Firearms register the weakest link: Mthethwa


Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa says the police’s Central Firearms Registry (CFR) is a hindrance rather than a help in the war on crime.

“We want to frankly state to the nation that the current state of affairs at the CFR is far from what and how it is supposed to be,” he told a media briefing this morning. “That is, if we are serious about reducing crime. Instead of serving as an additional arsenal to our mission, suffice to say the CFR currently acts as a bottleneck in our crime-fighting initiatives.”

Mthethwa has also given notice he is sacking the current leadership of the CFR. “The current management neither recognised the seriousness of the problems nor has shown readiness to adapt its structures and procedures to address the challenges. In this context it will not be possible for SAPS to embark on any turnaround strategy under the current management. We shall therefore effect changes.”
“… we want to emphasise that the challenges in the implementation of the FCA not only undermine our approach to firearms control and management, but it also puts the lives of law-abiding citizens in danger.
“As pointed out in our recent crime statistics, illegal firearms contribute to the high rate of robberies, rape, hijackings and murder. It has also been revealed that if we can deal with these illegal firearms which happen to be in the hands of criminals, we can significantly reduce crime across all facets. We shall not allow those who are tasked to protect the innocent and vulnerable to become part of promoting this vicious scourge of crime; either by omission or commission.
“It is therefore inconceivable that police officers would compromise innocent lives due to their laziness, inefficiency or ineptitude,” Mthethwa said. “What further infuriates is when one asks questions around the challenges in this area, we do not get clear and forthright answers. In fact in areas where one gets answers, they are not satisfactory. Clearly there are some within SAPS who have adopted and still apply a leisure faire approach in carrying out their duties. We are saying, their time is up.”

Mthethwa’s condemnation comes two days after President Jacob Zuma sacked nine ministers in order to speed up service delivery and some months after the minister appointed a task team to probe increased complaints – and litigation – at and about the CFR. “Their terms of reference were straight-forward: through an assessment of the current situation, to develop a clear set of recommendations on how the problems in the CFR administration of the [Firearms Control] Act (FCA) could be addressed; speedily and cost-effectively.”

The minister says the team found backlogs in processing firearms licences and licence renewals can “take between five months and six years to be finalised. We have been informed about some of the factors that contribute to such delays (incorrectly-filled forms by applicants, delays in the finalization of competency certificates and delays in the conducting safe inspections). In our view, this is still unacceptable.
“During the assessment a number of concerning issues were raised regarding irregularities in the issuing of firearms licenses. Some of these include issuing of firearm licenses under the old Arms and Ammunition Act. There are also cases where a single firearm is licensed to two different individuals and/or illegally issuing firearms to people who have been genuinely refused licenses (such individuals having to pay bribes).
“One of the objectives of the FCA was to ensure a new database with accurate and comprehensive picture of who owns what firearm and when the license is due for renewal. However the backlogs in renewal applications coupled with irregularities in the issuing of firearm licenses under the Act, raises serious questions regarding the integrity of the new database system.
“As a result of the backlogs and inefficiencies in the processing of the firearms, the Department [of Police] has been subjected to significant litigation and court applications (more so cases brought against the Minister and the National Commissioner). To a large degree, our review indicates that the majority of cases brought against the Department appear to relate to issues of administration which in essence, could have been avoided had people tasked with managing these process acted effective,” Mthethwa says.

The minister says he and nationalpolice commissioner Bheki Cele have given a intervention team nine months to resolve all outstanding backlogs. “While we may continue to improve our systems, effecting management changes at CFR, we still need to ensure that those who have been involved in corrupt activities, are brought to book,” Mthethwa adds.