Department of Home Affairs on Identity Documents: marriages

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


23 May 2003

Chairperson: Ms. M P Themba (ANC)

The Department of Home Affairs discussed the fraud related to the issuance of ID cards. The fraudulent issuance of marriage licenses predominately affected women as it could result in situations in which they were married to strangers. Various scenarios as well as the difficulties the Department faced in solving them were discussed.

Chairperson welcomed the Department of Home Affairs to inform the Joint Committee about the issue of National Identification cards and the problems that they had caused for women. Namely, she requested a briefing about the problem with fraudulent marriages, pensions and birth certificates. She provided the example of a women being married to someone she did not know.

Department of Foreign Affairs
The presenting team was introduced, and Mr. Chavalala, from the Department of Civil Affairs, provided their initial comments. First, he provided the Department's statistics on the amount of ID cards issued. Fifteen million had been issued to females over the age of 16 and 14 million for males, making a total of 29 million issued. He noted that on April 1 2003 they had begun an ID campaign with a Mandate to institute a campaign with the IEC. Their budget was their biggest constraint, as they had been issued fifteen million, which they believed not to be sufficient, especially taking into account the problems experienced with the elections in 1999. He concluded by noting that they would have a meeting on the June 13 2003 to harmonise their plans, and try to make the project a success, by getting more with less. He noted their desire to receive more funding. Mr. Reinika, Director of Identification, added that with respect to the application of ID documents they did not distinguish between male and female. He added that in pension applications, they also did not distinguish, however they did give preference to those people without proper ID documents.

Ms. Semple (DA) suggested that the Department was unclear as to what they wanted. She said that through the fraudulent issuance of ID cards females end up being married to people they did not know. She inquired as to how this happened and wanted to know how it could be prevented.

Chairperson added that with respect to the problems identified by Ms. Semple, what was being done by the Department to prevent it.

Mr. Reinika stated that fraudulent marriages began rearing their ugly head in the past few years. Women would find that when they applied for an ID card, they were married to a foreigner. In the Department Records, on the face of the marriage registration, it often appeared legitimate and the Department would refer the complainants to the courts. He noted that due to the extent and emotional distress of this problem they had liaisons with State Attorneys, that in instances where it was clear that the marriage did not exist, it would be expunged. He added that up to then they had expunged 838 such cases.

He raised the issue that there are some instances where the complaints are actually marriages of convenience done for monetary gain. Such cases have occurred 89 times, where from the documentation it could not be determined if it was fraudulent and these were directed to the courts. He added that were a marriage is expunged, it is refereed to the Migration Branch (SAPS), to ensure that the case does not involve an illegal alien. He noted that they were in the process of finalising draft legislation of the Marriage Act to provide for stricter measures of controlling this, adding that they were unable to elaborate because they were in the middle of the process. He emphasised that they were in need of a joint effort to tackle this problem and that although a majority of the cases involved women, a few (two or three) involved men.

Ms. Mutsila asked for an elaboration of the court process.

Mr. Reinika answered that the process involved collecting the information and documentation, asking the complainant to testify that they were oblivious to the marriage. He noted that this process could take awhile, but that in a number of cases where it was so urgent that the process was expedited. He noted that they tried their best, but that the process of determining the truth could be difficult, however their process was free, unlike the courts.

Ms. Semple (DA) asked if the Department waited for a complaint to be brought forward or if they could independently tell that the documents were fraudulent. Punitive measures were taken with the person who committed the fraud.

Ms. Maloney stated that there was a member who only noticed the problem when she applied for her housing subsidy, and that this was such a long process that she was still waiting for her ID card, which demonstrated the problem.

Ms. Xulu (IFP) added two further examples from her constituency. First, an old woman who had lost her ID card, upon applying for a new one, was told that according to the records, she was already dead. She added that this woman had been waiting for more than ten years to receive her new card, which she had been told that it had already been posted, but which she had not received. Second, she raised the problem with young people who had two separate surnames and the mother wished to give the child their father's surname on the ID card. She noted her granddaughter had applied for the ID card in 1998, and had just received it then.

Ms. Sono asked what the source was of the fraud. She asked whether in if there had been litigation in the 838 cases, or what happened to the people committing the fraud.

Ms. Maloney asked how many people did not have ID cards that should have and what measure the Department was taking to ensure that fraudulent ID's could not be made.

Mr. Reinika replied to Ms. Semple's concerns, noting that the fraud could not normally be noticed without a complaint, as the documents on their face were regular. With respect to punitive measures, he stated that their first strategy was to correct the mistake and assist the complainant. Then they would hand over the documents to the Migration Branch and then to the Anti-corruption unit for a criminal investigation, he added that he was unaware how many cases had been prosecuted. He repeated that he was unable to comment on the stricter measures included in the proposed amendments to the Marriage Act.

Mr. Malatshi added that there were terms of imprisonment included for fraud marriages, and that they proposed to do away with the simple fines.

Chairperson asked how long the investigation would take, drawing attention to the fact that often marriages must be postponed pending this process. She then asked which other Departments they were working with and stated that it should be possible to provide the Committee with statistics on prosecutions in combination with these other Departments.

Mr. Reinika said that the length of the process varies, as it was dependent on how easy it was to get the information from the appropriate sources. He added that with everything in their favour it might take two to three weeks, whereas if it was urgent they could expedite the process to a matter of days. He added that they were stretched in terms of resources and personnel. Finally he stated that they work with SAPS and Department of Justice, and although they did not have the statistics with them presently they would make them available to the Joint Committee.

Ms. Khunou stated that there were so many cases of fraud coming from the Department of Home Affairs. She wondered if as a Department they were trying to determine what was the source of this, as it must involve employees. This type of fraud was really killing society and negatively affecting mostly women.

Mr. Malatshi said that apart from a criminal investigation, many individuals had been internally disciplined including many dismissals. There was even a list circulated of the people charged with misconduct and the punishment given to them. He stated that unfortunately they still had people that despite this participate in the fraud.

Ms. Khunou further inquired about how they were trying to resolve this problem, apart from dismissals. For example, using psychologists to work with employees.

Ms. Mashangwane asked about the involvement of traditional leaders in the process, wondering if the cases were only meant for the courts or if they could assist. She then asked what the recourse would be available if it was only discovered after a person's death that they were fraudulently married.

Ms. Xulu asked for a response to her previous concerns regarding members of her constituency.

Mr. Reinika replied to Ms. Xulu that they would normally take a set of fingerprints and compare them to the fingerprints found on record, if they were identical, this would prove the mistake and show that the person was still alive. He expressed his surprise at length of time taken with respect taken in Ms. Xulu's example. He requested details, noting that he would follow this up. He suggested that some of these circumstances involved fraudulent life insurance claims, while others were due to human error. He addressed the changing surname issue, noting that the Birth and Death Registration Act was amended to allow freedom in determining the surname of a child born of wedlock. The child would normally be registered under the mother's surname, but if the Father agrees the child would take his surname.

Ms. Xulu asked what was being done to the people who were suffering of these problems. She noted that despite the aforementioned legislation with surname changes, the person applied for the change in 1998 and only received it a month ago. Mr. Chavalala talked about their program to visit all High Schools, to allow people above the age of sixteen to register for their ID book. He added that these mobile units should cover all students, but that her statement was valid, as there were exceptional cases where problems occur.

Ms. Xulu added that she recognised that change was occurring, in this instance people did visit her school, but the problems occurred with the collection of original documents that were lost.

Ms. Nhlengethwa discussed the problems the Departmental offices had in her constituency. She noted that they lacked manpower, and money for running their campaign.

Ms. Sono asked if the Department had a system for the changing of surnames.

Mr. Chavalala repeated that they were given 15 million Rand to implement the ID campaign. He noted that this was divided per province based on population and logistics (such as rural aspect). He then stated that 2.5 million was allocated for KZN, 2.5 million to the Eastern Cape, 1.5 to Free State, 1.5 million to Mpumalanga, 800 000 to the Western Cape, 800 000 to the Northern Cape, and Gauteng was divided in to two sections both receiving 700 000. He stated that this amount was insufficient. He said that they would approach the treasury in February to apply for more money through the normal budgetary process, but for now they must do more with less. Replying to how many people were without ID cards he said that the problem with determining this number was that the population registry only catches people who have ID's, therefore they must depend on the Consensus from Stats SA. Based on the 1996 Census this number would be 1.5 million people, adding a 10% growth rate per year. He stated that this was a mere estimation.

Adv R Malatshi stated that he was unaware of a way of integrating traditional leaders into the process, but if there was away it would be appreciated.

Ms. Mutsila raised her concerns that the problem was not with the Department, but rather down in the offices. She stated that they were often appalling conditions where these people work, noting that they have become firefighters, instead of addressing the real problems. She wondered if there was any mechanism to check on the officials on the ground. She noted her observations that the process was often done manually, with piles of ID's in the offices, therefore they could disappear easily.

Ms. Semple asked how the ID's were distributed.

Ms. Mashangwane further commented on the appalling conditions of the offices and asked how these situations should be addressed. She also wondered what assistance relatives would receive when fraudulence was discovered upon death.

Ms. Ntwanambi noted that the population in the Northern Cape was far lower than that of Cape Town alone. She inquired as to how they determined the budgetary allocations, noting that they should not have allocated so much to the Northern Cape. She then inquired as to how they insured that all of the scarce resources where allocated evenly. She stated that when she had applied for her ID in Cape Town, she was told she had to pick it up in Nyanga. She wondered why the Department of Home Affairs should decide this.

Chairperson asked what happened to the people who committed the fraud.

Mr. Malatshi answered that they would be prosecuted and maybe deported.

Mr. Chavalala stated that the amount allocated to the Northern Cape was due to higher transportation costs. She continued responding to Ms. Ntwanambi's concerns, by stating that people did have a choice as to where to send their ID's, either at the office of application or postal offices. With respect to the appalling state of the offices, he noted their concerns. Distribution of unclaimed ID's was a problem due to many factors including internal migration. He claimed that this number was around 200 000. He described the mechanisms in place, such as the Regional Directors, who check on the operation of the offices, but that this system also suffered from lack of resources.

Mr. Reinika replied to Ms. Sono's question, that surnames were governed by the Birth and Death Registration Act, allowing any person over 18 to change their surname, as long as they pay the fee and have a good and sufficient reason for doing so.

Ms. Xulu described a situation in which a woman, upon registering for welfare discovered she was given the ID card of a man.

Ms. Ntwanambi pointed out that this issue should not be politicised, as the ID card was not only a voting document. A lot of women were registering their children, which was helping the population registry. Why as public officials, were they unable to assist in this process.

Chairperson asked if there were programmess to make women aware of the fraudulent marriages and what countries these people performing the fraud were coming from. The NCOP had visited most of the Home Affairs offices and that they were busy making a report. She stated that the Joint Committee would call them again, as there were too many issues to cover, and that a provincial representative would be present.

Mr. Reinika addressed Ms. Xulu's example, noting that when they registered for an ID card the applicant was not in front of the officer. So, in that circumstance it was possible that the system allocated the wrong ID number, if that was the mistake, then it should be corrected immediately. He added that the Community Directorate had a programme at one stage to inform women of this phenomenon, but it was not implemented because of lack of money. With respect to what countries involved, he stated this type of fraud involved no specific pattern and that he did not want to speculate, but he noted that some were African and some European.

Mr. Malatshi noted that in his observations, China and Pakistan were the countries featured most.

Chairperson inquired about how it was that the situation arose where it a couple was registered as divorced, even though they were still married.

Mr. Reinika noted that he was unaware of these situations, but speculated that it was administrative mistake.

Ms. Mutsila noted that a lot of women were affected by this fraud and suggested that problems occurred though the change from the homeland system of the overall system.

Mr. Reinika agreed stating that not all marriages were recorded because of the amalgamation and the changes. The records before unification were still paper based therefore the electronic system would not mirror them.

Ms. Mashangwane asked when one should apply to receive an ID number upon birth.

Mr. Reinika replied within 15 days.

Ms. Khunou asked if they could use the number of Birth Certificates registered to assist them in having their own figures of the number of people that were supposed to vote now.

Ms. Maloney asked what the citizenship was of a baby born in South Africa to a foreigner.

Mr. Reinika responded that this would be governed by the Citizenship legislation and that there were three categories of citizens: from Birth, Descent and from Naturalisation. He added that if the foreigner were a valid permanent citizen then the child would be South African.

Mr. Malatshi added that if the person was not legally in South Africa, then the child was not South African.

Chairperson welcomed CGE and asked if there were any further questions, adding that they would engage with them in the future. Mr. Chavalala stated that he would address any further concerns.

The meeting was adjourned.


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