Cabinet has approved two Bills for tabling in Parliament that will see better oversight of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The executive approved the Civilian Secretariat for Police Bill and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Bill on Tuesday. The move follows the confirmation, earlier this month, of Jennifer Anne Irish-Qhobosheane as Secretary of Police and head of the Police Secretariat. The appointment was first mooted last August and was made the following month.
Cabinet confirmed her grade as deputy director general, meaning that she is junior to national police commissioner General Bheki Cele. This is in contrast to the Secretary for Defence, who is equal to the Chief of the South African National Defence Force. In the years after the establishment of nonracial democracy in 1994, the SecPol was equal to that of the police chief, but safety and security minister Steve Tshwete as well as his police chiefs undermined the office that was meant to police the police.
A statement released after the meeting notes the Civilian Secretariat for Police Bill “responds to the constitutional imperative that obliges the Minister of Police to establish a civilian secretariat for the police. The civilian secretariat for the police will conduct civilian oversight over the police by monitoring, assessing and evaluation performance of the police, in addition to providing the Minister of Police with advice and support in the exercise of its powers and functions. It will be structured to function independently from the South African Police Service.”
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate Bill will establish an Independent Police Investigative Directorate in place of the existing but under-resourced Independent Complaints Directorate “to investigate any alleged misconduct or offence committed by a member of the Police Service. The Bill seeks to provide the Directorate with the necessary powers and functions to exercise its constitutional mandate and repeal the provisions relating to the Independent Complaints Directorate in the South African Police Service Act, 1995.
“Amongst other things, this bill seeks to change the name of the current Independent Complaints Directorate to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. The rationale behind the name change is to brand the Directorate as a body which functions independently from the police service and that its focus is to conduct investigations of offences by a police member, rather than merely receiving complaints. The work of the Directorate will contribute towards ensuring that the police service becomes a professional police service that operates within the spirit of our constitutional norms and standards and in an ethos that is non-militaristic,” the Cabinet statement says.
The Democratic Alliance says the last line is at odds with police minister Nathi Mthehwa’s plans – also repeated by national police commissioner General Bheki Cele to remilitarise the police. “It is most reassuring that, according to their brief on the new ICD Bill, the Cabinet has no plans to militarise the police,” police shadow minister Dianne Kohler Barnard said. “Hopefully this information will be passed on to the national police commissioner, who has just militarised the ranks, and sown confusion amongst journalists who began referring to the ‘SA Police Force’.”
“It will be most interesting to see the reaction of the national police commissioner to this statement,” she added.
Kohler Barnard also welcomed the Civilian Secretariat for Police Bill but added in both cases, “of course, we will have to wait and see what the Bills actually contain in order to make a proper assessment and further comment.”
Irish-Qhobosheane last November said she would prioritise legislation to increase the powers of the police secretariat as well as that of the ICD.