Guest Column

NDP unattainable without independent top cops

2017-09-26 11:30
Former police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane.

Former police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane.

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Kavisha Pillay

At a glitzy event in Cape Town this month, public sector big wigs and guests celebrated the fifth anniversary since Parliament’s adoption of the National Development Plan (NDP): Vision for 2030. 

It was described as a “living document” with Deputy Minister for Planning and Monitoring in the Presidency, Buti Manamela, boasting that “the plan is in action, the plan is alive.” 

Ironically in the same week, Members of Parliament expressed irritation during a meeting of the portfolio committee on policing for the lack of progress on implementing the NDP’s recommendations in what the document identifies as a “serial crisis of top management” in the police service. 

Over the last few years, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has been embroiled in a calamity with its top leadership. The SAPS Act stipulates that the national commissioner serve a five year term with the option for an extension for a further five years. In the last eight years, we have seen six different SAPS national commissioners. Let that sink in. 

Some notorious figures that have occupied this post over the past eight years include Bheki Cele who was dismissed over a corruption scandal, Riah Phiyega who was found to be unfit by the Klaasen Board of Inquiry, and Khomotso Phalane whose temporary contract was not renewed after IPID started investigating him for corruption. 

The high turnover in unethical and, in some instances, inexperienced national commissioners is a result of the lack of criteria needed to become the police chief, as well as the constitutional prerogative of the president to make these appointments without following any formal interview processes. 

Currently SAPS has a budget of over R80bn per annum, and the national commissioner is responsible for a service of about 190 000 employees.

It is therefore disturbing that the only criteria needed by an individual to assume the position of top cop is the following:

1. Be over 18 years of age;
2. Be a South African citizen by birth; and finally, 
3. Not have a criminal record or departmental cases pending against him or her (all criminal departmental cases must be declared) 

As it stands it is more difficult to assume the role of a constable in the police service which requires candidates to be medically, mentally and physically fit; be prepared to take the prescribed oath of office; be vetted or screened; be of good and sound character; have a matric certificate, and the list goes on. 

The Zuma era has been marred with evidence of political capture of the South African criminal justice system. These include dodgy and politically motivated appointments to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), SAPS and the Hawks – who have continuously displayed bias towards to the president’s private interests.

The symptoms of political capture, however, can be traced back to former president Thabo Mbeki when he appointed his loyalist, the late Jackie Selebi to head the police service. The first blow to the criminal justice system occurred when former NPA boss Vusi Pikoli was suspended by Mbeki for investigating and arresting Selebi for his connections to the underworld. 

As a result, the authors of the NDP recognised the shortcomings of having thin criteria for the appointment of the national commissioner, as well as allowing the president to make the appointment without justifying any of the reasons for his choice. 

Thus, the NDP recommends the following in relation to the appointment of the national commissioner and deputies:

1. The individuals appointed must be chosen by the president on a competitive basis;
2. The president must establish a selection panel that will advertise, shortlist and interview candidates for the position using objective criteria;
3. The president must make this appointment based on reports and recommendations from the selection panel;

The NDP further recommends that a National Policing Board be established with multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary expertise. 

The board would set the standards for recruitment, selection, appointment and promotion of police officers. This is particularly important as there is currently no clear criteria governing what is expected from the person holding the post of SAPS national commissioner. 

The positions of national commissioner and the head of the Hawks are currently vacant with both President Zuma and the Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, hinting at permanent appointments to these posts before the close of the year. But, the danger is that there is a likelihood that these appointments will be made without any of the above recommendations being implemented. 

For this reason, Corruption Watch and the Institute for Security Studies have launched a campaign that is lobbying key decision makers to ensure that the recommendations of the NDP are actioned. The civil society organisations believe that it is in the best interests of the public and police service to have a transparent selection process that solicits public participation and is set against clear merit-based criteria in the appointments of both the national commissioner and the head of the Hawks. 

The most effective form of lobbying is a loud and well-informed public voice, and so CW and the ISS have created an opportunity for the public and police officials to participate in a survey that will develop the much needed criteria for the position of top cop. Based on public input, the two organisations intend on releasing the data and making formal submissions to the Presidency, Minister of Police and Parliament. The survey can be accessed here

Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke famously noted that the drafters of the South African Constitution always had the best possible president in mind when giving the head of state the extensive constitutional power to appoint individuals to vital public institutions – they never imagined the worst. 

It is possible that the authors of the NDP fell into the same trap. The vision for 2030 is achievable and on paper beneficial to the mass majority of the country if there is accountable and ethical leadership driving the process.

Zuma can be credited for establishing the National Planning Commission, however he has failed to act on basic recommendations that aim to improve the crime and corruption fighting institutions of the country. 

This is not really surprising given the current political environment.

However, continued political appointments to these vital organisations could potentially render them useless for the next five to ten years; which ultimately impacts on public safety as well as rooting out crime and corruption in society. 

Unfortunately, as it stands without any political will, the NDP: Vision for 2030 is just another four-hundred plus page document that is likely to remain a vision and not become a reality. 

- Kavisha Pillay is a project manager at Corruption Watch.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    national development plan  |  police  |  hawks
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