Covid-19: 'Financial constraints', pandemic to blame for forensics backlog - Cele

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 Police Minister Bheki. (Photo: Jaco Marais/Gallo Images)
Police Minister Bheki. (Photo: Jaco Marais/Gallo Images)
  • Financial constraints and the Covid-19 pandemic were given as the reasons for the police's failure to obtain the consumables required to process DNA samples.
  • Last week, the Portfolio Committee on Police heard the backlog is now over 170 000 samples, with no samples being processed in January and February.
  • The DA will lay a charge against the police the SAHRC.

Financial constraints and the Covid-19 pandemic are the reasons for the police's National Forensic Science Laboratories (NFSL) shortages leading to a backlog, Police Minister Bheki Cele said in a reply to a parliamentary question.

In November last year, he said it was due to "a lot of corruption".

In a parliamentary question dated 11 February, DA MP Okkie Terblanche, a former police general, asked Cele if the NFSL is experiencing shortages in consumables, and if so, to provide the relevant details.

The answer, which has been signed by both Cele and police commissioner General Khehla Sitole, states that the NFSL experienced a shortage of consumables in the 2019/2020 financial year, "due to financial constraints".

"However, in July 2020, an additional R250 million was allocated to the Division Forensic Services," reads the reply.

READ | 'A lot of corruption' is why SAPS has a forensic case backlog of over 117 000 - Bheki Cele

The procurement processes for the consumables required to process DNA samples were then "activated".

"The coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic and the subsequent lockdown Regulations, in terms of the Disaster Management Act, had a negative effect on the procurement of consumables, due to the restrictions on economic activities (sic)."

The NFSL's suppliers obtain the consumables from abroad. Potential suppliers must do a site visit and technicians must validate and test the consumables.

"This process was prohibited during certain stages of the lockdown," reads the reply.

Two contracts were awarded in 2020, and five are still in the works.

Last week, the Portfolio Committee on Police heard that the NFSL didn't process any samples during January and February.

This after the police presented the committee with a plan to address the backlog in November, which then stood at about 117 000 samples. Last week, it was over 170 000.

The committee, which has kept its eye on the issue since it was formed in 2019, found this unacceptable.

DA MP and spokesperson on police Andrew Whitfield, who serves on the committee, said the DA will approach the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

"A central cause of this chronic dysfunction is a collapse of the contract management process within the Forensic Division whereby contracts are lapsing and taking months to be renewed or awarded. SAPS Forensic Division is clearly still haunted by the corruption scandals stretching back years to when Khomotso Phahlane was still head of the division," said Whitfield in a statement released over the weekend.

"It has now become clear that Minister Bheki Cele and National Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole, have together failed to restore the integrity of the Forensic Division and purge it of the ghost of Phahlane. They must therefore be held accountable for their role in this crisis.

"We believe that this gross failure to keep the NFSL operating smoothly is a human rights violation on the part of the SAPS as victims suffer the indignity of waiting for justice while living in perpetual fear. We believe that it is therefore critical for the SAHRC to investigate this matter with urgency."

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