On 31 August 2018, the Portfolio Committee conducted an oversight visit in Gauteng which included the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Marabastad, Pretoria. From the engagement, it was clear there were challenges that require urgent attention by Home Affairs and the Police. There were allegations that people who visit the centre are mugged in full view of the police. It is alleged that SAPS, Tshwane Metro Police and Home Affairs officials are contributing to the challenges at the centre. The criminal elements were working with officials to solicit bribes from people coming to the centre for services. The Committee had resolved to attended to this unsafe and disorganised environment by urgently inviting the Ministers of Home Affairs and Police, the SAPS Commissioner and Chief of Tshwane Metro Police. Apologies were noted from the Minister of Police, SAPS Commissioner, Chief of Tshwane Metro Police and management.
The Home Affairs Deputy Minister said that when it comes to allegations particularly at the refugee centres, the Department takes those allegations very seriously. Top management together with the Deputy Minister were present to assure the Committee that allegations levelled at officials are always treated with the utmost seriousness. From time to time DHA was told that its officials were corrupt but when affidavits or something more substantial was requested to substantiate the allegations, none was provided. She asked to hear the substantive information from the Committee to be able to take the matter further. DHA would spare no effort to ensure those responsible are bought to book.
The Committee discovered on arrival at Refugee Reception Office that one security officer was arrested on the spot for bribing an official. Both the security officer and DHA official were arrested. The Committee had an opportunity to engage with DHA clients. It asked one couple if they had been served already. The response was, “We have been served but we are waiting for our transport because we can’t go outside. If we go outside, we are going to be robbed". They wait inside until the taxi comes to fetch them at the entrance. There was a permanent road block right outside the entrance of RRO. The Committee saw the road block during the oversight visit.
The Deputy Minister said that general lack of security around the refugee centre cannot be a Home Affairs mandate alone - it has to be a collaborative effort between SAPS, Tshwane Metro, amongst others”. Members could not believe Home Affairs’ ‘it is not our problem’ attitude because it happens just outside its offices. Members found this attitude unacceptable as the reputational damage was on Home Affairs. It had to take the lead.
The Chairperson stressed that the Committee wanted accountability for the intimidation of ordinary desperate people who have to present themselves at that office. Parliament will not rise until we find a solution to these problems. There must be a clear intervention plan by DHA and other stakeholders who be re-invited and the challenges have to be dealt with at a ministerial level as well. The problem was not only in Home Affairs as it was now known that SAPS and the Metro police were involved. The briefing was rescheduled for 11 September and the very same invitations would be sent to the Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Police and Metro Police to appear before the Committee.
The Committee had concluded the initial phase of the Gupta Family Naturalisation Inquiry by collecting all relevant information. Phase two would be a three-day inquiry so that the identified gaps could be clarified by those people called by the Committee to assist it to arrive at a conclusion. The Parliament Legal Advisor confirmed there were many questions that needed to be answered Ajay Gupta and the two sons qualified on their own and did not need exceptional circumstances. It was the wife and mother that required the exceptional circumstances. The three could have applied on their own and the wife and the mother could have waited for two years and then qualified for naturalisation in December 2017. What was the emergency to be naturalised in 2015?
It was agreed that the following persons would be called: Minister Malusi Gigaba, Acting Director General Thulani Mavuso, MEC and Head of Department for North West Department of Education and Sports Development, Former Director General Mkhuseli Apleni; Mr GC Christians – Former DHA employee; Manie Schoeman – Former Minister of Home Affairs, 1993, All DHA officials involved in processing and adjudication of the Gupta family naturalisation. Those that are not prepared to appear will summoned by the Speaker.
Opening remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson said a resolution was taken to add the second agenda item which was a briefing by the Ministers of Home Affairs and Police and Chief of Tshwane Metro Police on the security situation in and around the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Office.
On 31 August 2018, the Portfolio Committee conducted an oversight visit in Gauteng to Fireblade Aviation. The Committee had been informed the Department had appealed the Appeal Court ruling. It was important for the Committee to be briefed on its status because the appeal had not been lodged.
The second visit was to the renamed Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in Marabastad. From the engagement, it was clear there were challenges that require urgent attention by Home Affairs and the Police. The Committee had resolved to attended to this unsafe and disorganised environment by urgently inviting the Ministers of Home Affairs and Police, the SAPS Commissioner and Chief of Tshwane Metro Police.
Apologies were noted from the Minister of Police, the SAPS Commissioner, and the Chief of Tshwane Metro Police and management. The Chairperson said the Committee will set aside another date, soon, to engage with them because of the urgency of the matter.
Opening Remarks by Deputy Minister
Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Fatima Chohan, introduced the DHA delegation. She had received a letter, yesterday morning, from the Chairperson requesting the Minister and Acting Director General urgently attend the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to address criminality outside the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Office. The letter advised that the Committee had visited the RRO on 31 August 2018 to assess progress made since the launch of the automated system in 2017. There were allegations that people who visit the centre are mugged in full view of the police and people alleged that SAPS, Tshwane Metro Police and DHA officials were also contributing to the challenges at the centre. These criminal elements were working with officials to solicit bribes from the people coming to the centre for services. The Deputy Minister and DHA delegation had cancelled all other meetings to be at the meeting. There was no report on findings or presentation prepared as a response.
The Deputy Minster addressed the Committee, “We are here at your request having being invited just yesterday, and we understand that you wanted this meeting very urgently because there may be issues you may want to share with us that you could not share in the letter". She said top management together with the Deputy Minister were present to assure the Committee that allegations levelled at officials are always treated with the utmost seriousness. From time to time DHA was told that its officials were corrupt but when affidavits or something more substantial was requested to substantiate the allegations, none was provided. She asked to hear the substantive information from the Committee to be able to take the matter further. DHA would spare no effort to ensure those responsible are bought to book.
Security situation in and around the Desmond Tutu Refugee Reception Office
The Chairperson drew attention to the fact that DHA had reported the following challenges about the Desmond Tutu RRO. He referred to slide 7 of the DHA briefing document: “Challenges: criminal elements” which read:
• Syndicates, human traffickers and smugglers target Refugee office
• Metro Police
• CPF (Community Policing Forums)
• So called ‘Agents’ and Smugglers
• Criminals elements: robbers, pick-pockets
• Targeting of refugee centre to legalise the persons brought to South Africa illegally
• Allegations of officials involvement with these syndicates
• Multinational criminal syndicates still operating with impunity.
The Chairperson said the Committee witnessed an on-the-spot arrest by Chief Director: Asylum Seeker Management, Mr Mandla Madumisa, of a security officer for bribing a DHA official. Both were arrested and referred to the police station before the Committee could speak to them. The Committee was told that the criminal activity had happened outside the office and was witnessed from inside the office shortly before the Committee arrived. This indicates that what the Committee was raising is not hearsay or made up to make headlines; it is a problem.
Even though the Minister had delegated to the Deputy Minister it was important for him to know what was happening. The Minister is the one who should be accountable to Parliament as the political head. The Chairperson made it clear that when the Minister is called before the Committee, a delegation should not be an option when it comes to urgent matters such as this one. The challenges reflected in the document require urgent attention. DHA was expected to tell the Committee what it was doing to resolve the challenges. Asylum seeker and refugees were now scared of going to the RRO because of the criminal activities happening there.
During the oversight visit, the Committee had an opportunity to engage with DHA clients. It asked one couple if they had been served already. The response was, “We have been served but we are waiting for our transport because we can’t go outside. If we go outside, we are going to be robbed". They wait inside until the taxi comes to fetch them at the entrance. There was a permanent road block right outside the entrance of RRO. The Committee saw the road block during the oversight visit.
The Chairperson stressed that the Committee wanted accountability for the intimidation of ordinary desperate people who have to present themselves at that office. Parliament will not rise until we find a solution to these problems. There must be a clear intervention plan by DHA and other stakeholders who be re-invited and the challenges have to be dealt with at a ministerial level as well.
The implications are that if people are scared to go to the refugee centres they then opt for fraudulent underground processes to acquire papers. After the Soweto incident on the sale of fake products, a Home Affairs officer announced on national news that 40 people had been arrested with fraudulent documents. How many people in this country are in possession of fraudulent documents? If this was not attended to the country’s security would be compromised. There are people who had committed serious crimes in their country of origin and were in South Africa because ‘the system had collapsed’ and they could obtain fraudulent documents. Not only was it about the severity of national security problem but South Africa as signatory to the international treaty welcomed and integrated asylum seekers. The problem was not only in DHA as it was now known that SAPS and Metro police were involved. This was the reason for the meeting, Parliament was doing its oversight work and holding the people responsible to account. If this is not done then Parliament would just have to close shop, said the Chairperson. “We need engage and find solutions".
Deputy Minister Chohan sought clarity on how to proceed. The Portfolio Committee having gone on an oversight visit to the RRO on Friday, received amongst other things a briefing on the challenges of criminal elements that operate around the precincts of the refugee reception centre. The Committee, as she understood, raised a few challenges: fraudulent documents, fugitives of justice, the security of the country, the police and DHA being involved in corruption. Those aspects are not captured in the DHA presentation to the Committee. She suggested the Acting Director General and Chief Director: Asylum Seeker Management clarify slide seven. She requested that after the Committee Report on the challenges, DHA be granted an opportunity to study in-depth what was going on and then respond.
The Deputy Minister informed the Committee that she woke up to a News24 headline this morning that read, “Home Affairs Portfolio Committee concerned about criminal activity in the Pretoria Refugee Centre". From what the Chairperson said it seemed to her that the concern was about the criminal elements in the vicinity of the refugee reception centre, in other words, the area around the RRO. There is a big difference between the two. She wanted the Committee to know that was not the only area, geographically, that had that kind of activity. There were a number of incidents outside the Pinetown Home Affairs offices were clients were robbed and intimidated. DHA has had to deal with general criminality in the environment which does pertain to security.
The Department had submitted to the Committee before that it does not think the offices of Home Affairs are properly located. Ideally, the refugee facilities should be moved to the border areas where asylum seekers enter the country in order to facilitate efficient processes. These efforts have been thwarted by various court challenges that do not allow them to close the refugee centres places such as Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Tshwane would have also been closed. The location of refugee centres was no longer in the Department’s hands, she said.
"General lack of security around the refugee centres cannot be a Home Affairs mandate alone", said the Deputy Minister. "It has to be a collaborative effort between SAPS, Tshwane Metro, amongst others. The Border Management Authority Bill that is still stuck in Parliament is linked to the general state of security in the country. The matters are related as you cannot expect there to be a general state of security in the country if the borders are not policed and managed".
The Chairperson clarified that there was no difference between what he said verbally and what was in the document. The document talked to challenges that he was raising and it was incorrect to say his discussion differed from what is stated in the document. The issues will be addressed as they appear on the DHA document. The Committee Report will include this meeting's deliberations and the report recommendations will be presented to Parliament and once adopted, they will be implemented.
Mr M Hoosen (DA) understood the Chairperson’s frustration and admired his leadership. He suggested DHA provide an undertaking or acceptance that this is a Home Affairs problem or not a Home Affairs problem. He could not believe Home Affairs can adopt the attitude of ‘it is not our problem’ because it happened outside its offices. Member found this attitude inconceivable because the reputational damage was on Home Affairs. It had to take the lead. He asked if it was willing to take the lead to resolve the problems? “If the answer is no and its somebody else’s problem then there is no point in having the conversation” he said. The same thing will happen repeatedly. Ministers and officials have been aware of the problem for years. What steps is DHA taking to fix the problem?
Mr D Gumede (ANC) said the responsibility of government is to make people safe and to feel safe. If they do not feel safe around DHA and in front of SAPS and the Metro Police, then it is a serious matter that had to be addressed by all stakeholders and Parliament. Parliament in some cases must take a lead and stand against the criminality because it represents members of the public. It must ensure the agency concerned attend to the matter. Some of the Metro Police are alleged to be part of the criminal activity. The legislature had to act and make the executive accountable. “Things are no longer normal and action has to be taken to make South Africans safe and feel safe".
Mr A Figlan (DA) was worried the Department did not want to take responsibility and was passing the buck.“This is a security cluster and it is supposed to abide by the law. The Marabastad RRO is now honoured as the Desmond Tutu RRO. “We honour Desmond Tutu’s name but we don’t cover it with security". He then requested DHA acknowledge receipt of communication from Members of Parliament. He shared a case in the Western Cape where a man came to South Africa in 2005 and was only informed now that his documents are fraudulent. He would resend the document because he needed the information.
Ms D Raphuti (ANC) said the reduction in the budget was the problem. She recalled during the Budget Speech she highlighted that 700 DHA inspectors were servicing 57 million people in the country. It is really appalling and we must come up with means to ensure the number of inspectors are increased. Given the financial constraints how can DHA be creative in employing inspectors? What are the requirements to become an inspector? How long does it take to become one? What is the salary level of inspectors? South Africa has high unemployment. She was displeased with the involvement of the SAPS and Metro Police in corruption and expressed her dismay. What can be done about the security of our country? Is security being vetted?
The Chairperson said that a report had been done by the State Security Agency (SSA) and the challenges in the document were informed by that report. The briefing would be rescheduled for 11 September and the very same invitations would be sent to the Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Police, and Metro Police to appear before the Committee. Everyone invited is expected to attend. “We cannot allow this to continue happening. We are not going to accept it".
Deputy Minster’s response
The Deputy Minister welcomed the way forward and reiterated that the reason they were all there in force, on urgent invitation, was because DHA does take responsibility to prioritise challenges. Every single time the Committee raised concerns around corruption at refugee centres she has always been present. She committed to act on any information provided by the Committee about criminal activities involving refugee centres. DHA also considers these challenges as serious and had taken measures since 2012 to avoid collusion, corruption and smuggling. However, DHA is not perfect which is why it considers the Committee an extension of its work. “The Committee has a lot to offer DHA in terms of pointing them in the right direction and they have always worked in a collaborative spirit. We look forward to the engagement on Tuesday” she said in closing.
Gupta Family Naturalisation Inquiry: preparations
The Chairperson led the preparations by providing the background on phase one which was the compilation of information to assess and identify further information needed and persons to be considered for interview by the Committee in phase 2 prior to a final report. He referenced the ‘Overview of Committee inquiry’ which detailed the timeline of committee meetings relevant to the project framework in the “Draft Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs Phase One: Interim Report on State Capture”.
He noted that the first Gupta family member to enter the country was in 1993. This was before the democratic government and it was the Minister of Home Affairs during the then apartheid government that oversaw that first entry. The Minister of Home Affairs in 1993 was Mr Manie Schoeman and this would have to be correctly reflected in the report as he was also required to appear before the Committee. The Committee had requested and were provided with information on all those who were involved in the Guptas family member applications at a political level, the officials and the adjudicators within the DHA branch structures.
The Chairperson also acknowledged the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture who have requested information to assist its work. What is important to the Committee is to ensure that the movement of that information is provided confidentially and properly to not jeopardise its work.
The work of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry was important and committed the Committee to assisting it as best as it can.
The Chairperson said the Committee Interim Report noted that naturalisation is regulated by both the Immigration and Civic function within DHA. This is primarily done through the Immigration Act as well as the Citizenship Act and related regulations. The Chairperson referred to the sections in the report dealing with 'DHA permitting structure and officials' as well as the 'Gupta Family and Associates Immigration and Citizenship process with Home Affairs'. Atul, Rajesh, and Ajay Gupta family members are now South African citizens except for Ajay Gupta who refused to renounce his Indian citizenship.
Mr Hoosen requested that the use of Singhala as a surname by the Gupta children be probed as there appears to be no use of clan names as a surname in India or the Indian culture.
Ms T Kenye (ANC) recalled the explanation that had been provided that the surname Singhala was from the mother’s side and used by the children of the Guptas.
The Chairperson referred to the ‘Considerations of exceptional circumstances’ in the report. Mrs Angoori Gupta (mother) and Mrs Shivani Gupta (wife) did not meet the requirements for naturalisation but Mr Ajay Gupta and the two sons met the requirements of physical residence in the Republic, with the provision that they cannot be outside the Republic for longer than 90 days in a year during the five year residence period preceding the application for naturalisation. On receipt of the letter dated 29 April 2015 from the family requesting the Minister to consider granting early naturalisation due to exceptional circumstances, the Civic Services Branch prepared a submission for the Minister's approval for granting early naturalisation based on the motivation, during May 2015. It is important to note that the exceptional circumstance were only for the mother and the wife. The Department in recommending early naturalisation, considered the family’s business presence and investments in the Republic. The Minister granted approval on 30 May 2015. After the approval was granted, because India does not accept dual citizenship, the family had to provide proof of renunciation of Indian citizenship. Mr Ajay Gupta did not provide proof of renunciation. As a result, his naturalisation was not effected and so he remains a permanent resident permit holder. Naturalisation was effected after receiving renunciation for the mother, the wife, and two sons.
Ms Kenye asked what happened to the provision that when an application is granted for some but rejected for others, the approval falls away even for the other members who had been granted naturalisation.
The Chairperson confirmed that the Minister and the Department would have to account for this specific matter of the case. What does the law say when one family member does not renounce citizenship but other members do?
Ms N Shabalala (ANC) predicted that DHA will say that in view of the new information, it rejects the application because it was not privy then to it. However, due to the information on the business and investments provided then, it approved the application.
The Chairperson said the application for citizenship was different and impacted on the population register of the country. The content of the citizen applications and adjudication deliberations need to be scrutinised and the Department must be engaged on the factual details. The Committee must verify the renunciation of Indian citizenship by the Gupta family members who were granted naturalisation. Where and when did they take the oath and declaration as required by law?
Ms B Dambuza (ANC) said page 11 of the report stipulates the mother and wife did not meet the requirements but page 12 must be considered by the Committee which provides, “However, it is important to note that the exceptional circumstances were only in respect of the mother and wife” who did not qualify. This was critical she pointed out. How did DHA quantify the exceptional circumstances?
The Chairperson agreed the business and investments should not have been considered for the motivation of exceptional circumstances for the mother and wife.
Ms S Nkomo (IFP) suggested the Department should provide answers to the queries on exceptional circumstances before it appears before the Committee so that the reasons are noted in writing for the Committee to interrogate.
The Chairperson clarified that the Department provided the motivation for exceptional circumstances in Annexure J of the report.
Ms Dambuza commented that the approval for naturalisation should not have been done before advising the family of the requirement to renounce their Indian citizenship.
Mr Siviwe Njikela, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, agreed and confirmed there were a lot of questions that the Department needed to answer on the Ajay Gupta family naturalisation. Ajay and the two sons qualified on their own and did not need exceptional circumstances. It was the wife and the mother that required the exceptional circumstances. “Notwithstanding, they decide to apply as a family. Surely at some point they should have been fully aware they were not going to qualify as a family. So, that should tell you that the first prize was never naturalisation it was early naturalisation". There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that suggests there was a strategy. It was not clear to him what exactly was at play because the three could have applied on their own and the wife and the mother could have waited for two years and then qualified for naturalisation in December 2017. What was the emergency to be naturalised in 2015? It was not clear.
Ms Kenye said there are so many grey areas. When Ajay Gupta did not want to renounce Indian citizenship he then applied for a work permit for 8 years. The Department needs to explain what critical skills Ajay has that took him eight years (2000-2008) at Sahara in South Africa. She agreed an explanation was needed why the sons have a different surname from other Gupta family members.
The Chairperson informed Members a request was sent to the India High Commissioner to confirm that the Gupta family members renounced Indian citizenship.
The Chairperson said if needs be a summons must be issued to find and call Mr Christians, a former DHA employee, who facilitated all the visas, to appear before Parliament.
Ms Nkomo suggested the former North West Premier also be called to account.
The Chairperson ruled it would be more appropriate to invite the MEC who will have specific knowledge of the Education Department. The Committee also received an affidavit from a Sahara employee who disclosed a lot about the permits of people recruited from India to work for ANN7. DHA had been requested to provide a breakdown of the number of employees from India who came on work permits. It is expected to present this when it appears before the Committee. The Department of Labour had been invited to engage with the Committee on the process for acquiring a work permit.
Ms Dambuza raised the point that the affidavit specified a complaint was lodged with Minister Naledi Pandor. It would be important to invite her as she even responded to a question on this in Parliament.
Mr Hoosen asked if the person who produced the affidavit can be called in to provide evidence.
The Chairperson confirmed he was willing to connect via Skype as he was in India and not well.
Ms Nkomo seconded by Ms Shabalala recommended a decision must be made to call former DHA, Director General, Mr Apleni, to appear before the Committee.
It was agreed that over and above the current Minister Malusi Gigaba and Acting Director General Thulani Mavuso, the following persons will be called by the Committee to this phase two inquiry:
- MEC for North West Department of Education and Sports Development
- Head of Department of North West Department of Education and Sports Development
- Mkhuseli Apleni - Former Director General of DHA
- Mr GC Christians – Former DHA employee
- Manie Schoeman – Former Minster of Home Affairs, 1993
- All DHA officials involved in the processing and adjudication of Gupta family naturalisation.
The Chairperson said it is a must that all persons called appear before the Committee.
The phase two will start by circulating the questions that need clarification from DHA to the Members. In the meeting on Tuesday 11 September 2018 questions will be allocated to members to ask those called for interview. The Committee will continue with preparations and table a programme that will guide the way forward on the inquiry. Members were requested to consult the report further and communicate further gaps and matters to be included in the inquiry programme.
The Chairperson spoke about the procedure that will be followed at the investigation inquiry. Persons interviewed will take an oath. Parliament Legal Services will officiate the oaths. The officials, the Acting DG and Minister will be interviewed over three days. The next day the Committee will meet to compile the final report and make its recommendations. The draft final report will be sent to Members to review during recess. After the recess, the adoption of the report will be the first agenda item and it will be sent to the National Assembly. Once accepted, what will remain will be the implementation of the recommendations.
DHA was meant to provide a response by yesterday on the questions raised in the Interim Report. The Chairperson granted an extension until the next day. The response will be circulated to Members to study before the meetings next week.
The meeting was adjourned.
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