getimage (14)Three-day Bay police music bash slammed

THE South African Police Service is in the final stages of planning a R40-million, three-day music festival for its members, scheduled to take place in Port Elizabeth in September.

Politicians, watchdog organisations and police officers have slammed the festival as a waste of public money that could be better spent on overtime, replacing old computers, vehicles and much-needed cellphones, all essential in the daily fight against crime.

Police top brass involved in organising the annual 23rd Police Music and Cultural Unity Festival (Polmusca) are tight-lipped about the exact amount of taxpayers’ money to be spent, insisting a budget of R4-million has been set aside for it.

But insiders say the amount is likely to be 10 times more, with various current operating budgets being squeezed to cover everything from transport for the 600 members from all over SA expected to attend, to accommodation, food and gifts.

The extravagant affair, held in a different province every year and said to be a highlight on the police calendar, will include an official opening, a gala dinner, ballroom dancing, exhibitions, a cocktail party, potjiekos or traditional cooking competitions and a “send-off”. These functions are in addition to the main competition at which members will battle it out for the title of the police’s leading band.

Requests by Weekend Post to the national SAPS office to view the expenditure and budget allocation for the event have fallen on deaf ears.

“The money comes from various divisions within the police and not just one budget. The same money that is meant for support services, vehicles, overtime payments and so on,” said an enraged officer, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation.

To oversee the smooth running of the event, police have formed four organising committees – local, national, provincial and president’s committee – all with separate budgets.

In February, a delegation of 40 officers from different provinces visited the Bay to assess the Eastern Cape’s state of readiness in terms of preparations for the event.

SAPS national spokesman Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale, who is also president of the Polmusca committee, is adamant his budget for the event is R4-million, but insiders have spoken out stating closed meetings revealed costs would add up to about R40-million.

Among those invited to attend the Polmusca event are Minister of Police Nkosinathi Nhleko, his deputy, Maggie Sotyu, National police commissioner Riah Phiyega, Eastern Cape police boss Celiwa Binta and Eastern Cape MEC for Transport, Safety and Liaison Weziwe Tikana.

Several officers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were opposed to this much money being spent on a festival when requests for overtime were mostly denied due to budget restrictions and many officers’ cellphones and laptops did not work.

They also said equipment used to tackle the ongoing gang violence in the Bay’s crime-ridden northern areas only amounted to about R3-million, far less than required.

“Millions are being spent on a festival that serves no purpose to the community we are supposed to be protecting,” one infuriated officer said.

Nhleko’s spokesman, Musa Zondi, refused to comment on the budget, but told Weekend Post: “These men and women need to be able to do other things that nurture the soul. Music is one of those – and sport. Are you saying that police should be machines without the possibility of any recreation? That is a dangerous position.

“The minister would support activities that make policemen and women whole.”

DA police spokeswoman Dianne Kohler Barnard said neither members of parliament nor the police portfolio committee had heard of the event or seen a budget.

“We have stations without water, toilets or electricity and shortages of cars, radios, computers.

“Does the minister believe that taxpayers want millions of their taxpayer rands spent on singing events rather than fighting crime? The answer is a resounding no.”

Barnard said she intended to ask questions regarding the matter, but that it would take some time for her to receive an official response.

Policing expert and former general Johan Burger said it was concerning if funds were drawn from current operational budgets. “There is a need for such social events; however, it needs to be very closely monitored. It makes no sense to spend huge sums of money when there are many operational needs that should take preference.”

Five years ago, there was a public outcry over the R70million National Police Day event in Bloemfontein, which saw 5 000 officers countrywide attend. Former Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the time called it a “morale booster” for the country’s men and women in blue.

It was revealed in parliament last year that R153-million had been used on irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure by the police from 2009 to 2014.

-Gareth Wilson

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