Pittance for DNA testing

National Forensic Science Institute needs N$20.9m, receives only N$3.5m

08 June 2020 | Police



Delays in the finalisation of many criminal cases, including the recent unprecedented release from custody of a Rundu man who confessed to killing his ex-lover, are linked to the acute underfunding of the country's forensic testing body, which cannot produce lab results timeously.

Namibian Sun has uncovered that the National Forensic Science Institute (NFSI) is failing to carry out its mandate because it is severely underfunded, leading to massive delays in court cases.

According to the NFSI director, Commissioner Paul Ludik, their yearly operational budget for conducting DNA tests stands at N$3.5 million, while they require about N$20.9 million.

Besides being underfunded the NFSI is also understaffed, Ludik said.

“As for DNA tests, we receive approximately 860 cases per annum, and at an average of 2.7 samples per case, the cost of analysis amounts to N$20 898 000 per annum for DNA analysis only. This is against the backdrop of operational budget availability of N$3.5 million,” Ludik said.

“[This is] insufficient funding given the massive increase in case load and adverse forex exchange rates.

“The latter has not only resulted in significantly reduced available operational funding for procurement of materials, consumables, reagents, annual licence fees and the acquisition of equipment as well as maintenance, but also a lack of recruitment resulting in severely reduced professional scientific human resources in spite of the drastically increased workload.”

Ludik further revealed that their immediate needs at the moment amount to N$198 million.

Because of the limited resources, the understaffed police division faces a workload that continues to pile up.

Budget cuts

The allocation for the safety and security ministry in the latest budget is even lower than last year.

Last month finance minister Ipumbu Shiimi tabled a N$72 billion budget for the 2020/21 financial year, which allocates N$5.4 billion to the safety and security ministry.

That is about N$120 million less than the budget for the 2019/20 financial year, something Ludik says is going to further strain them.

“The reduced budget will further strain and adversely affect our ability to meet increasing demands,” he said.

Justice delayed

The backlog in forensic test results causes major delays in court cases.

In the absence of test results, the State is unable to prosecute. In some cases, accused persons are released from custody for lack of evidence.

It even happens that suspects who initially confessed to crimes later plead not guilty when they learn that the State does not have the forensic evidence needed to incriminate them.

One such case that has made headlines recently is that of Rundu resident Castro Domingo, who stands accused of murdering a woman in 2018.

Domingo was provisionally released from custody in May because the State was unable to proceed with the prosecution without the results of forensic tests ordered two years ago. He was rearrested after a public outcry.

Domingo had confessed to the murder after his initial arrest and had directed the police to where the victim's corpse was buried.

However, when he returned to court last week, he pleaded not guilty.

Shocking backlog

During an event to mark the opening of the legal year on 12 February, Chief Justice Peter Shivute painted a picture of the extent of the challenges facing the courts and the scale of resources needed to adequately deal with the backlog problem, especially in magistrate's courts.

He said 2 570 criminal cases were heard by regional court magistrates during the period January 2019 to January 2020.

Of these only 523 were finalised, while 2 047 cases were carried over to 2020. The regional courts therefore finalised only 20% of cases during the period under review.

During the 2018/19 reporting period, the regional courts finalised only 6% of their cases.

Viewed against that statistic, the latest statistic is an improvement, but it still falls far short of the target finalisation percentage of 62% for regional courts, Shivute said at the time.

He added that during the January 2019 to January 2020 reporting period, district court magistrates presided over 46 460 criminal cases, while 24 256 of those cases - representing 52% - were finalised and the remainder (22 204) were carried over to 2020. That finalisation rate fell 10% shy of the 62% finalisation rate set for district courts. It however represents an improvement on the previous year, which recorded a paltry 21% finalisation rate.