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Backlog of over 85,000 clearance certificates, firearm licenses amid new SAPS fingerprint system

  • SAPS faces backlogs with police clearance certificates and firearms licences.
  • The non-payment of electricity bills and the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure’s dispute with a landlord contributed to this.
  • The backlog for police clearance certificates and firearm licenses total more than 85,000 collectively.

Despite implementing a new Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) in January, the police are already facing a backlog of more than 85,000 for police clearance certificates and firearm license applications collectively.

The non-payment of electricity bills and the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure’s dispute with a landlord were contributing factors.

In a written parliamentary question, DA MP Andrew Whitfield asked what challenges the police experienced with AFIS in the 2019-2020, 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 financial years.

AFIS is a computer system matching fingerprints against a database.

According to Police Minister Bheki Cele’s answer, the current AFIS was implemented on 24 January 2022 at 60 sites. This was after a contract was awarded to Datacentrix on 16 September 2020.

“There has been a sudden increase in the number of fingerprint searches for firearm licensing and police clearance, which exceeds the capacity to process the applications, within the set performance measurement,” Cele’s answer stated.

From January to March 2022, the police received 75,440 applications for police clearance certificates. They finalized 32,045, leaving a backlog of 43,395.

During the same period, they received 90,384 applications for firearm licences, finalized 45,859, leaving a backlog of 44,525.

READ | Police locked out of Pretoria head office as backlogs worsen for clearance certificates, DNA samples

Among the “challenges” experienced during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 financial years was that the maintenance and support contract for the old AFIS system expired on 30 November 2021.

“The challenges experienced during this period related to instability, due to old technological infrastructure.”

Compatibility issues between Windows 7 and 10, due to old technology and infrastructure, led to continuous failure of the system and hardware breakdown.

“Instability of the system was experienced towards the end of April and beginning of May 2021. The central site was unavailable for 21 days, during this period.”

Despite all these “challenges”, Cele said there wasn’t a backlog at the time.

“Although the system was outdated and had reached its lifespan, it could still provide the required service and there was no backlog experienced during the said period.”

In the 2021-2022 financial year, the police experienced new “challenges” with AFIS.

To implement the new system, the old system had to be shut down. This was scheduled for 17 to 24 January 2022.

“[H]Nowever, some sites only restarted on February 2022, due to technical malfunctioning.”

The service was further interrupted in Pretoria, where police clearance and firearm license applications are processed, due to the disconnection of electricity to the building (Tswane ya Tima Campaign), from 10 to 14 February 2022.

“The Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management offices in Pretoria were locked by the building landlord, due to a lease dispute and unpaid rentals between the Bothongo Property Group and the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure from 8 to 15 March 2022.”

Cele said shutting down the building due to Covid-19 cases also contributed to the backlog.

READ | Govt building closure: Court orders Public Works to cough up millions in unpaid rent

Cele’s assertion that there weren’t police clearance certificate backlogs in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 didn’t remove gel with an earlier response he provided to Whitfield.

In December last year, Cele said in the 2019-2020 financial year, the police had a target of finalizing 95% of police clearance certificates within 15 calendar days.

They only managed to finalize 52.7% in this period – a total of 197,759 certificates. Altogether, 177,335 certificates were not finalized on time.

The following year – 2020-2021 – the target was lowered to finalize 80% of certificates within 15 calendar days, but again the target was not achieved, clearing only 74.95% on time. Altogether, 183,863 were completed on time, leaving a backlog of 61,448.

The 15 days were measured from when the application was received by the Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management head office in Pretoria.

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