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When Mr E N Mthethwa took office as the Minister of Police on the 10th May 2009, he emphasized the need to strengthen civilian oversight of the South African Police Service. The Minister highlighted the important role the Civilian Secretariat for Police needed to play, not only in providing professional oversight of the police service, but also in the development of policing policy and in the building of partnerships with communities and civil society .

The Civilian Secretariat for Police is a constitutional structure which has existed since 1996. Between 1996 and 1999 this Secretariat provided a good example of effective and efficient civilian oversight. However, after 1999, following the departure of the Mr Azhar Cachalia as the Secretary for Safety and Security, the structure began to become ineffective and started to slide into oblivion. This resulted in a situation where policing in South Africa was characterised by weak accountability, lack of civilian and Ministerial input into the policing policy.

This development presented a number of challenges. These included a blurring in the lines of command and control and policy direction and development within the department and confusion over the difference between policy and operational issues. As a result of the ineffectiveness of the Secretariat, the Minister of Police in 2009 instructed that institutional and organisational reform was required which would ensure that the Civilian Secretariat for Police was able to perform the functions envisioned in the Constitution and be able to properly support the Minister of Police in carrying out his mandate. The institutional reform identified the need to develop separate legislation which would entrench and enhance the role of the Civilian Secretariat for Police.

This legislation addresses enhancing and empowering the Secretariat to perform its functions with regard to policy development, civilian oversight, to ensure police accountability and in enforcing the Ministry’s approach to partnerships. To complement this legislation the Civilian Secretariat for Police embarked on a reorganisation process in consultation with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA).

Both the institutional reform and the reorganisation processes are almost complete and the challenge is now to ensure that the Civilian Secretariat for Police begins to function and operate as a competent and professional government entity. However, the challenges and expectations on the Secretariat, as with any changes going forward, are going to be high.

The Civilian Secretariat for Police will no longer raise structural and capacity weaknesses as an excuse for not being able to fulfil its mandate. Any organisation or structure is only as strong as its weakest link and the Secretariat will need to ensure that all the links in its chain are strong and able to rise to the occasion. While the Secretariat will be structured into different units and components, it is also important that its members work together as one team in order to ensure that it does not fall into the trap of working in silos. For this to happen we must all understand the role of Civilian Secretariat for Police and the importance of our work.