National police commissioner Riah Phiyega File picture: Phill Magakoe

Durban - National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega brought the police forensic investigation and IT support capability to its knees by withdrawing three contracts worth billions hours before they were to be awarded.

Phiyega’s 2am e-mail, which the Sunday Tribune has seen, listed three contracts that had to be withdrawn because “they did not follow the internal processes of the South African Police Service”.

The procurement committee was to have finalised the projects at 9am.

The brief instruction to Freeman Nomvalo, head of the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) three weeks ago has far-reaching financial implications and could delay the roll-out of key justice projects such as the eDocket system by up to two years.

Not only does Phiyega’s decision scupper development directed by Parliament, but it also leaves the police without a vital maintenance and support contract for more than 100 000 computers countrywide.

Documents obtained by the Sunday Tribune show Phiyega signed off on two of the projects personally and all three had followed legal procurement processes.

The first cancelled contract, worth R125 million, was for the refurbishment of the police’s wide area network infrastructure – to upgrade the organisation’s bandwidth, provide cabling and equiphundreds of police stations.

This has effectively stopped in its tracks a national network upgrade project started in 2007, on which nearly R3bn has been spent to date. Phiyega personally signed off on the contract in July 2012.

The second relates to the purchase of an automated ballistics identification system, as well as a maintenance and support contract for three years worth nearly R150m.

Used to identify and link firearms and cartridges from crime scenes, this is a critical system in forensic labs.

Since 2012, no maintenance contract has been in place for the system, which places the entire operation at risk.

A month before Phiyega took office, the contract was signed by acting head Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi.

The third was a service agreement with Sita, for the maintenance of more than 100 000 computers across the country, worth R1.4bn.

With the police logging 15 000 requests for maintenance a month, their IT capabilities are all but destroyed with the cancellation of the agreement. Phiyega signed the deal in October last year.

The failure of the police to upgrade their wide area network, and equip stations, will further hamper vital justice initiatives such as the eDocket system.

The system is a collaboration by the SAPS, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and the Department of Correctional Services.

It aims to have a streamlined system from when an emergency call is logged, across the evidence chain from investigation to the time a person is arrested and sentenced.

The tender for the system has been published and cancelled four times since 2008.

It is understood that last year, when the contract was on the verge of being awarded, Phiyega cancelled it because it was not a priority.

Her decision was highlighted with parliamentary questions last week in an enquiry as to how many bids had been cancelled by the police.

If bids for the contracts expire, the procurement process has to start afresh, meaning further delays of up to two years.

Police spokesman Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale offered scant explanation for the move, saying only it was intended to ensure adequate “governance”.

Makgale said governance at the SAPS was one of the things identified as in need of strengthening.

“Technology products and services are procured through Sita. Last year she instructed that all the services and products procured by Sita for the police first had to be approved by the supply chain management department,” he said.

“In February Sita indicated certain procurement processes had not been followed and the tenders were withdrawn for investigation.

“The investigation has been concluded, and it was found that internal processes were followed. Sita has been informed and there is no risk to the SAPS.”

In a letter from Sita chief executive officer Freeman Nomvalo to Phiyega, which the Sunday Tribune has seen, he highlights major delays that would be incurred should the contracts be cancelled and calls for an urgent resolution.

Sunday Tribune