18/01/2018 12:19 SAST | Updated 18/01/2018 12:19 SAST

'Part-Privatise Police Service To Solve Crime In South Africa'

Public service is a weak incentive to solve our national problems.

Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
A suspected illegal miner (C) is questioned by police after he emerged from Johannesburg's oldest gold mine in Langlaagte, South Africa. September 12, 2016.


It is no hyperbole to state that crime is totally out of hand in South Africa. Nearly everyone has been a victim of crime a few times – and has either reported it without an outcome, or has just not bothered. In Grahamstown, criminals were so brazen that they barged into DA offices, held us all at gunpoint and took funeral money from an elderly lady.

That was more than six months ago. As with many other things such as the economy and unemployment, the ANC lacks the collective intelligence to meaningfully fight crime and protect citizens and businesses.

Each day, there are 51 murders, more than 900 assaults, more than 500 robberies and more than 200 business burglaries (SAPS crime stats as at 2015/2016), a majority of which are never solved. Some victims don't even bother to report a crime.

Police are understaffed and lack resources, while millions are occasionally removed from the police department to buy luxury cars for President Zuma's multiple wives. In the period 2012-2014, 43.1 percent of households said they did not report a crime because it is pointless; nobody cares, while 25 percent said it is because of bribery and corruption in the police service.

We need new ideas and far-reaching reforms that can tap into the collective intelligence of all our people to solve pressing problems that face our nation.

It is about time that we part-privatise or outsource detective services – or share them with licensed private contractors – to improve detection and conviction rates for offences. I submit that it would improve policing to gradually let members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) focus on visibility and crime prevention.

The idea is simple. When a crime is committed, it is reported to the nearest police station as usual. If there is no clear-cut evidence to secure a conviction right away or the crime is complex, the case must be forwarded to a licensed contractor for investigation and evidence-gathering to secure a conviction in court.

Upon a conviction, the contractor is paid an agreed fee. Acquittals are not paid, unless the outcome was the result of clear prosecutorial bungling.

Public service is a weak incentive to solve our national problems. With a few exceptions imbued with a "public service ethic", government employees are rude, incompetent and largely unintelligent. They have no pressure to succeed at what they do, or be better than everyone else. They have no pressure to innovate and find solutions to problems.

One should not turn social problems into business opportunities and provide solutions just to make a profit.

They routinely go about their jobs just to get a salary. They hardly ever do more than the job requires. This explains the superiority of private services over inferior public services – as in the difference between a public and a private hospital.

We need to appeal to people's stronger incentives in order to improve public service. Milton Friedman teaches us that the incentive for profit is stronger than the incentive for public service. But bad politicians would rather make regulations to try to change this.

It is a wild goose chase at taxpayers' expense to attempt to channel people's stronger incentives into public service. We should rather tap into what appeals to people the most in order to solve our national problems.

Private businesses, driven as they are by profit, would innovate, invent new technologies and improve old methods, in order to solve more crimes and secure convictions in court. At the same time, we would be creating businesses that would create more jobs, pay taxes and solve crime at the same time.

We already have something to work on in building this – namely, private investigators. If we opened this space to private actors, an entire industry would explode, and more opportunities would be created for unemployed people.

One should not turn social problems into business opportunities and provide solutions just to make a profit. Otherwise, our only other alternative is more crime.

Our government addicts will have a million reasons to rail against this on the grounds that it opens us to capitalist greed. Well, as it stands, their only speciality is to complain and organise strikes, while others try to find solutions and discover business opportunities in the process.

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