During the Police portfolio committee’s oversight visit to the Humewood SAPS Garage in Port Elizabeth yesterday, it was revealed that the facility has twice as many administrators pushing papers than actual mechanics on the workshop floor carrying out its core business.
The figures given by facility management showed that the garage has 18 personnel doing administrative work (six of whom are just administrative supervisors), while there are only 9 mechanics who actually repair the more than 1 000 vehicles that pass through the garage annually. In reality, there would be even fewer working at any given time when some are off sick or on leave.
This is another example of how the South African Police Service (SAPS) is operationally under-staffed, which affects the efficiency and quality of police service delivery in communities plagued by crime and violence.
Vehicles are crucial tools of the trade for the police service, affecting almost all aspects of police performance, from reaction times during an emergency call-out, to visible patrolling for crime deterrence, to the speed of investigations when detectives have to go out to crime scenes or transport evidence to forensic facilities.
It has been a chronic feature of the shoddy state of the SAPS for several years that many stations are under-equipped with respect to vehicles and there are too many instances when police vehicles are not in operation for more than a week or more while booked into a SAPS garage for relatively minor repairs. During an oversight visit to the Kliptown police station in May this year, the DA was told that the longest-outstanding vehicle for that precinct had been languishing inoperative at the SAPS Garage for 49 days.
Under a DA government, we would move away from the currently slow bureaucratic approach of centralised procurement practice to allow for greater budgetary and procurement freedom for station commanders to source vehicle mechanic services from approved local suppliers, subject to necessary financial control measures. There is simply no need for it to take days on end to change an oil filter or brake pads when a police vehicle more urgently needs to be out on the road in aid of the fight against crime.
The DA will submit parliamentary questions to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to find out which other SAPS Garages are similarly under-staffed with respect to artisan personnel, what is being done to address the shortfall and whether the police service will allow more localised procurement to ease bottlenecks.
For too long, our operational officers have suffered from being unable to work optimally because police management has historically had the wrong priorities, leading to stagnation and dysfunction across the board. We must care for our cops and their working conditions if they are to combat crime effectively, and that starts with getting the basics of management right.
Zakhele Mbhele MP
DA Shadow Minister of Police
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