The Committee’s researcher presented a report which analysed and discussed the State of the Nation Address and its implications for the Home Affairs Department. The document addressed the new additions to the Department of Home Affairs and how these would not only increase efficiency but also counter corruption. Also looked at were the measures put in place to ensure that the Department of Home Affairs and its officials were ready to deal with the influx of foreigners entering the country over the course of the Fifa World Cup. Special visas or visa circumstances had been created and these were explained.
The discussion covered important matters the Department needs to improve on such as xenophobia and the prevention thereof as well as refugees and their impact on the Department.
The Committee researcher, Mr Adam Salmon, listed a few of the new features of the Department of Home Affairs which included: information desks, complaints and compliments unit which was linked to a toll free phone number and email address. Home Affairs offices would have consultants who would assist the public waiting in queues; they would be made visible by wearing sashes so as to be easily identifiable. These features were new so they would need to be advertised.
The discussion moved onto the topic of refugees. Mr Salmon said that the Department of Home Affairs reported having a single day processing system for those seeking refugee status. He was not convinced that this information was accurate and reminded the Committee that refugees would first need to apply for Aasylum, which gave possible refugees a temporary status to be in the country, before applying or even being considered for Refugee status.
The performance management and evaluation system currently in the department as well as current government wide systems would have to be monitored. There currently seemed to be a separation between the strategic planning of the departments’ priorities and the financial planning which would include annual reports and budgets. Mr Salmon said that the communication between these two areas needed to improve.
Speaking on corruption, he said that over the past few years emphasis had been placed on countering corruption and that specific mention was made of corruption within the procurement and tender processes during the State of the Nation Address. There was a new Chief Directorate called the Integrity Management Unit which was an addition to the current Counter Corruption Directorate within the department and worked with the idea of matching values to behaviour. The Department also had an Inspectorate which investigated fraud. It had tried to create a new intelligence driven branch focusing on immigration, the belief was that information was the key to preventing corruption, as they attempted to get all aspects of the department to communicate with each other in order to notice irregularities sooner. The new Counter Corruption Directorate also allowed for more investigators, more security officers and prevention officials. The Counter Corruption Directorate however, was new and did not yet have the full capacity to function. There was also an outreach programme discussing with both offices and communities the negative consequences of corruption in society.
The live capturing of fingerprints and photographs was also part of the passport system and so there was less possibility of fraud or human error. Spelling mistakes or misreading handwritten forms could cause problems but the automation of these systems should prevent fraud as well as administrative errors.
In terms of fraud, the Who Am I Online project would alleviate a lot of problems but also had a few difficulties of its own. Mr Salmon reminded the Committee that the Department of Home Affairs was dependent on many other departments as well as the private sector and would require large Information Technology (IT) capacity and infrastructure. He said that the delays in the project were understandable due to the size of the project but that they needed to be reported and further explained by the Department. A part of the Who Am I Online project was the Home Affairs National Identification System which had a process of automated application and verification of photographs and fingerprints.
Continuing from last year was the preparation for the Fifa World Cup. During the State of the Nation Address, specific mention was made of infrastructure, security and logistics. Enhancing the capacity of immigration, the Department had introduced Joint Temporary Border Clearance Facilities which was still in draft form. It was being done with Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which meant that immigration officials from both countries could work together so that they could improve the speed of processing applications.
The Department had initiated a 24 hour Operation Centre that tied in with the National Operation Centre framework. This meant that all the different departments (including the police, military, SARS) which had a role to play in border control, would be integrated in one office.
The Advanced Passenger Processing system allowed the Department to know who was coming to the country before they get here and prevent those who did not have the correct documents from entering the country. The Airline Liaison Officers had been authorised and their destinations were being discussed, this means that Home Affairs Officials would be available internationally in countries that had tourists travelling to South Africa for the Fifa World Cup. These Liaison Officers would then be able to process travellers before they enter the country thus increasing efficiency and reducing illegal immigration. Those who were travelling abroad and had tickets for the Fifa World Cup would receive their visas at no cost. This is known as an event visa, and would need to be monitored for the possibility of fraud and corruption. All immigration officials had received additional training for the World Cup.
A World Cup matter of critical concern was the bad placement of the document clearance facilities at the departure area in Cape Town International Airport. The cubicles faced away from the approaching customers rather than towards them which created a security risk as staff would be unable to look out for suspicious behaviour. Temporary measures would have to be put in place to solve this issue during the World Cup.
Another major concern pointed out by Mr Salmon, was the ongoing xenophobic violence which had occurred in South Africa recently as well as the delay in the government’s finalisation of the Social Cohesion Plan. There had been a number of initiatives by various departments to implement a social cohesion plan which brought not only a sense of national identity to citizens but also an African identity and education on refugees and migrant workers. This all formed part of the Social Cohesion Plan which was due to be completed by the Department of Arts and Culture in December last year.
Human trafficking, explained by Mr Salmon, “is a modern form of slavery.” The difficulty with an issue such as human trafficking was that it involved many different departments: from crime to Home Affairs which would deal with the immigration, as well as Social Welfare, to take care of children who were brought into the country illegally, and International Relations, in sending victims safely back to their countries. The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development had been due to pass a Bill on this issue in January but had not. They would now need to create an alternative to dictate how the different departments would work together on this issue. The President, in his State of the Nation Address, said that security measures were in place and would be functional but this remained an area of concern.
One of the major issues for the medium term strategic framework for government was to contribute to the regional integration of the South African Development Community and also political integration. The Department of Home Affairs role in this was to implement the Univisa and Visa exemption agreements. The Univisa would mimic the Schengen visa in that any persons from outside of Africa would need to obtain only one visa in order to enter all African countries. Although this would promote tourism, Mr Salmon said that he was not sure whether this visa would be implemented in time for the Fifa World Cup. Visa exemption agreements means that there was a mutual agreement between two countries, both allowing persons from the other country to enter their country without a visa.
Ms J Terblanche (DA) asked that a meeting be arranged with the Minister of Home Affairs. She also raised the issue of departmental assistance and asked whom within the department she could contact when assistance was required.
Dr C Mulder (FF+) raised concern about the free visa which would be issued to foreigners who had purchased tickets to the Fifa World Cup. He asked if those applying for the visa who had tickets still had to go through the application process with the only benefit being that they did not pay for it. Or were they simply given the visa based on the fact that they had a ticket to the World Cup? He also mentioned his concern that people would be able to produce fake tickets in order to gain a free visa to South Africa.
NEW PARA Mr Salmon, in response said that, people would go to the South African consulate in their countries with their Fifa World Cup tickets and then be issued with a visa. There would need to be some kind of verification system in place between Fifa and Home Affairs in order to make sure that tickets could not be forged.
Mr M Mnqasela (DA) raised his concern about the lack of information about the free visa and mentioned that he would like to discuss this at a meeting with the Minister.
Mr Z Madasa (ANC) asked what mechanisms were in place to monitor the tendering process so as to decrease corruption. On the issue of regional integration, although politically desirable, he wanted to know what security measures were in place to facilitate the integration taking place.
Mr Madasa said that he thought the issue of outreach was very important. On the issue of xenophobia, the government needed to have a much more robust approach in order to prevent these attacks.
The Chairperson interjected to say that the purpose of this meeting was to give the Members of Parliament an opportunity to discuss certain issues, which was why there was no official from the Department present. At the earliest opportunity, they would schedule a meeting with the Department and hopefully the Minister would be in attendance. He had been in communication with a number of organisations who represented refugees in South Africa. They had sent a request to meet with him and that a meeting would be scheduled where these organisations would be able to brief the Committee on their concerns.
Mr Martins said that the issues raised during the discussion would be answered at the next Portfolio Committee meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.