General Bheki Cele. Picture: Sarah Makoe

Embattled national Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele and his top brass have been warned by MPs that lying to Parliament was a criminal offence as the department was grilled on its chaotic firearm controls.

MPs came out guns blazing against police bigwigs for claiming, during previous committee meetings, that their management of firearms was under control. This followed a senior SAPS commissioner admission that there was really no system in place to monitor and safeguard firearms.

Cele was not present during Tuesday’s meeting with the National Assembly committee on police. Chairwoman Sindi Chikunga said he had excused himself.

Commissioner for visible policing at the SAPS, Joel Mothiba, said: “We really don’t have control of the environment (firearm controls) … we must point out that we do not have a system.”

In response, angry MPs accused the police management of lying to them during previous meetings.

ANC MP Annelize van Wyk said the committee’s patience with the department was wearing thin as it was not the first time information that had been provided was questioned and earlier statements disputed.

“It’s a criminal offence to lie to Parliament. There will come a time when this committee has had enough of these half-truths.”

DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said: “The absolute top structure (of SAPS) had sworn to us on stacks of Bibles that a system was in place. Now you mean there’s no system?

“Why have we been listening to top structure saying everything (was under control) … I don’t know how you even manage to apprehend criminals. I’m absolutely gob-smacked,” Kohler Barnard said.

The SAPS on Tuesday presented its report on the safeguarding of firearms to the committee.

Over the past seven years, 20 429 firearms were reported lost despite 12 control measures put in place. To date, the SAPS has recovered 4 810 of the guns and no steps have been taken against any officers.

The department has 264 845 firearms.

On the report, Chikunga said: “The report today, if you look at it and really think about it, it’s somewhat a fatal report.”

Members expressed their concern about the statistics in the report because the national department had relied on the provinces to provide the numbers, with very few actual inspections of police stations.

Van Wyk said, if the figures relied on information from the provinces, “I can say without a doubt that they are wrong”.

Earlier, SAPS divisional commissioner of supply chain management Gary Kruser said he had only been notified of the meeting the day before the department was scheduled to appear before the committee.

“So we had to put the presentation together in a rush.”

Chikunga took issue with this, saying the SAPS had been handed the committee’s schedule in October.

“It’s surprising that only yesterday people were told. I’m not sure what this means … I have a problem with the document being prepared one day before the meeting. Even if the national commissioner (Cele) could not come he should have prepared the people who came. (That it was) only prepared yesterday talks to the disorganisation on that level.” - Political Bureau