A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS & JOINT BUDGET COMMITTEE
20 June 2007
DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS ON AUDITOR GENERAL’S PERFORMANCE AUDITS OF THE IMMIGRATION PROCESS
Chairperson: Mr T Godi (PAC)
Documents handed out:
Auditor General’s Report on Performance Audit of Immigration Process at Department of Home Affairs
Audio recording of meeting
The Committee met with the Department of Home Affairs to discuss the Auditor General’s report following that office’s audit of the Department’s immigration process. Members asked questions in five blocks dealing with outstanding penalties and administrative fines charged to entities that transported undocumented persons, the deportation of prohibited persons, irregularities relating to equipment and documentation at the Lindela holding facility, the asylum procedure as well as the inadequate management of information. Aware that the newly appointed director general was not able to respond to many of the questions raised, Members expressed dissatisfaction at the Chief Financial Officer’s apparent unwillingness to clarify matters he should have knowledge of and take responsibility for. The Director General explained that many of the concerns raised would be addressed though the Department’s overhaul which was expected to take place over a period of three years. It was agreed that lack of proper controls, corruption, and weakness at all levels including management, contributed to the Department’s woes. An accounting officer who remained in office for a long enough period to address the many challenges the Department was faced with would be vital in the chain of accountability.
The Chairperson welcomed all present and requested everyone to introduce themselves.
Mr Mavuso Msimang, the newly appointed Director General of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) pointed out that he was only appointed five weeks earlier and was thus still very new to the position. His delegation comprised Mr Yusuf Simons, Acting Deputy Director General National Immigration Branch, Mr Pat Nkambule Chief Financial Officer and Mr Bongi Salisa Head Internal Audit.
The National Treasury was represented by Ms Miriam Mbena Mthembu and Ms Liesel Smit (Public Finance). Mr Corrie Pretorius, a senior manager in the Office of the Auditor General (AG) and represented that office.
Ms I Mars of the IFP and Mr Marius Swart of the DA represented the Portfolio Committee of Home Affairs, while Mr Martin Stevens (DA) and Ms Louisa Mabe (Chairperson) represented the Joint Budget Committee.
The Chairperson welcomed all. That day’s meeting would address matters of concern that arose from the Auditor General’s report. If the Auditor General identified certain areas and SCOPA thought that better clarity would be found through discussing matters with the relevant department in a face-to-face encounter, the Committee called such a meeting. This enabled Parliament to have a better understanding how departments performed the mandate given to them by the legislation.
Mr P Gerber (ANC) requested that the administrative staff ensure that the meeting was being recorded. At the last interaction with the DHA the audio equipment had not worked and a day later the DHA announced its turnaround plan. A recording would ensure that the Committee would have something to refer to. Mr D Gumede (ANC) agreed and emphasised that it was very important for Parliament to record its meetings.
The Chairperson assured Members that their concerns were being addressed and pointed out that the Committee had never had problems with the audio equipment in the venue they were using that day.
Outstanding penalties & fines charged to entities that transported undocumented persons
Mr Gerber started the interrogation process with question related to the outstanding penalty and administrative fines for transporting people who were not properly documented.
Realising that by clearly stating the date of his appointment, Mr Msimang was pointing out that he could not be held accountable for what happened prior to that time, the Member requested the other DHA officials present to state how long they had now been with the DHA and occupying their current positions.
Mr Yusuf joined the DHA on 1 July 1998 in the position of Northern Cape provincial manager. He has been the acting Deputy Director General since mid-January 2007. Mr Nkambule and Mr Salisa was took their current positions in April 2003.
Mr Gerber said that Section 31(a) of the Alien Control Regulations stated that the owner or person in charge of a conveyance in or on which a prohibited person was conveyed to any port of entry within the country would incur a penalty payable and recoverable as a debt against the State. Section 31(b) said that the penalty would be calculated as follows: any conveyance to transport a person would result in a fine of R5 000 per person; and any conveyance for any other purpose would result in a penalty of R500 per person. The penalties had on 1 July 2005 increased to R10 000 per person.
According to the Auditor General’s report the DHA was owed fines by 120 airlines who had contravened the abovementioned provisions. On 13 June 2006 the total outstanding amount had come to R16, 923 million; R4, 165 million had been outstanding up to three and a half years. He wondered how the Director General would ensure that the airlines would pay those fines and any future ones speedily.
Mr Msimang responded that the matters identified by the Auditor General indicated that there was some “serious disintegration” between the process and systems of port control and those of financial administration. Progress had been made since the publication of the report. The DHA reviewed its debtor’s collection procedures to facilitate adequate debtors take on, collection settlement and receipt processes.
At the time of the audit report the moneys owed amounted to R16, 923 million; these receipts were meant to have been posted to the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The payments for illegal immigrants and fine collections in 2006/07 amounted to R8, 596 million, payments for penalties for conveyers of illegal aliens to R 9,419 million and the reversal of undue interest to R5, 300 million.
The Chairperson said that at that stage Members were interested in the outstanding penalties that had not been collected and requested the delegation to respond to that question before categorizing the outstanding amount.
Mr Msimang said that the outstanding amount at the end of March 2007 was R1, 7 million. The rest had either been cleared or written off.
The Chairperson wondered how much had been written off.
Mr Msimang responded that R3, 6 million had had to be written off because some conveyers had either ceased to exist or had been liquidated.
The Chairperson asked how much had been recovered.
Mr Msimang answered that R17, 9 million had been recovered.
The Chairperson thought it curious that R17, 9 million had been recovered out of a total outstanding amount of about R16, 923 million.
After conferring with the CFO Mr Msimang informed Members that R3, 6 million had been written off, and that there had been reversals of undue interest. Out of the more or less R16 million, R8 million had been collected, and R3,6 million written off.
The Chairperson pointed out there would then still be about R5 million outstanding.
Mr Msimang explained that the remaining R5,3 million was the interest chargeable that had been reversed.
Mr Gerber was now even more confused than he had been before. He requested whether the amount that had been written off came from penalties owed by airlines such as Delta Airline and Air Canada. He wondered whether the R 3,6 million had to be deducted off the R4 million that had been outstanding since 2000, or from the total amount of the last financial year.
Mr Msimang confirmed that it had been taken off the R16, 23 million that was the latest figure.
Mr Gerber felt that although the matter was still one for concern, it was less problematic since the total figure had been reduced. He was astonished that although the fines were paid in terms of a South African Act, out of the 120 entities including bus, train and airline companies, South African Airlines (SAA) owed the most money. One would have thought that the communication between a South African entity and the DHA would have been better and sought clarity on the matter.
Mr Msimang said that part of the explanation could be found in the fact that the volume of passengers SAA brought in was much higher than the other entities did. He thought that once the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the DHA and the SAA had been signed the situation should improve. At the moment the parties were still working on standard operating procedures and they expected that by October 2007 the MOU would have been signed. Both parties would then be tied to strict adherence to commitments. He added that two positions for liaison officers who would be tasked with checking that passengers had the necessary documentation had been provided for.
The Chairperson wondered why the penalties had not been collected to begin with. He found it strange that subsequent to the report being published, “very spectacular movement” had taken place.
Mr Msimang responded that it was quite clear that there had been some shoddiness in the collection system. He had approved the changing of the reporting lines the previous day and hoed that that would address the matter. Because they resided in the provinces, some of the ports were tied up with the provincial structures. People at the airport would thus be reporting to the provincial managers and reports only later found their way to head office. Ports would now be directly accountable to head of immigration at the head office and would be working closely with the DHA finance department.
The Chairperson thought it obvious that, home affairs being a national competence, regional or provincial offices should report to the head office. He felt that Mr Msimang’s earlier reference to shoddy collecting was probably the most accurate explanation.
Mr Gerber pointed out that airlines were not the only debtors, but that other modes of transportation such as trains, busses and taxis also owed money. He asked whether the DHA had sufficient capacity to monitor and control the speedy collection of penalties. He wondered whether if such capacity were lacking, the DHA would consider using debt-collecting agencies to perform the task.
Mr Gerber noted that the Auditor General advised that the DHA ensured that ports of entry complied with Immigration Directive No 33 of 2005, which required that monthly returns were sent to head office in the prescribed format and within the prescribed time frame and that action should be taken against those ports of entry that failed to do so. He asked the delegation to indicate which ports of entry were worst at complying in this regard.
While Mr Msimang was not able to comment on the performance of the ports of entry, he could report that monthly reconciliations were now being done and that the standard operating procedures were in the process of being developed and should have been completed by the end of September 2007.
Mr Simons said that the DHA had not done a performance survey of the ports of entry. Most of penalties were accrued at the bigger ports of entry such as the Beitbridge and Lebombo border posts as well as the two major airports. There were 53 ports of entry. Some were in far flung areas that had only in 2006 been equipped with V-SAT connectivity. There were still many infrastructure related challenges.
Mr Msimang added that the DHA had been looking at the DHA’s at present “quite dysfunctional” information systems. These inadequate systems contributed to the problems of data capturing and reporting. The work on the IT systems commenced that past Friday and ought to take six weeks to complete. They hoped that the IT capabilities that had been suspended when the Support Intervention team stepped would be restored shortly thereafter.
The Chairperson commented that since the DHA were to be able to tell where there outstanding debts were accumulated, he would have expected that the DHA would have been able to identify the management problem. He thought that such an approach would have been logical since it would give an indication of where efforts to correct backlogs should have been concentrated.
Mr Pretorius indicated that the Office of the Auditor General had listed the ports of entry that were slow in providing head office with information in the full management report that had been provided to the Department.
The Chairperson noted that the question the Committee had raised had already been answered in the management letter the DHA received from the Auditor General. The fact that the DHA still could not tell where the problem lay did not reflect well on the senior officials who had received that letter. He suggested that the newly appointed Director General browse through some of those letters to get accurate information as to where the challenges lay. One could not resolve a problem if one did not fully comprehend it.
Mr Gerber pointed out that while Mr Msimang only took office five weeks earlier, other officials in the delegation had been with the DHA since 1998 and 2003 respectively. He was surprised that these officials could not supply the Committee with the information it sought.
The Chairperson pointed out that Mr Simons was only seconded to head office in January 2007.
Mr Gerber thought it best if Mr Pretorius listed the “major culprits” since the Auditor General had that information.
Mr Pretorius said that the audit was done in June 2006. He proceeded to list the ports that at that time had been six months or more behind in submitting the necessary documentation: Gauteng West (Dec 2005), Johannesburg International (September 2005), Limpopo (August 2005), Northern Cape (June 2005) and KwaZulu Natal (September 2005).
Mr Msimang said that he had thought the question related to ports of entry. Such information was not reflected in any of the communication received from the Auditor General’s office. Mr Pretorius had just given a provincial breakdown, and not a breakdown of the 53 ports of entry across the country.
Mr V Smith (ANC) noted that R3,6 million had been written off. He pointed out that that amounted to 21% of the total amount outstanding. The report indicated that some of the money had to be written off because airlines such as Air Canada and Air Ghana had filed for bankruptcy. He asked for confirmation of whether these airlines were in fact bankrupt.
Mr Pretorius responded that according to their information those airlines had filed for bankruptcy.
The Chairperson asked whether the DHA could confirm that that was position.
Mr Msimang responded that he was unable to confirm the information.
Mr Smith thought it important to confirm the claims money having had to be written off due to debtors’ bankruptcy. He wondered risk management measures the DHA had put in place to respond to debtors’ bankruptcy. Future claims of debtor bankruptcy would not be accepted as explanations for writing off large amounts of debt.
Mr Msimang thought that one of the best measures would be for the DHA to improve its efficiency as far as debt collection. Efficient systems for detecting person who ought not to be allowed into the country, thus detecting it “there and then”, matters would improve. He was not sure that there would be another way of managing risk other than “doing what they did efficiently”.
Mr Smith noted that at the time the report was written the former director general had indicated that the DHA would consult with the State Attorney in an attempt to recover the outstanding debt. He wondered whether that interaction had taken place and what fruit it had borne.
Mr Nkambule responded that the consultation had taken place.
Mr Smith pointed out that the question related more to the outcome of that interaction.
Mr Nkambule said that he would not say that the consultation had failed. Some progress had been made. The drafting of the summons (J175) had been the main issue under discussion. The major issue had been the question of whom that summons ought to be served to – the board of the airline or the director of the airline company. It was determined that it ought to be served to the latter and there was progress in that regard.
Mr Smith thought that determining whom a summons ought to be sent to could be done via a telephone call – the matter that could be resolved within two days. It was now six months since the accounting officer had made the undertaking. He merely wanted to know whether then summons had been served. If the problem lay with the state attorney, the Committee needed to know so that the matter could be addressed. It was important to understand where the bottlenecks were, and in the case of the outstanding debt even more since the problem dated as far back as 2000. If the Committee knew where challenges were, it could, in its recommendations, apply pressure where it was needed so that the matter could be addressed. SCOPA needed to have a sense of the DHA’s success rate as far as collecting money that was owed to the State.
Mr Nkambule responded that consultation wit the State Attorney did not amount to a mere telephone call. The consultative process included the writing of letters, the preparation of the summons that the prosecutors and the courts should be satisfied with. The State Attorney also needed to consult with the relevant courts. They also needed to make sure that all ports of entry were aware of the process so that summons could be dealt with in the appropriate manner. He was adamant that considering the fact that at the end of May only R1,7 million was still outstanding, the DHA was making sufficient progress as far as debt collecting. The DHA was only trying to sort out some of the details before serving summons to the appropriate entities.
The Chairperson reiterated that, as Mr Msimang had earlier indicated, the major challenge was the “tardiness in the collection process”. The fact that reporting lines between provincial offices and the head offices had not been clearly defined contributed to the problems. The matters were being attended to. He pointed out that if head office had no idea as to what was outstanding, how to follow up became a challenge. There was a general problem that needed to be addressed.
Upon Mr Stevens’ (DA) request, Mr Msimang confirmed that the R5, 3 million in interest that had been reversed was part of the about R16,923 million that was outstanding.
Mr Stevens pointed out that the report reflected the fines outstanding fines and administrative fines. There was no mention of it also including interest. He would have thought that the Auditor General knew the difference between fines, interest and penalties.
Mr Pretorius said that he had also been surprised when he heard that interest had been written off. During the audit they had only seen R5 000 or R10 000 levied as penalties. No interest had been reflected. He had intended to take the matter up with the CFO after the meeting.
Mr Stevens said that if the interest had not been included it meant that there was still about R5 million that had not been accounted for.
Mr Nkambule said that the DHA would be able to supply the auditors with an exact breakdown of what the R5, 3 million in interest comprised. His understanding had been that they audited an account and not the details of that account.
The Chairperson wondered whether this meant that the DHA had given the auditors accounts that consisted of the fine plus the interest on that fine.
Mr Pretorius reiterated that the information the auditors had received did not reflect any interest. He would take the matter up with Mr Nkambule, since it was possible that the confusion related to a technical point.
Mr Stevens wondered who had decided that the interest had been undue and should thus be written off.
Mr Nkambule explained that there was a system that generated accounts and legislation that prescribed when interest should be charged. The system had however generated interest in areas where it would not normally have been charged. That interest had been reversed.
The Chairperson wondered whether that had been the only basis for the reversal and whether the entire R5.3 million arose from that error.
Mr Nkambule said “yes” and then proceeded to continue his response to Mr Stevens’ question.
The Chairperson interrupted to ask what part of his question of clarity Mr Nkambule was confirming. Had the DHA discovered that R5, 3 million had been erroneously charged as interest, or had some errors been discovered resulting in all interest being reversed.
Mr Nkambule said that the R5.3 million referred only to the interested that had been charged unnecessarily. The DHA followed up with the relevant airlines and when it did the reconciliations, discovered that they had charged interest in areas where they should not have.
The Chairperson said that that Committee needed clarity on the grey areas: how did it happen that interest had been charged where it should not have. The error could be an indication that all along interest had been charged unnecessarily.
Mr Nkambule said that there were no such cases. Entities would, as in the case of the R5.3 million, have raised it.
Mr Stevens asked the DHA to refer the Committee to the legislation Mr Nkambule had mentioned.
Mr Nkambule said that an airline was required to pay interest when it failed to make payments of a certain amount within a certain time frame.
The Chairperson wondered how long that period was and requested the CFO to be specific in his responses.
Mr Nkambule referred the Committee to the people who worked with such matters. He did not have the exact information.
Mr Stevens said that while he was familiar with the common law related to interest, he was very interested in learning more about the statutory law that limited the charging of interest.
Mr Nkambule explained that interest even in a commercial environment had to be paid if debts were nor repaid within a specific period.
The Chairperson interrupted the CFO to remind him to respond into the microphone so that his responses could be recorded.
Mr Nkambule obliged and continued saying that there was “a section in this whole thing” that indicated that if an airline did not honour its payments the DHA would start levying interest. The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) too indicated that if payments to the supplier were not made within 30 days interest could be charged on the outstanding amount.
Mr Stevens thought that considering that many of the penalties were outstanding for a long time, the accurate amount should be quite high.
The Chairperson requested that the DHA supply the Committee with the necessary information within the coming two weeks.
Mr M Swart (DA) noted that an amount of R8,5 million (in penalties) had been outstanding for more than 3 years. He wondered whether any of that money had been recovered. If it had not been recovered it amounted to taxpayers’ money wasted.
The Chairperson recalled that Mr Msimang had indicated that the remaining outstanding amount R1, 7 million. Everything else had been recovered.
Mr Msimang confirmed that barring the resolution of the matter around the interest that had just been raised, the outstanding amount now stood at R1,7 million.
Mr Swart wondered whether, as per the Auditor General’s recommendations, appropriate action had been taken against the officials responsible for recovering the debt. The Accounting Officer’s reply made no comment on this recommendation.
Mr Msimang had himself raised the matter when he took office but reported that he had no evidence of such action having been taken. In his opinion “the whole system and a whole range of people” were not functioning. Everything thus had to be dealt with holistically. The entire management system was being reviewed and he assured the Committee that should he come across any individuals that had been derelict in submitting information appropriate action would taken.
Ms A Dreyer (DA) wondered what action was being taken against those officials “who did not do their work”. The statement that a whole range of “silly people” was not doing their work amazed her. Realising that it was easy to blame lower ranked officials, she pointed out that the management was supposed to keep these officials in line. Ultimately responsibility lay with management. She wandered what the CFO had done to ensure that outstanding moneys had been collected.
Mr Nkambule started off by saying that a number of officials were involved in the process and all of them were not necessarily accountable to the CFO. Immigration officers charged the fines, were supposed to record them and inform head office accordingly. Where they discovered that there had been dereliction of duty the matters had been taken up with the immigration officers. There were no specific cases of people who had been charged with dereliction of duty. In some cases lack of capacity had contributed to the reporting problems. While there had been up to now no cases of corrective action being taken, the DHA would in future take such action.
Ms Dreyer said that the report had been submitted to the DHA in November 2006. In December the Accounting Officer submitted his comments. She wondered what the DHA had actually done in the six months since they had made their list of undertakings to address the outstanding debt.
Mr Nkambule said that the progress was reflected in the fact that the DHA had followed, had reconciled and had reduced the outstanding amount. The reporting systems had also been reviewed to ensure that head office made follow ups and the standard operating procedures were also being developed. The latter would assist in pinning down individual officials who failed to perform.
The Chairperson requested the DHA to submit a full reconciliation of the R16, 923 million that was still outstanding.
Mr E Trent (DA) noted that the R16, 923 million did not have a date attached to it. The Auditor General had found that the “computerized system used to administer penalties and administrative fines (penalty cases system) had last been fully updated in July 2005”(p4). He wondered whether there could not be a much larger amount outstanding and institutions that had slipped through the cracks.
Mr Nkambule explained that in the process of reconciliation and dealing wit the debt the system had been updated. He admitted that the system still had its own challenges and said that the entire IT regime was in the process of being reviewed. He assured Members that the DHA had also updated what had, at the time of the audit, not been taken into account.
Mr Trent found it strange that no one had contested the R16, 923 million. The Auditor General was of the opinion that the amount could be understated.
The Chairperson sought clarity on whether during the review and updating of the system “not an extra sent” beyond what the Auditor General had found, was discovered to be outstanding.
Mr Nkambule explained that earlier Mr Msimang had referred to R17 million that had been recovered while the Auditor General had only referred to R 16, 923 million being outstanding. The possible understatement of the outstanding debt had been addressed in the reconciliation process.
The Chairperson requested that the DHA submit an analysis all the outstanding money, post reconciliation.
The deportation of prohibited persons and the asylum procedure
Mr Trent thought it important to understand the context of South Africa’s current immigration-related concerns. When asked how the Government would manage the 3,5 million illegal immigrants who came to South Africa feeling the economic and political strife of their home countries, the President had said that it was a problem South Africa would have to live with. The President commented on the fact that South Africa spent much money on deporting illegal immigrants, only to have then return again at a later stage. He wondered whether the 3,5 million figure was accurate. More than 50% of the DHA’s budget was spent on the civic and immigration services.
The report stated that the “performance audit conducted during 2000 indicated that controls over the number of prohibited persons transported from the holding facility to Lebombo and Beit Bridge border posts were not effective” (P7). Mr Trent requested the DHA to indicate what it could do to exercise better control over the influx of illegal immigrants as well as ensuring that those who were deported did not simply return again.
Mr Msimang agreed that the issue of illegal immigrants was difficult not only for the DHA but for the whole nation. Some of the deficiencies related to malfunctioning within the DHA. The fact that systems were not linked online meant that a person might be denied entry at one port of entry only to be granted entry at the next. Very many of the illegal immigrants did not enter the country through borders and this made it difficult to provide an accurate figure for the number of illegal immigrants.
He assured the Committee that the DHA would attempt to better control what fell under their remit. As indicated earlier the DHA’s IT system was dysfunctional; while its improvement would not solve the problems, matters would be improved if border posts could be linked with a central points online.
As far as asylum seekers were concerned there was a clear deficiency of systems. The support intervention team mounted by the Department of Public Service and Administration’s (DPSA) report indicated that serious systems deficiencies and lack of management capacity contributed to the difficulties. The DHA’s task would be to overhaul and streamline operations. It would take time. The answer to much of what had been raised would come through the streamlining of certain systems.
Mr Trent said that much of what the Auditor General raised related to lack of controls and this translated to capacity challenges. The DHA was not “ticking to the letter of the law” and he emphatically enquired what it would do about the immigration related issues. He asked whether the money the DHA received was sufficient for it to perform its tasks and “administer the laws they were entrusted to”.
Mr Msimang responded that the question was very direct, but that a direct answer would not be possible quite yet. It was recognised that the DHA faced serious challenges and that there was a need to overhaul the department. During the overhaul process one would come up with requirements. Whatever strategic plans the DHA had would have to be reconsidered to accommodate the “scoping of needs” that would form part o the overhaul. The problems would be addressed over time. Through proper needs assessment, the DHA would be able to develop budgets that respond to those needs. He admitted that he could not simply say that the budget was inadequate without having done a proper needs assessment.
He said that he did not want to offer excuses. South Africa however was a magnet that attracted people from all over the world. Some governments might not be “particularly interested in seeing their people back in their countries”. The situation thus stretched beyond what DHA could do.
The Chairperson asked whether the DHA had tried to address the revolving door created by illegal entry, deportation and illegal re-entry. He emphasised that the Committee was not suggesting that people from other African countries should not come to South Africa, it had to be stressed that they did so through the proper channels.
Mr Simons listed a number of challenges that contributed to the dilemma: lack of cooperation from embassies, uncooperative detainees who destroyed their documents, changed their names all the time and found ways of removing the fingerprints so as not to be identified, obtaining landing rights for planes transporting deportees, porous borders and DHA’s capacity. Addressing capacity related challenges would also require reviewing the law enforcement unit so as to discourage illegal immigration.
He explained that the legislation threw the DHA in a catch 22 situation: according to Section 34(1)(d) of the Immigration Act (2002) a person could be detained for 30 days and then approach the court for an extension of another 90 days. When they prosecuted a person, he or she could get bail and then the DHA had to legalise an illegal person. The manner in which the systems controlled and identified the illegal foreigner also presented a problem. The challenge was a multi-faceted, and thus required a multi-pronged approach.
He added that cooperation from South Africa’s neighbouring countries was vital. The Minister of Home Affairs had been quite vigorous as far as bilateral discussions in this regard were concerned. The day before an agreement on the movement of persons had been signed with Lesotho, similar agreements existed with Mozambique. They visited Zimbabwe a month earlier and were busy developing a MOU with that Government because 50% of the illegal immigrants were nationals of that country. That agreement would be signed in July.
The Minister had also made clear that before any visa-waiving agreements could be signed the illegal migration problem had to be dealt with. It was particularly difficult to obtain travel documents in Zimbabwe. Those from the Lebombo region found it easier to cross illegally than to travel the long distance to Harare to obtain the necessary documentation.
Mr Simons said that the DHA purposefully did not do deportations over the Christmas because people were known to pitch up with all the belongings and then request to be deported. He added that it was necessary to reduce “the pull factors” – socio - economic and political problems all over the world resulted in people coming to South Africa looking for safety and opportunities.
Mr Trent wondered what the progress as far as the feasibility study investigating the possibility of upgrading and expanding border facilities was.
The Chairperson requested Mr Trent to not stray far from the performance audit report.
Mr Trent felt that all the issues mentioned were interrelated. The Committee voted to give the programme R2 billion.
The Chairperson interrupted to say that all Members had supported that allocation.
Mr Trente said that they wanted to see that progress was made. Illegal immigration had a massive impact on South Africans. Of the 70 counties, only 5 countries presented a real problem as far as illegal immigration was concerned. He thought it obvious that a feasibility study should thus focus on those countries. If money was allocated for a feasibility study, the Committee wanted to see that that study was done.
The Chairperson ruled that matters related to the budget could be addressed in September, if the DHA happened to be before the Committee. That part of the day’s interaction should focus on asylum related issues.
Mr Trent thought that the Committee for the benefit of its report to Parliament should be given a run down of what the DHA envisaged in the feasibility study.
Moving onto asylum procedures, he asked whether there was a specific definition of an asylum seeker that qualified for political asylum. If there were no such definition matters would be complicated.
Mr Msimang responded that while he was not completely familiar with the legislation yet, there obviously was such a definition.
The Chairperson felt that if there was a legal definition, the matter could be left.
Mr Trent referring to point 5.5.1 of the report, which dealt with asylum seekers and the deficiencies of the current procedure, wondered whether the DHA could give the Committee a detailed run down of the asylum procedure. He was particularly concerned about the lack of sufficient controls and the opportunity for corruption that created.
Mr Simons explained that asylum seekers could apply via two routes: at a port of entry or after somehow already having entered the country. In terms of the Immigration Act, immigration officials at ports of entry had to provide asylum seekers with a Section 22 permit allowing them entry into the country. He informed Members that in terms of the principle of non-refilement contained in the Refugees Act, and supported by the UN convention on refugees one could not summarily exclude an applicant. An application thus had to be included, adjudicated and then an outcome had to be provided. An applicant in possession of a Section 22 had 14 days to report to one of the five refugee reception offices across the country, where the application had to be submitted to a refugee receiving officer. He added that due to the many difficulties the DHA faced because of certain aspects of the legislation, the Refugee Act was currently being amended.
The Chairperson interrupted Mr Simons explanation that to point out that the procedures had been laid down in law and that Members could thus refer to the relevant legislation.
Mr Trent sought further details, but the Chairperson reiterated that the procedures the Member required could be found in the law. He reminded the Member that the Auditor General’s report identified areas of concern in the DHA’s pursuance of its mandate. Other matters could be unpacked in the relevant portfolio committee.
Mr Trent said that the report found that not all applications were adjudicated within the requisite 180 days of completing an application.
Mr Simons explained that status determination officers and the two appeal authorities within refugee affairs, the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs and the Refugee Appeals Board played a role where there was non-compliance. The Auditor General had picked up on the serious problems, ranging from infrastructure to human resources, within refugee affairs. These ranged from systems.
The Chairperson interjected to ask why the Auditor General and not the DHA had picked up on the abovementioned shortcomings.
Mr Simons reported that some of what the DHA had done was to integrate the refugee system, so that they could pick up on multiple applications.
The Chairperson interrupted and asked why the DHA did not have such a system.
Mr Simons referred to the revision of the IT systems that was currently underway and assured Members that the refugee system was considered to be the main priority. All posts in that system had now been filled. The structure that was created in 2000 was not sufficient to address the problem - there were for example only five refugee reception offices across the country. The feasibility study mentioned earlier would look into the possibility of creating four additional offices in areas close to border posts in Limpopo, the North West, the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.
The Chairperson was pleased about the developments but remained concerned that problematic matters that were supposed to be the day-to-day responsibilities of DHA management remained undetected until the Auditor General came and uncovered them. He emphatically stated: “That is what gets my goat!”.
Mr Trent noted that the report indicated that multiple capturings of identity documents. This meant that there was really no way of telling how many asylum seekers there were in the country. He wondered what the DHA would do to ensure that its database contained accurate and reliable information.
Ms Msimang answered that the issues raised had already been recognised as the challenges DHA was faced with. The current interventions were aimed at addressing the issues. While one understood Members’ the frustrations the answers were not likely to be provided that day. He reiterated that systems had to be overhauled. Properly integrated IT systems would contribute to the mitigation of many of the problems. The people-factor had to be addressed so that if systems failed to detect irregularities, officials would. He accepted that the DHA was obliged to answer questions relating to the pressing natters it was faced with, but stressed that those answers could only be provided once a proper assessment of all the ills had been done.
Mr Trent wondered how many times a temporary permit could be renewed before an applicant had to be assessed. The Auditor General had found that there were people who had been in the country for ten years before their cases were finally evaluated. He echoed the Chairperson’s earlier assertion that the Committee was not against refugees. Taking care of people who were persecuted in their own countries was humane, but had to be done within the prescripts of the law. He wanted to know how much power was delegated to the officials who renewed permits.
The Chairperson thought that the Member would likely get a similar response to the one the Director General had just given.
Mr Gerber was interested in the contract the DHA had with the service provider at the Lindela holding facility. According to the contract, which stretched from 1 0ctober 2004 to 30 September 2005, the DHA paid the service provider R67, 92 per person accommodated there, per day. The new contract stipulated that the company would be paid R79, 90 per person, per day. What was worrisome was that the company negotiated that the DHA would have to pay as though on any given day 3 250 people were accommodated at the facility. He average daily capacity for the past couple of years had been roughly 1 500 people per day. The DHA was thus wasting about R49 million per year. He wondered who designed and then evaluated the contract, what the expiry date was and why it contained no escape clauses. He also enquired after the possibility of re-negotiating it. Some said that it was a ten-year contract and if that was the case the Member wondered what the wisdom of such a long contract was, and by how much the daily cost would increase over the duration of the contract.
Mr Msimang explained that the overhaul would include a review of service level agreements and contracts. The Lindela contract was not a good contract and the ten-year duration was too long. The contract could be reviewed every three years and the first such opportunity would be in 2008. The contract would be reviewed so that all the provisions could be linked with the conditions at the facility. The Auditor General’s comments made clear that the threshold was “a little too high” and put the DHA at a disadvantage and counterproductive – the Department strived to reduce the number if illegal immigrants, yet the contract required a very high occupancy rate and thus more people in the system. Their best legal brains would be tasked with the renegotiation should their prove to be any complications.
Mr Nkambule pointed out that at the time of the contract’s negotiation the illegal immigrant environment had been very different. In anticipation of the first contract’s expiration the DHA went out on contract, the DHA had started a competitive tendering process. Only three service providers tendered. Upon evaluation it became clear that the current service provider was the only one that had the capacity to perform the job. The negotiations had been arduous – the original price had been much higher. At the time the average had been about 4 000 per day.
The Chairperson interjected to plead for clarity on what the difficulties of the negotiation process had been.
Mr Nkambule explained that the DHA had been dealing with the only service provider who qualified to do the job and was thus in a position to monopolise the negotiations. The service provider had originally tendered for R9, 8 million per month regardless of the occupation figures. The DHA had managed to bring them down to what they were currently paying. The review would be based in the trend observed over the past three years, so the lower figures would be taken into account.
Responding to Ms Dreyer, Mr Nkambule indicated that the contract was negotiated in 2005.
Ms Dreyer pointed out that at that time the highest average occupation per day was at 3 000 in October 2005, after which it started dropping significantly to as low as 1 500 per day. She felt that the CFO’s explanation did not hold water and thus she rejected it.
On the Chairperson’s request Mr Nkambule explained that the facility belonged to the service provider.
Ms Dreyer wondered whom the service provider was as well as who its board of directors and shareholder base consisted of.
Mr Nkambule said that the service provider was called Leading Prospects PTY LTD. He could provide the Committee with the tendering documents that contained the shareholders’ and board of directors’ details.
Mr Trent referring to Mr Msimang’s statement that the DHA’s information systems were dysfunctional wondered how the reliable the Lindela occupation figures could then be considered to be. His information was that regular reconciliations were not being done.
Mr Nkambule said that both the DHA officials and the service provider recorded numbers. Illegal immigrants accommodated there first went to the DHA officials. The service provider ran its own system that was separate from that of the DHA. When payments were being prepared reconciliation of the figures from the two systems was made.
The Chairperson noted that while the accuracy of occupation figures was important it would make very little difference since the DHA would still have to pay for 3 250 occupants.
Mr Trent was curious as to whether the office of the Auditor General felt that the recollections were done accurately and adequately. The average number of occupants would be critical during the renegotiations.
Mr Pretorius said that the service provider provided the figures contained in the report. Considering that the figures were so far below the threshold the auditors did not see the need for verifying whether reconciliations were made.
Ms Dreyer noted the movement of deportees from the facility to the borders was also characterised by lack of controls. The Auditor General reported that there was no reconciliation of the number of persons put on the transport and the number that disembarked at the border. She wondered how the DHA knew how many tickets to purchase if they did not know how many people were put on the transport. The Auditor General had recommended that the DHA should ensure that the reconciliation of these embarking and disembarking numbers was mandatory. The former accounting officer had not commented on that recommendation.
Mr Nkambule said that the Auditor General found that the DHA could not ascertain the number of people that escaped during the deportation process. He assured the Committee that the DHA kept a close record of the number of deportees that left Lindela, where they were sent to and by what mode of transport.
The Chairperson asked whether the DHA was now making sure that they reconciled figures.
Mr Simons explained that ‘escort duties’ would be outsourced from now on and that the public tender for service providers had closed in May. The tender included penalty clauses aimed at ensuring that proper measures were taken to prevent escapes. In the interim reconciliations were being made and monthly reports were being submitted to the deportation director. The South African Police Service (SAPS) also assisted in deportation activities and the DHA was working with the Office of the State Prosecutor to combat the corrupt activities on the side of the DHA as well as SAPS officials.
Mr Trent stressed the importance of knowing how many people embarked and disembarked at the borders but the Chairperson felt that Mr Simons had adequately responded to that question.
Mr Smith said that information indicated that it was not very difficult for relatives or friends of illegal immigrants to bribe officials so that the deportees could escape. He wondered whether the DHA had measures in place to deal with that type of risk.
Mr Msimang thought the DHA’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit seriously understaffed and under resourced. It needed to be strengthened because so far it had mostly been ineffective. The competence and integrity of the officials placed within that unit needed to be assessed. In addition the DHA had to improve its cooperation with the public. He was not sure whether Lindela would call for a separate approach. He was aware that he had so far only been pleading for time, but requested the Committee for leave so that he could report back at a later stage.
He said that since joining the DHA he had “discovered some things” that indicated that corrupt activities were continuing. He emphasised the complexity of addressing one problem, when the institution was plagued by so many.
The Chairperson said that it had been critical for the Committee to establish what the new accounting officer had identified as challenges. That day’s interaction had revealed that he saw matters such as understaffing and leadership as challenges. The Chairperson added that one might find that all the challenges were all related to the weak security environment.
Mr Trent wondered whether the DHA felt that it now had sufficient money to facilitate deportations.
Mr Simons confirmed that the allocation was sufficient. In 2006/07 the unit had received R165 million which was increased to R188 million in 2007/08. By the end of May the unit had spent R38 million of the 2007/8 budget.
Mr Msimang thought that the bigger question had remained unasked. To address repeated deportations the DHA would have to find a way of working smarter and of collaborating with other agencies of state. He did not think that the solution would be found in increasing the budget so that one could accommodate repeated deportations. In addition legislation would have to be streamlined to regulate the movement of “people who were just everywhere”.
Mr Trent thought it a fair comment.
Irregularities relating to the equipment and documentation at the Lindela holding facility
Mr T Mofokeng (ANC) appealed to the Director General to remain in that position for long enough for the DHA’s problems to be resolved. When the Committee made recommendations on serious matters it expected a feedback report, but if the accounting officer left there was no one to hold to account. He added that disclaimer reports were a real problem that required serious attention.
The Member recalled that in the 2000 audit report the Auditor General found that computer equipment to the value of about R93 000 had been purchased, but that the equipment had neither been recorded in the asset register nor been installed in the relevant offices. That matter had only been addressed in 2006. In March 2006 the Auditor General found that other equipment, this time to the value of R477 000, had been bought but not recorded in the asset register. In April 2007 a purchase of R376 000 worth of equipment was made and again the asset register did not reflect the purchase. This evidence suggested non-compliance with policy procedures and treasury regulations as well as lack of proper monitoring and control.
Mr Msimang said that the practice described still persisted. He assured Members that the computers were now on the asset register but had not been deployed because he did not think that that would be wise considering that proper delineation of responsibilities had not yet been done. As indicated earlier the information systems branch was “sick” and being assessed at the moment so that the proper improvements could be made.
Many of the problems were related to the derelict ICT services within the DHA. While he could not offer an explanation for why the purchases had not been recorded in the asset register, he felt that simply unpacking equipment in order to be in compliance but without the necessary human and other capacity would be unwise. He committed himself to within the next six months making some progress. Penalties would be imposed on those who had neglected their duties.
The Chairperson interrupted to point out that at the moment “more stick than carrot” was probably needed.
Mr Msimang found answering Members’ questions frustrating because he could offer no clear answers yet. He assured the Committee that all measures necessary would be done to improve the running of the DHA.
Mr Msimang concurred when Ms Dreyer asked whether he agreed that buying equipment but failing to use it amounted to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would need to know who had ordered the computers. He was concerned that since not entering equipment into the asset register appeared to have been a regular occurrence, other purchases could have been made that had gone undetected by the Auditor General because they had already been removed from DHA premises.
He understood Mr Msimang’s frustration and pointed out that Members too were frustrated at having to ask the questions. He agreed that poor monitoring and control was a major contributor and was concerned that every month people got paid while “very elementary things” were not being done.
Ms Dreyer thought it necessary to find out which computer company provided the computers.
Mr Msimang explained that some of the people responsible for IT were no longer working within the DHA. It would be necessary to verify whether anyone still within the department had been complicit in some of the irregular activities. The strategy for addressing matters was already in place and all the necessary procedures would be followed. He added that the computer companies might not be at fault - they merely tendered and when successful supplied the equipment. It was up to the DHA to utilise what they had paid for.
Mr Smith pointed out that asset management was a basic financial management competency and fell directly in the CFO’s domain. There was no need to wait for a response from the IT managers because the CFO should take responsibility. He added that he got the sense that there was a lack of honesty in how the DHA interacted with the Committee.
Mr Msimang said that he had not meant to pass the buck. An audit was being conducted and he assured the Committee that “there would be no holy cows across the board”.
Ms Mabe recalled that there had been talk of a turnaround strategy in 2004. The CFO had been appointed by then. She felt that most of the questions the new director general could not respond to should be responded to by the CFO. She agreed that the CFO was accountable when it came to procurement. The Committee would not accept that no answers could be provided because the director general responsible had left. The CFO was responsible for the finances and must account to the Committee – “Parliament could not be taken for a ride”.
Mr Nkambule pointed out that the CFO was not the director general and thus not the Department’s accounting officer.
Noting Members’ incredulity at that response, the Chairperson interrupted to say that though the Director General was the accounting officer, he or she had line managers who fed him or her with information. Mr Msimang had been in the position for only five weeks and it was only natural to expect that those managers who had been there longer would be able to respond to some of the questions. Whatever information the Director General had he would be getting from the CFO in any case. He urged Mr Nkambule to calm down and to deal with the questions that were being raised.
Mr Nkambule apologised that his opening statement might have sounded as though he was being defensive. Branches sent requisitions to the CFO when they wanted to purchase equipment. This particular requisition came from the immigration branch who had argued that they needed the equipment for the offices near the Lindela holding facility. The plans indicated that by the time the equipment had been delivered the necessary staff would have been employed. The responsibility for employing IT staff rested with the IT department. Networks not being ready and installations not having been prepared also caused difficulties.
At present all equipment was delivered to head office where as before assets were distributed to the relevant offices immediately. Now assets were bar-coded and sent to the relevant offices. At the time of the audit, equipment was thus delivered directly to the relevant office who would then provide head office with the relevant asset management information. Appropriate systems were in place now. He added that his responsibilities had to be complimented by other officials doing their part.
The Chairperson was satisfied that Mr Nkambule had more or less cleared the waters. And had explained how the improved systems worked and why there had previously been lack of sufficient control.
Mr Swart found the CFO’s explanation slightly dissatisfactory. The system should operate such that equipment was only paid for upon receipt. The moment equipment was paid for it should be entered into the asset register.
The Chairperson recalled that Mr Nkambule had indicated that there had been deficiencies within the system. At present equipment was and paid for at head office, entered into the asset register and then distributed to the various offices.
Mr Swart pointed out that he had also indicated that there was some equipment that was delivered to certain offices and that they then had to wait on those offices to send the information for entry into the asset register. The Member felt that if equipment was paid for at head office, it should be delivered there.
Mr Nkambule said that the scenario Mr Swart referred to was how matter had been dealt with and what had caused the problems. Now all equipment was delivered centrally.
Mr Trent recollected that the Auditor General had on a visit been told that the DHA had offered a large number of computers to the Gauteng department of education. The next time the Auditor General visited the office computers were found scattered along a fence.
Mr Nkambule said that in his response he had been referring to newly acquired computers. The equipment Mr Trent referred to were offered to schools because they had become redundant. National Treasury regulations allowed for redundant equipment to be offered to for use in education before it was put up for auction.
Mr Mofokeng sought feedback on the progress that had been made with regard to the integrated electronic document management system (IEDMS).
Mr Nkambule said that the DHA had a budget of R28 million at its disposal for dealing with the electronic document management system (EDMS). The IEDMS was the major project and involved R1,4 billion of the budget. The project had however not yet been commissioned. The DHA failed to obtain the necessary funding in the previous year and thus the project could not be continued. They would bid for it again in the current MTEF process.
Mr Mofokeng asked whether the DHA had consulted with the relevant service provider so that additional office space may be acquired.
Mr Nkambule confirmed that the DHA had been able to negotiate for more office space and had acquired it.
Mr Mofokeng asked the DHA to indicated what progress had been made as far as addressing the shortcomings that had been identified with the PICO system. He wondered whether the system was now functioning. He was concerned that lack of development in this area was hampering employment opportunities.
Ms Dreyer recalled that the Auditor General in his special investigation had pointed out that the PICO system was installed in October 2004 with the purpose of capturing all people detained through a biometric system. It had been developed at a cost of R2 million. During a visit to the centre the Auditor General discovered that the PICO system had not been in use since the end of 2005 because it had exhibited several problems. The DHA had now gone back to the very cumbersome and not so accurate paper based system. She wondered whether the developer had been under no contractual obligations as far as maintenance was concerned and why it or the DHA did not make sure that system got back on track.
Mr Nkambule explained that the PICO system had been an interim measure aimed at curing the “revolving door syndrome”. At the time of its purchase it was scoped to keep 30 000 records. The intention was to integrate it with the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS). The DHA could however not secure additional funding to develop the integrated system. PICO was not able to accommodate records that exceeded 30 000. Records were now kept manually to ensure that when systems were integrated all information was there.
The Chairperson wondered whether the system was considered to have been cost effective.
Mr Nkambule responded that had it operated in an environment with only 30 or fewer records it would have been cost effective.
Mr Smith wondered why the DHA did not make better use of the State Information and Technology Agency (SITA) who was responsible for meeting government’s needs. It sounded almost as if the DHA in this regard and many others was acting on its own. He asked whether SITA was used and maximised to assist where there were major system deficiencies.
Mr Msimang said that plans to revitalise the IT systems revolved around the full utilisation of SITA. They DHA and SITA would sign a very tight service delivery agreement. He realised that savings and advice could be realised through working with SITA. While SITA might perhaps not always perform the tasks it would source the kind of competencies the DHA might require.
He added that if there were deficiencies the legislation provided that certain services that were not manadatory could be obtained from alternative forces should these be cost effective and efficient. He assured members that the “first bite of the apple would be give to SITA.”
Mr Gumede referred to the concerns the report raised around the DHA’s management of information, which was characterised by a lack of integration, poor communication in remote areas due to inadequate equipment and outdated systems. He wondered what progress had been made in these areas.
The Chairperson was not convinced that there were areas in South Africa that were so remote that communication was a problem. While he was satisfied with the bulk report, that claim was unconvincing.
Mr Simons assured the Committee that in the northern Cape there was an area called Nunniput where communication was impossible: there was no cellphone reception, no electricity, no water and not even a sewerage system. Three such border posts had been identified and V-Sat connectivity had now been installed. The Nunniput border post was closed now.
The Chairperson wondered why no communication had been possible there.
Mr Simons explained that it was in the desert and that the poles for satellite connection could not be installed because the ground was too unstable.
The Chairperson was not convinced that had greater effort been made communication still would have remained a problem.
Mr Simons said that there were V-SAT connectivity had been installed there was no longer a problem with the Movement Control System (MCS) which had also been updated.
Mr Msimang said that as far as the integration of systems was concerned he would have to reiterate what he had already said before: an overhaul was in progress.
The Chairperson appreciated the challenges within the DHA and was interested in the way forward and not the history, which would reflect challenges that affected nearly every line function within the DHA.
Mr Gumede wondered whether there had been any progress as far as the Auditor General’s recommendations. If there had been none, the DHA should indicate that and explain whether the improvements would be part of the general overhaul strategy.
Mr Msimang reiterated that in addition to the improvements listed by Mr Simons, the overhaul of the IT system would assist in mitigating the communication challenges.
Mr B Pule (ACDP) felt that an overhaul of the DHA would require men and women who were up for the challenge. He wondered whether the overhaul of systems would thus begin with the overhaul of the human resources within the DHA. He was also interested in how much time the new Director General thought it would take for some improvements to become evident.
Mr Msimang informed the Committee that consultants and the support intervention team that entered into the DHA shortly before he joined the Department all agreed that the DHA was faced with a serious lack of capacity at all levels including management. The understanding had been, and he hoped that it still prevailed, that facilitate change for the better, additional capacity would be needed. He agreed that the overhaul would have to be a team effort from both the public and the private sector. If people needed special incentives over the three years the overhaul was expected to take, that would be “authorised and facilitated.” The overhaul would be very difficult without the additional capacity.
Mr Msimang said that with the necessary capacity, he would in three or four months time be able to give an indication of how long the overhaul would take. A performance chart would be made public so that the progress could be tracked.
The Chairperson thanked the DHA delegation as well as all other stakeholders for their presence. It was SCOPA’s wish that parliamentary committees worked together and not in silos. In that way Parliament would ensure that its oversight work was done effectively so that visible and positive changes in the way the executive executed its mandate could be made.
Turning to the newly appointed Director General, he said that the Committee was fully aware that he had come into a department faced with very serious challenges and which by its very nature had the tendency to attract corrupt practices and was a minefield for “all sorts of mischief making”. The Committee wished him well and would assist him through raising the necessary questions. Saying that the bitter medicine was the only medicine that cured, he added that the Committee asked the difficult and uncomfortable questions so that matters could be moved forward.
The Committee took time to take leave of Ms Dreyer whose party had seconded her to different committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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