Ten years and R7 billion later, the South African Police Service has achieved next to no tangible outcomes from its hi-tech modernisation programme.
The Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister of police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, asserts the R7 billion invested in 73 modernisation programmes has been “wasted”. “There just seems to be no progress. By the time one division is ready to roll out a single section of the process, the equipment is outdated and needs to be replaced.”
Government disputes having failed to garner any value for money, as an electronic charge sheet has been rolled out to 22 courts, and a pilot prisoner management project was implemented at Johannesburg Central Prison, which has 3 036 inmates.
However, Kohler Barnard argues any progress is mitigated by the time the project is taking, as SAPS has needed to “refresh” equipment, which she says actually means replacing equipment that has barely been touched – such as scanners for the failed e-docket system. As a result, says Justice Project SA chairman Howard Dembovsky, the criminal justice system is failing South Africans.
The modernisation of SA’s criminal justice system started in 1996 when Cabinet approved the National Crime Prevention Strategy, resulting in the creation of the Integrated Justice System (IJS). This project aimed to make the Criminal Justice System electronic, integrated from end-to-end, and deter crime in SA.
Government notes the IJS “aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire criminal justice process by increasing the probability of successful investigation, prosecution, punishment for priority crimes and, ultimately, rehabilitation of offenders”.
Kohler Barnard explains what was envisaged as a result of the modernisation was, for example, a victim being able to access, online, details of the arrest, trial, sentence, incarceration, release date and parole conditions. Yet, she says, SA “just can’t seem to leave first base. For example, the e-docket system has been ‘nearly’ ready for 12 years. It still isn’t operational, and the equipment is obsolete.”
Dembovsky says the concept of an integrated electronic system is fundamental to increasing the criminal conviction rate, which will act as a deterrent against future crimes because offenders stand a higher chance of getting locked up. However, the lack of, for example, electronic dockets means those accused can simply pay to make the entire paper docket disappear, leaving no trace of the alleged crime. “At a rudimentary stage, the whole thing falls apart because they haven’t implemented this.”
He adds the project, aimed to streamline justice, has achieved the exact opposite, which is “defeating the ends of justice”.
The IJS comprises 73 technology projects covering aspects such as automated fingerprint checking against the Department of Home Affairs’ database, an electronic case management system, live-scan fingerprint capturing, as well as iris and facial recognition when suspects are booked.
According to a recent presentation by Parliament’s research unit to the police portfolio committee, at least 20% of these projects have been held up because of challenges with other departments, such as the State IT Agency, home affairs and the Department of Public Works.
Among the issues government faces are a delay in procuring necessary software, a lack of maintenance contracts, tenders that need reworking, and national deployment challenges.
ICT commentator Adrian Schofield notes cross-departmental involvement and a lack of an overarching implementation entity means any such project will be beset by buck-passing and turf wars. “It is almost impossible at this stage to identify where the wheels came off.”
The research report also shows several issues with funding for the programmes, as there are funding “disparities” because either too much, or too little, was spent on each sub-project. In addition, it notes some expenditure has been “misstated”.
Funding for the overall IJS project was R1.144 billion in the 2014/15 financial year, yet the SAPS managed to spend 100.01% of the budget, notes the research report. It says this should concern the committee as the police managed to spend 50% of its budget in the fourth quarter.
Kohler Barnard questions whether SAPS’ figures are believable and says tangible results should be provided for the R7 billion expenditure over the past 10 years.
However, IJS chairman Godfrey Leseba notes there have been some outcomes, such as the electronic charge sheet and case outcome integration now having been deployed to 22 courts, while post-implementation support and change management interventions are under way to gradually operationalise the system and optimise use.
In addition, Leseba says, the Integrated Inmate Management System pilot rollout at Johannesburg Correctional Centre was concluded as planned at the end of March, and this system will be enhanced this year.
Leseba also notes the first version of the Person Identification and Verification Application is ready for deployment, and an architecture framework and design has been drafted. The framework allows the creation of a unique person identifier, integrated booking and person tracking in downstream departments. A dashboard user interface has also been completed and deployed to production, he adds.