the Bill and then a breakdown of these costs must be given. Moreover, this information will need to be given to the PCP at least a week before the presentation so that they have the time to read and understand the information given to them.

The Chairperson concluded the meeting as follows:

“We asked for an implementation plan, but as we sit here, we do not know how much the FSL thinks the Bill will cost the SAPS in terms of both money and resources, nor whether they have the skills to implement it. … What the PCP  needs to know is simply how much will it cost? We cannot  accept a situation where we call a meeting and there is no preparation for that meeting. One page posing as an implementation plan is not good enough. We want a proper implementation plan. This has been another wasted day and  it is very unfortunate. Many people believe that Members of Parliament do not read the information given to us nor that we prepare for our meetings in advance. This may have been the case in the past but it is not the case with us. This is not the first time we have asked the department to present an implementation plan, and it has failed to do so. We thank the FSL for ‘touring’ to Cape Town but ask that in future,  people who want to tour to Cape Town, pay for it themselves and not take it from the department’s money. It cannot be acceptable that we have senior members who don’t prepare for meetings. This is the 2nd time this has happened, and it won’t happen again…

Meeting adjourned.

They advised us that they will inform of  us of the date of the next meeting of the PCP to hear a proper implementation plan, which they emphasised will be sooner rather than later….

Need I say anything more? No. I think the closing comments by the Chairperson summed up the tone of the meeting and the disappointment of the PCP with regard to the presentation given to them. The PCP jointly agreed that the Chairperson should address a letter to the National Police Commissioner , cc’ing the Minister of Police, asking the National Police Commissioner to address the PCP himself and advising them as to what steps he thinks should be taken next..

From my side, I am deeply disappointed that the start of the 2nd review process has been so controversial – however, the fact that this PCP is serious about producing a Bill that can actually make the changes it is designed to make, means that we will at the end of the day have something of value –  it may take some time, but better that than a Bill that is worthless and takes us nowhere.


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