Police to review suspension policy

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Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has called for an urgent review of the policy that sees police officers receive full pay while on suspension. Mthethwa has asked police management to review the policy, which resulted in police paying almost R2.5 million in salaries to police officers in the 2009/2010 financial year.

“We want to halt precedence where officers get involved in criminality willy-nilly while knowing that financially, they will not be negatively affected,” he said. He has now tasked police management to consult extensively on the issue, come up with urgent proposals and provide him with a report by the end of next month, the state BuaNews agency says.
“As we tighten the screws on police members who are engaged in acts of criminality, we must close all the loopholes that currently exist beyond pressing criminal charges on such scrupulous members. We must also hit them where it hurts most: in the pocket,” Mthethwa said during a reply to questions of the issue in Parliament. The review process will take into account police officers’ employment and labour laws to ensure these rights are not infringed.

The Police Ministry is hoping a review of the suspension-with-pay policy will be a further step in its efforts to eliminate police involvement in criminality, while at the same time, saving government millions of Rand. “A total number of 105 police officers were suspended with full pay in the 2009/2010 fiscal year pending a variety of investigations against them. A total amount of R2 456 649.85 was spent on paying salaries of these suspended police officers,” he added.

The charges the police officers faced included allegations of assault, theft and drunken driving.

Charges included the violation of SAPS rules and regulations such as failure to comply with standing orders or national instructions, as well as failure to comply with acts, regulations or legal obligations, BuaNews said. Mthethwa said the number of police officers suspended with full pay was a concern, not only because of the financial burden the investigations placed on the SAPS, but also because it dented the image of police.

Mthethwa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party shadow, Diane Kohler Barnard says the police are tackling the wrong issue. “The law will never allow the removal of a salary from someone not yet found guilty. The main issue is the length of time it is taking (against all regulations) to deal with disciplinary hearings, added to the fact that when the ICD [Independent Complaints Directorate] informs the SAPS that X police officer is patently guilty of a crime, the SAPS says, ‘Thanks for the info, and promptly moves the person to another station.’ Seldom does a hearing even take place.
“All we need is a SAPS that actually adheres to its own regulations, and this problem will no longer exist. The SAPS wasted millions on Jackie Selebi instead of simply terminating his contract, as was done with Robert McBride [who headed the Ekurhuleni metro police].

The South African Policing Union voiced “its total opposition” to the proposed plan. “We are surprised to hear the Minister talking about this reviewing of suspension with pay because what is currently happening is that members are suspended without pay / benefits. Only plus minus 5% are suspended with benefits.”

The union says this is not only illegal but also unfair discrimination “as it applied to junior members whom we feel are just soft targets. We have learnt with shock, anger and dismay that minister Mthethwa has promised when answering a parliamentary question that the process of reviewing will be complete by end of April 2011.”

SAPU says it proposes police management to introduce a speedy mechanism to resolve disciplinary issues. “We are of the view that the management rushes to suspend members without any tangible evidence that warrant a suspension. In some instances it is clear that members were suspended just to please either the public or the media as if it’s doing something. We cannot allow a situation where junior officers are made sacrificial lambs.
“We have been fighting the so-called suspension without pay in the SAPS as it implies that one is found guilty without any due process being followed. These suspension and later upliftment lead to untold sufferings to innocent members. Thousands of members have committed suicide after losing their livelihood because in some instances members lose houses, vehicles whilst other marriage fail and lead to divorces. South Africa is a constitutional democracy where the rule of law is supreme.



Where is the principle of innocent until proven otherwise if one is suspended without pay?
“We would like to state it categorically clear that we do not condone acts of criminality or corruption. In actual fact it is other members who arrest those accused of criminality. What we are totally opposed is the apparent victimisation of junior officers because with senior managers you will never see them being suspended without benefits. Millions of rands in taxpayer’s money are being wasted paying these senior officers whilst they are on lengthy suspensions. SAPU would like to call upon the SAPS management to exercise fairness, consistency and justice.”