Pass the bucks

Over R3bn on a few police stations? And the top management can't explain. The buck doesn't seem to stop anywhere, but the bucks sure do, says Susan Erasmus.

The last time I was in a police station I can't say I was struck by the interior decorating and the feng shui. It was 'fabulous' facebrick inside and out, scuffed tiles, a few battered desks that looked like they had been to hell and back and no sign anywhere of soft furnishings. We couldn't find a pen for love or money, and even the posters managed to look tired and dog-eared.

And if a landscape artist had been employed to do the yard, I wouldn't recommend his services. Sand, flies and dog poo everywhere and an ashtray or two masquerading as a struggling potplant.

And yet I am asked to believe that R3.2bn was spent on building 11 new police stations and to make improvements at 12 other stations. An average of R139m per police station. Where on earth are these places?

10-star luxury
To get to that sort of budget, we would have to be looking at the services of an imported interior designer, featured at least on the Oprah Winfrey show. Forget air conditioning: we'll have to settle for internal climate control units, and lights that switch on and off automatically as people leave and enter rooms. Plush carpeting, all imported of course, laminated flooring, downlighters everywhere, uplighters under the Rembrandt in the hallway, and Flatscreen Wonderland in every room, cells included. Gold taps, marble on all available surfaces, gadgets that purr and click and a security system that operates on retina or voice recognition.

The bars in front of the windows could be made from platinum – gold would be too ostentatious for something that could be seen from the street. After all, you don't want to tempt people, and the ones kept behind these bars would not be above removing fixtures and fittings. So what's the point, then?

A truly astonishing amount
Remember we're chasing R3.2bn and that is no mean amount. Not even the world's most out-of-control shopaholic let loose among the bling of Dubai could easily get near to that amount. Not unless he agreed to put the SA government debt on his personal credit card's budget account over 24 months.

I'm back to the R3.2bn. It has an unavoidable attraction to it, a bit like when you have an ulcer in your mouth and your tongue just won't leave it alone. Let's just get some perspective on the amount: it's 3.2 x R1000 x R1000 000. It would build 3200 fancy and comfortable houses costing a million each. That's three whole large suburbs. It would pay 400 000 employees each earning R8 000 per month.

OK, at 7% interest per annum, this amount would net over R220 million in interest per year. Just the interest – remember the money lies there still untouched, just ticking over. That's R613, 698 per day. Very few SA households bring that in per year. How many SA households run on way less than a tenth of that per year? Millions would be my guess.

It's one thing going R375 over your overdraft limit and getting a call from your bank. Quite another being unable to explain fully (real receipts furnished) what has happened to R3.2bn. It's not the kind of amount that can fall out of your pocket on a shopping trip, or be stolen from a safe (unless the vault was the size of 10 RDP houses).

Bheki Cele, national chief of police, and his delegation need to come up with some answers very snappily. Bugger the 'probing questions' that are being asked. That's our cash.

And unless some pictures of these 10-star police stations are produced, I am encouraging the Hawks to swoop down and see if they can locate these riches elsewhere. I have a couple of constructive suggestions about where to start looking. (My services don't come cheap, but in this case I might make an exception).

There's a sort of hum in the air: I can't quite make out whether it is the noise of an overheated paper shredder going at full tilt, or the sound of a buck being passed. Or bucks. Billions of them.

(Susan Erasmus,, May 2010)

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