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Forensic labs using obsolete equipment

GOVERNMENT has failed to support the department of forensic sciences, which is still using antiquated equipment to investigate murder, rape and other cases, thereby creating a backlog of over 1 600 cases.

By VENERANDA LANGA

Director of the Forensic Sciences department, Birthwell Mutandiro last week appeared before the Ronald Muderedzwa-led

Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs where he narrated the sorry state of affairs at the forensic labs which are critical for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) tests, and other scientific investigations.

The forensic sciences department’s major client is the Zimbabwe Republic Police which runs a crime laboratory where it gives forensic services in criminal and civil cases like rape, murder, vehicle accidents, poison, arson and others.

“The department has been operating below par such that there are urgent backlogs since 2004, and we have resorted to out-sourcing forensic investigations to countries like South Africa, Namibia or to private local laboratories,” Mutandiro said.

“The department is in serious need of capitalisation and since 1980, no forensic laboratory equipment has been purchased except one piece of equipment bought in 2014. What this means is that 37 years since independence, we have lagged behind scientifically in terms of forensic sciences and we are four generations behind.”

Mutandiro said this was the major reason for the deterioration in services and the huge backlog in solving rape and murder cases
.
“Since 2014, the department received only $50 000 cumulatively, and there is serious lack of attention to the department.

The backlog in cases of rape and murder nationally stands at 1600. These cases require investigations and examinations using DNA equipment which costs $625 000, and another $50 000 for the chemicals and reagents. Equipment for examining forged documents costs around $126 000, but we have to do all that without any equipment due to lack of budgetary support,” he said.

As a result, the forensic sciences department ends up outsourcing serious cases to South Africa, and they also lack vehicles to attend to crime and accident scenes for which the police would have requested scientific evidence.

He said they needed at least two all-terrain vehicles and two mobile laboratories because they worked 24 hours every day. There is therefore need to capitalise its five departments with an initial value of $7 million, he said.

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