Police's blue-sky budget found wanting
The stench last week in Parliament’s Good Hope chambers was overpowering. The toilets were blocked and the sickly sweet stink rolled through the room in waves.
It was as if the sewerage system had been informed that its special effects were required, for the police portfolio committee was grilling national police management about a potentially irregular promotion. But, as if on cue, the smell cleared by the time we got to the real purpose of the meeting: hearings on the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) budget vote—or the use of public funds for benevolent ends, rather than individual benefit.
The police divide their budget among five programmes: administration, visible policing, detective services, crime intelligence and protection and security services. The bulk goes to visible policing, followed by administration; detective services get the third-largest share.
Much more than that is hard to deduce from the budget vote—and herein lies the first challenge to assessing the individual budgets’ adequacy.
For instance, the budget states that, in terms of allocation, tracking units, stock-theft units and family violence, child protection and sexual offences units will all receive “specific attention”. But what does this mean in financial terms? How does it compare with allocations to other detective services? Are the amounts sufficient and how do we gauge their adequacy?
The SAPS has also launched many strategies, including an anti-rape strategy. What is the budget for this strategy and what activities does it involve? How do we judge its effectiveness and value for money? To answer this we need to turn to the SAPS’s performance indicators, which also tell us which of their activities the police want assessed.
Limiting and controlling the availability of firearms—both legal and illegal—is a police priority and their success can be judged against targets they have set themselves.
By contrast, indicators tracking their implementation of the Domestic Violence Act are nowhere to be found, despite the fact that crimes against women are also a stated police priority.
The Act and accompanying national instructions contain duties that could readily be converted into measures of police performance, such as the percentage of stations routinely and accurately maintaining a domestic violence register and a file of warrants of arrest.
However, as the Independent Complaints Directorate’s six-monthly reports to Parliament record, these and other administrative requirements, as well as the services to be extended to victims of domestic violence, are routinely disregarded by the police. Requiring station commanders to report on their compliance with the Act would change that.
The SAPS does measure the extent to which it reduces sexual crimes and domestic violence, set between 4% and 7% annually. This is a well-intentioned but entirely unrealisable goal, not least because both types of crime are significantly underreported and not amenable to being prevented by police actions such as roadblocks and raids.
A World Health Organisation review of research on rape identified 22 factors contributing to sexual violence. On the basis of these and to prevent rape, the police would need to correct miserable childhoods, dismantle patriarchy, promote loving and intimate sexual relationships, create full employment, cure substance abuse, teach anger management courses (along with skills to curb impulsive thinking and behaviour and rebuild shaky egos) and provide schooling to those with unfinished schooling.
But none of these falls within the police’s job description, let alone their budget.
So it would be far better for the police to concentrate their unspecified budget for preventing rape and domestic violence on providing services to the victims and measure the quality of these, instead of chasing after unreachable targets, which appear only to produce dubious statistics.
The budget does to make a nod to services by setting aside some funds for the refurbishment of victim empowerment centres. This is valuable but leaves unanswered questions about who is responsible for the payment, transport, management and supervision of volunteers working in the centres. Again, as with prevention, this responsibility has fallen to the police, although it properly belongs with other government departments.
Although significant attention is devoted to the broad brush strokes of the national budget painted by the finance minister, considerably less interest is paid to the detail provided by individual departments’ budget votes.
But it is in the spaces left blank by the movement of projects from foreground to background that one begins to grasp where political priorities really lie and what is destined to remain a still life unanimated by funds.
Lisa Vetten is the executive director of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, one of the organisations that will be at the hearings