The Namibia Forensic Science Institute needs at least N$36 million per year to clear a backlog of 4 300 DNA samples. According to information provided at a meet and greet with police chief inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga yesterday at the lab, the media were informed it will cost an estimated N$9 800 to analyse one sample of DNA. Besides that, it was revealed that the NSFI do not only deal with DNA but tests for toxicity, alcohol levels in driving under the influence (DUI) cases and arson investigations daily.
Commissioner Nelius Bekker, who is the head of the institute, said although they are severely under-resourced, they do manage to perform exceptionally well, despite the challenges. Ndeitunga said government has heeded the call from the police for a state-of-the-art laboratory, as they are the first leg in the fight against criminals and crime.
According to him, the lab was inaugurated last year and boasts the latest technology. However, Dr Paul Ludick, the chief scientist said many of the instruments are relics and need to be upgraded. But, he said, with the instruments they have, they manage to analyse samples sent to them. He further said the instruments they use are expensive. For example, he said, the re-agent they need to test for DNA costs N$1.5 million per batch, which is enough for 70 cases only.
In some instances, he said, more than 25 samples are collected from crime scenes, which put a strain on their meagre resources. It was further said that more cases are being reported on a daily basis, which put a further strain, and they will need an extra N$10 million per year for the current cases. While it is disheartening if criminals are let go because of unfinished lab results, they endeavour to do their work to the best of their abilities.
The police chief further urged the scientists to keep on evolving in their respective fields and to keep up with the latest developments. Currently, the institute has a crop of 28 scientists in different sections such as genetics, chemistry and ballistics, among others.
Ndeitunga also bemoaned the fact that the private sector poaches their staff after spending lots of money and time to train them. It was also mentioned that plans are afoot to establish mini laboratories in the regions to cater for issues such as DUIs and other smaller issues. Currently, the laboratory deals with all tests, unlike in the past when samples were sent to Canada and South Africa for analysis, which took very long and was expensive.
Bekker said scientists from the NFSI, including himself, attend crime scenes and collect samples for analysis and they are training police officers in the art of preserving crime scenes. Deputy prosecutor general Antonia Verhoef said the prosecution does not only rely on DNA to convict but that it is an important tool. She further suggested that investigating officers are capacitated to handle scientific investigations at crime scenes and the scientific collection of samples.