The Democratic Alliance (DA) has learnt that the South African Police Service (SAPS) Divisional Commissioner of Legal Services, Lindiwe Mtimkulu, has been suspended and charged, and that an acting Divisional Commissioner has been appointed in her place. This comes almost three years after a damning 400 page R8-million report into the Police Legal Services was compiled. We have asked repeatedly for action to be taken on that report, and for its contents to be publicly disclosed, so we welcome her suspension, but also need to establish why SAPS took so long to act on its recommendations. Indeed, it still needs to be clarified upon exactly what grounds she has been suspended, though the list of charges made against her by the abovementioned report would certainly seem to be the most obvious reason.
In this morning's police portfolio committee, I asked whether Ms Mtimkulu had indeed been suspended and on what grounds. The National Commissioner, Bheki Cele, confirmed that she had been "suspended and charged" and that she had been suspended for violating police regulations.
This is against the backdrop of the Edward Nathan Sonnenberg's (ENS) report which revealed gross mismanagement of the police litigation structures. In particular, the report revealed that divisional commissioner Lindiwe Mtimkulu operated in an ‘autocratic' fashion, and was unable to make legal decisions because she suffered from "a fundamental misunderstanding of the law and legal processes". Up until today, it would seem, no action had been taken against Mtimkulu.
At the time that the report was commissioned, the backlog of civil legal claims stood at 19 000, and many claims took three years and upwards for the SAPS to settle. The latest information from the 2008/2009 SAPS annual report states that the police have earmarked R7.5 billion for possible civil legal claims against the department. The total figure is up from R5.7 billion in 2007/2008, indicating a deteriorating state of affairs in the Legal Services Division. These claims include: assault, shootings, damage to property, police actions, vehicle accidents and legal costs.
The DA has been calling for the removal of Ms Mtimkulu for the last two years. In 2008, when the DA became aware of the existence of the report into the Police Legal Services, we put questions to the Minister on the matter. Then-minister Charles Nqakula kept the report out of the public domain, and refused to act on it. The incumbent Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, also dodged questions regarding this matter. We hope he has now at long lasted acted.
With the removal of Mtimkulu, we can only hope that the SAPS legal services division will finally be provided the leadership that it requires. This, however, must be accompanied by the strengthening of the Independent Complaints Directorate, to ensure proper police oversight. Until those measures are taken, public money will continue to be siphoned away into civil claims, and away from where it is needed: in preventing and detecting crime.