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Does South Africa have a sick police service? That’s the question the police’s top management had to deal with when MPs queried its rather “huge” sick leave bill of more than R600 million. The bill is for SAPS members with ailments from colds and flu to the more serious psychiatric illnesses.
The SAPS management, led by national commissioner Riah Phiyega, appeared before parliament’s police oversight committee for the second day on Wednesday and was grilled on its annual report.
Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald found it “quite disturbing” to see the sick leave figures for the 2012/13 financial year standing at R618m.
“What is SAPS doing about sick leave? I’ve asked for three main reasons for sick leave. If the officers tell me here today that they don’t know, then I have a serious problem. Of course it means they don’t care about sick leave in SAPS. I mean if you’re the head of HR and you can’t say that, then there is a critical problem,” he said angrily.
Groenewald was responding to the police’s head of human resources, Lieutenant-General Nkayishane Mazibuko, who could not give updated figures.
Mazibuko said it would not be easy to tell what the police’s sick leave average was.
He explained that the first category of sick leave was related to the “general conditions of sickness that members succumb to”.
“Usually it will be seasonal, like during winter (when) it will mostly be cold- or flu-related. And the other one would be in relation to the type of work that members perform and the trauma that they are sometimes exposed to which may lead to long periods of hospitalisation. The third category is related to issues of mental wellness of psychiatric treatment to which our members are very susceptible.”
Mazibuko added that these also required extended periods of psychiatric treatment.
Cope MP Mluleki George added his voice, saying he once dealt with the high amounts of sick leave with the previous commissioner.
“I asked if we have a sick police service because the amount is too huge. That is why I also support that let’s be told what is it that we’re spending R600m on sick leave,” said George.
Committee chairwoman Annelize van Wyk asked for an indication of the sick leave cost on any given day.
“I don’t believe that you don’t know this because this is strategic impact on the SAPS for providing service. It impacts on your planning. It impacts on your shift systems, impacts on your strength of force, it impacts on everything,” said Van Wyk. She said the cost could be as high as R1 billion when other factors were added to the figure.
Phiyega said sick leave was part of the data that the SAPS should have at its disposal. “It’s management information that we require. It’s the type of indicators we should develop ourselves when we deal with the impact of absence, absenteeism and sick leave and all those type of issues,” she said.