Staff at “over-stretched” forensic science laboratories face “burn-out” after an instruction by the Treasury for the police to cut back on hiring in the coming year.
Lieutenant General Johannes Phahlane, the SA Police Service divisional commissioner for forensic services, told the parliamentary portfolio committee on police on Thursday that staff at forensic science laboratories (FSLs) were stretched to their limits with work.
“With the limited capacity which is there they are over-stretched. It is beginning to impact negatively on us. Among other things we were sourcing overtime out of compensation, but you can’t stretch them [the staff] forever because they are human. They are going to burn out.”
Phahlane said the “resolve” to retain forensic experts would go “down the drain” if the police was not allowed to go ahead with a plan to employ 800 FSL staff.
The police had spent a lot of money on training forensic staff, but risked losing them.
“It has already started happening,” he said.
“Until the end of March my plan was to go and hire people. Then I got the e-mail to say you don’t have this money anymore.
“My question is, how am I supposed to continue improving the environment if I don’t have those resources?”
Acting national police commissioner General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi told MPs he could “imagine” the problems after the Treasury’s decision.
“We will try and engage with them. Unfortunately we have the instruction in black and white.”
SAPS chief financial officer, Lieutenant General Stefan Schutte, said normally 5 000 staff resigned from the service each year.
“If you want to grow you have to appoint more than 5 000,” he said.
“What we will be able to appoint is 1 200 of 5 000, which implies a reduction.”
Committee chairperson Sindi Chikunga said the committee strongly disagreed with the Treasury’s approach.
“We are of the view that FSL must be strengthened. We will do everything possible to look into this matter. It is one area that is specialising in SAPS and we need those services.
“They have a direct impact on the manner in which we will be able to improve our conviction rate.”
Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said the Treasury would have to explain itself to the committee.
“I don’t think we can have the Treasury determining that [the] SAPS won’t have the ability to sign on sufficient experts to implement the bills we spend day and night passing. It is absolutely outrageous.”
Parliament, she said, had “jumped through a thousand hoops” to pass various pieces of police legislation, like the fingerprint bill and DNA bill. [note: the DNA Bill has not yet been passed]
MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard said yesterday of the cut of funding to the FSL that she finds it “autocratic and absolutely outrageous” in light of the reality SAPS is facing. Parliament, she said, had “jumped through a thousand hoops” to pass various pieces of police legislation, like the fingerprint bill.”
To implement these laws required experts, realignment and new staff, she said.
“I would strongly advise this committee pull in the people who took this decision and ask them to explain themselves. The police have now been hamstrung and cannot implement the bills we have passed. I find this autocratic and absolutely outrageous in face of the reality [the] SAPS is facing.”