HANIS & Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS); Bosasa contract at Lindela, with Minister
05 March 2019
Chairperson: Mr H Chauke (ANC)
The Home Affairs Minister spoke about the filling of vacancies. He hoped the recruitment process would be finalised soon because Home Affairs could not operate effectively without leadership. He had asked the Department to review all the applications of labour migrants, stating that if someone indicated that he wanted to run a factory in the country and there was no factory, that person did not deserve to stay in the country. The same applied to those who wanted to run churches. Those priests and prophets who came into South Africa to run churches should be reviewed and be given adequate attention. The Minister said that there would be extensive investigation because if a person came into the country for a particular reason, he should remain in the country only on the basis of those reasons. The Department was not xenophobic, but rather it was acting in the interest of the citizens, when verifying if people were staying in the country on the basis of their conditions of admission.
The Acting Director General briefed the Committee on the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) which is reaching the end of its life cycle. The Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) will go live in May 2019. HANIS will run in parallel with ABIS and will be decommissioned once ABIS is in full production around March 2021.
SITA briefed the Committee on the status of the ABIS and National Identification System (NIS) Project. The biometric data in the National Population Register (NPR), that is, the fingerprints and photos were captured using HANIS. It was running on old equipment and software that needed to be upgraded urgently since it could not be maintained anymore. Home Affairs was required to give the Justice Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster access to biometric database thus ABIS would (i) consolidate other departmental environments; (ii) provide multi-modal biometrics; (iii) consolidate databases into a single platform; and (iv) consolidate all standalone systems on a standardised platform. SITA role was acquiring a service provider for the technology refresh/upgrade, consolidation of databases and procurement of new multi-modal biometrics identification system including software.
On the NIS, SITA spoke about the current challenges such as the manual nature of its processes meant long turnaround times and manual interfaces between the department’s systems, which were not integrated and created opportunities for data tampering by corrupt officials bringing the integrity of DHA data into question. The NPR was based on old technology and could not be easily modified to accommodate new requirements. The NIS would manage the information (biographic and biometrics) of all citizens. The NIS would have functionalities to meet future plans for electronic visas and other services such as biometric based identity verification to private and public sectors. The NIS would replace elements of at least the following major systems: NPR, the permitting system, National Immigration Information System (NIIS), Movement Control System (MCS) and the Enhanced Movement Control System (EMCS). These systems were currently not integrated and not adequately secure. The NIS would integrate with the ABIS which was under development. In this project, DHA tasked SITA to appoint CSIR to conduct research, provide advisory services and develop the specification document for the procurement of the NIS. SITA’s role was to monitor the scope of the project plan and support its objectives of the service.
Members raised concerns that the two companies picked by DHA had not met the specifications. These contracts should be investigated. SITA ought to explain why they were dealing with these two incompetent companies. The distinct role of SITA in recruitment and procurement had been limited to provision of guidance to Home Affairs and that its role in the procurement had been only to rubber-stamp the decisions of Home Affairs. Members felt that SITA should be held accountable as it should have played a crucial role. Members recommended an urgent investigation into the procurement process followed for ABIS to ensure that the contract award was above board and adhered to Treasury governance standards. The investigation ought to happen before the May 2019 general elections to enable the Committee to consider it. Members raised concern about the capacity within SITA to deliver quality IT services to the state that enabled quick and responsive systems. DHA should take serious note that the companies were not dealing with basic but rather high security information. They suggested a state-owned company should deal with the highly sensitive data of the country as a private company might withdraw its services or run away with the national data. The Minister was asked to respond in writing in one week.
The Minister spoke about the contingency plans to render services at Lindela Repatriation Centre after the voluntary liquidation of Global African Operations (GAO), formally known as Bosasa. The Minister stated that the state should not be brought into disarray due to the liquidation process taking place. The main problem was voluntary liquidation of a company which was not insolvent. He had written to liquidators and told them that Home Affairs had to have a deportation detention centre despite the ongoing liquidation. The liquidators were left with one day to respond on 6 March and to state that the liquidation would not destabilise the holding of deportees. The Lindela facility was the main facility holding illegal foreigners awaiting deportation. The Department should have access to that facility. The existing five-year contract ended in 2020.
Members stated that the Minister should ensure that the liquidation did not result in the closing down of the facility. There were no other facilities to where foreign national awaiting deportation could be transferred.
The Chairperson stated that all critical aspects within Home Affairs needed a kind of closure prior to general elections. The Committee Legacy Report should include the recommendations and resolutions of the Committee. It was important that they close matters that the Committee had been dealing with for a while as these should not be inherited by the new Committee that would be established after the general elections. He noted apologies from the Home Affairs Deputy Minister and SITA Chairperson.
Mr Thulani Mavuso, Acting Director-General: Home Affairs, apologised for submitting the reports late. They were submitted late because further consultations were needed in order to have conclusive and complete information. On the Bosasa matter, the Department had had to meet with its liquidator.
Minister of Home Affairs, Siyabonga Cwele, said that he had a meeting with the Department (DHA) and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) the previous week to determine what the critical issues were. The Department had raised vacancies as a challenge and these vacancies would be eventually filled by the Minister. These vacancies included the DG and DDGs. On its civil vacancies, interviews had been conducted. Certain positions would be advertised. Some candidates were disqualified. It did not make sense how candidates with the required skills were not shortlisted the drivers licence was expired or the documents were not certified. The Minister had asked them not to disqualify on those grounds. He hoped that this process would be finalised soon because the department could not operate effectively without leadership.
He commented on Mr Ashu Chawla. He had looked into his status and found that he had permanent residence status. He had asked the Department to review all the applications of labour migrants, stating that if someone indicated that he wanted to run a factory in the country and there was no factory, that person did not deserve to stay in the country. The same applied to those who wanted to run churches. Those priests and prophets who came into South Africa to run churches should be reviewed and be given adequate attention. The Minister said that there would be extensive investigation because if a person came into the country for a particular reason, he should remain in the country only on the basis of those reasons.
The Chairperson agreed that there was an urgent need to look into those foreign-owned churches. DHA should be interested in them for security reasons. They should be verified. Acording to the report before him, Mr Chawla was granted citizenship. He was a citizen and not a permanent resident. He advised Mr Mavuso to look again at the system and clarify the matter.
Mr Mavuso responded that Mr Chawla was a permanent resident and not a citizen.
The Chairperson replied that there was evidence showing that he was a citizen.
The Minister said that there would be extensive investigations because if a person came into the country for particular reasons, he should remain in the country on the basis of those reasons. The Department was not xenophobic, but rather had to verify if people were staying in the country on the basis of their conditions of admission.
HANIS and ABIS
Mr Thulani Mavuso, Acting DG, focused on the history of the HANIS, proposals for technology refresh, maintenance, procurement of ABIS and implementation and continued support for HANIS.
On 8 November 1999, the department and Marpless entered into the original agreement for the supply of an automated biometric national identification system. On the 19 July 2007, the department invited Marpless to submit a proposal for the extension of the duration for provision of services in terms of original agreements. The main contract was extended to five years with the inclusion of a Disaster Recovery Plan component for which the same terms and conditions would apply for a period of five years from 1 March 2007. Marpless was to provide: (i) technology upgrade services, project management, system design, system development, installation, testing, system integration services as the context might require (i.e. project services) and (ii) schedule, routine and periodic maintenance as well as corrective maintenance services (i.e. the maintenance services).
Mr Mavuso said that the maintenance and support agreement was extended on at least eight occasions since it was concluded. The last of these extensions was recorded in the Reinstatement and Addendum Agreement since 2016. Marpless had two sub-contractors to support the HANIS and sub-systems. They were the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) developed and supported by the NEC and Online Verification and Sub-systems was developed and supported by Bytes. DHA required a HANIS upgrade of software and hardware which reached end of support in 2014.
Marpless sent tech refresh proposals to the DHA to a value more than R700 million in 2014. The DHA was at the time not funded on the baseline for technology refresh. There were ongoing requirements for HANIS upgrade by security cluster departments. The Department secured funding for technology refresh from the Integrated Justice System (IJS); a component of the SAPS budget in 2016. DHA had to follow a fair, transparent and competitive bidding process for the system upgrade. SITA appointed the CSIR for requirements and specifications drafting and the procurement was done through SITA.
By April 2016, the system has been in operation, without an upgrade for approximately 12 years. Given the current condition of the system, Marpless could not guarantee the performance of the system and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the system. Maintenance and support on a ‘best efforts’ basis was then introduced.
For the ABIS procurement, DHA, SITA and CSIR formulated a project plan in year 2015 and started requirement setting. Publication of the bid specification to accredited bidders and a compulsory tender briefing was concluded on 26 September 2016. ABIS was planned to be delivered in two phases. Phase 1 was a replacement of HANIS functionality and this had to be concluded in November 2018. Phase 2 would commence in June 2019 to deliver other biometric modalities.
HANIS would continue to run the DHA production until March 2021 and this would be done in parallel with ABIS from May 2019. HANIS would be decommissioned once ABIS was in full production.
SITA briefing on ABIS and National Identification System (NIS) Project status
Mr Setumo Mohapi, SITA Chief Executive Officer, stated that Home Affairs was mandated to manage the official identity and status of persons. Home Affairs used the National Population Register (NRP) largely as a civic register for citizens. The NRP records biometric and biographic data relating to birth, marriage, death, citizenship and travel documents. The biometric data in the NRP, namely, fingerprints and photos were captured using HANIS.
Mr Mohapi said that Home Affairs faced a number of challenges with HANIS. The HANIS software could run only on the specific (product locked) equipment and the system could only be maintained by the contracted AFIS supplier. The HANIS system is running on old equipment and software that needs to be upgraded urgently since it cannot be effectively maintained anymore. The Department has assisted SAPS with the ability to conduct 4-print searches which returns 10 fingerprints as they are on HANIS. This meant that the 4-print search does not meet the total requirements and turnaround times of SAPS.
Mr Mohapi stated that the Justice Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster of which Home Affairs was a member, had a responsibility to ensure that all people of South Africa were and felt safe. Home Affairs was thus required to give the JCPS access to biometric database.
Mr Mohapi alluded to the need for ABIS as to upgrade from HANIS, the department was in need of system that could (i) consolidate other departmental environments; (ii) multi-modal biometrics; (iii) consolidate databases into a single platform; and (iv) consolidate all standalone systems on the standardised platform. The Department assisted the assistance of SITA in acquiring a service provider for the provision of technology refresh/upgrade, consolidation of databases and procurement of new multi-modal biometrics identification system including related software using a two-fold process. These processes were the request for accreditation (RFA) to qualify suppliers that had the ability to provide an ABIS system and the request for proposal (RFP) to recommend the preferred supplier.
On the NIS, DHA faced challenges that hindered its efforts to deliver on its mandate:
- The manual nature of its processes meant that the turnaround times were longer than they could be; and
- The manual interfaces between DHA’s systems, which was the result of having systems that were not integrated and were operated in silos, created opportunities for data tampering, which could be easily exploited by corrupt officials, bringing the integrity of the DHA data into question.
These challenges were compounded by the fact that some of the systems in DHA (such as the NPR), were also based on old technology and could not be easily modified to accommodate new requirements. The DHA communicated plans to develop a concept, specification and other necessary documents for the procurement of a new back-end system, the NIS, which was intended to be a master source of information for management systems of the civic services and immigration services. The NIS would have to access and manage the information (biographic and biometrics) of all citizens that the DHA serviced. It required that the NIS should have functionalities that would be used to meet Home Affairs future plans, including electronic visas and other services such as biometric based identity verification to private and public sectors.
Mr Mohapi reported that the NIS would replace elements of at least the following major systems: the NPR, the permitting system, the National Immigration Information System (NIIS), the Movement Control System (MCS) and the Enhanced Movement Control System (EMCS). These systems were currently not integrated and not adequately secure. The NIS would further integrate with the ABIS which was under development. In this project, DHA tasked SITA to appoint CSIR to conduct research, provide advisory services and develop the specification document for the procurement of the NIS. SITA secured the services of the CSIR to execute the bulk of the specialist work on the project. SITA’s role in the project was to monitor according to the scope of the plan and support the objectives as outlined by DHA.
Ms N Dambuza (ANC) had heard all the presenters on previous occasions. What she had been hearing was that the ABIS service provider appointment was done by SITA and that was reason SITA was present. Having heard from SITA, she could not hear the distinct role played by SITA in the appointments and procurement. They had just rubber stamped the appointments made by DHA. Perhaps this was due to law and policy. The decision was taken by DHA to retain certain companies and to procure. She asked who was responsible for security vetting.
The Chairperson said that there were two companies involved. It looked like SITA had no choice but to appoint these two companies, even if they were not meeting the requirements. They were not qualified. SITA had to deal with incompetent companies and SITA had to explain why.
Ms N Shabalala (ANC) remarked that the point was that DHA had to shift from the current system to an advanced system without destroying or disturbing the existing information. The dangerous issue was that the state was using software owned by a private company. The software was not owned by the state. This was integral to the problem. How can the software be owned by the state – and not by a private entity? The question of ownership needed urgent attention. She was in favour of having one state-owned company. What would happen should the private entity decide not to work for the state and go with the data? There should be a smooth transition which does not threaten the data of the people.
The Chairperson asked about DHA capacity to acquire ownership of the data and thus control it.
Mr M Hoosen (DA) said that members had heard enough about procurement. However, from this information, there were a lot of contradictions. The Committee should sit and take a resolution. It was sad that the two companies were picked by DHA when they could not deliver. These contracts should be investigated as to what was the involvement of human resources management. SITA ought to explain why they were dealing with these two incompetent companies. The SITA could not be spared from investigation.
The Chairperson agreed. DHA should take a serious note that the companies were not dealing with a basic information, but high security information.
Mr Hoosen said that last year it was stated that SITA was involved in the appointment. The SITA presentation indicated that they were not involved. He asked if SITA and DHA were satisfied with the granting of these contracts.
Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) said that she was covered by Mr Hoosen’s line of comments and that she was in favour of investigation. The Committee should go straight to recommendations.
Ms S Nkomo (IFP) said she had listened to the DG and SITA and referring to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), she asked what they could agree on about transferring the skills and data to avoid the data being in the hands of another country.
Mr M Kekana (ANC) was happy that Members were reaching the same conclusion that he proposed some time ago. The investigation should not be delayed and contracts ought to be reviewed and thus cancelled.
Ms D Raphuti (ANC) said that the Chairperson had asked an interesting question about who had decided on the appointments and procurement. She wanted to check at which stage the biometrics would be implemented. The Minister should invite Members – prior to the May 2019 general elections – to see how the HANIS and ABIS worked.
Mr D Gumede (ANC) remarked that the concern was who owned the national information and it was linked to the question of directorship. This was very serious because the banks were relying on the same system. DHA should furnish with the Committee letters of appointment. There were no people with the required skills available in South Africa. He asked how certain companies that applied were eliminated. There were failures in the system, not because of SITA, but because of the environment in the office, or because of the absence of power, or because there was no signals. He referred to Mr Keith Keating of Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) and asked if he is involved. Are we dealing with a person who has threatened to withhold information from the state?
Mr Mohapi replied that the role of SITA in the procurement was justified by the 2015 legislation. This legislation had not been amended. SITA provided guidance to DHA and DHA made the decision. Decisions were made by the accounting officer of DHA. On the question of vetting, SITA provided advice. The question of ownership and licencing was a tricky one. There were three types of software. There were those that needed a licence and those which did not. He acknowledged that EOH had bought FDA, but after the allegations of FDA corrupt dealings with SAPS emerged at a SCOPA meeting in Parliament, EOH sold FDA back to its original owners. He did not think that FDA had a part in ABIS. SITA was still embroiled in a court case with FDA.
The Chairperson stated that it was a “new dawn” and things could be done differently. They should engage if a problem was identified. Department officials should know that they are dealing with high sensitive information and for that reason, they should not take the Portfolio Committee for granted or Members as stupid. Members understood the Committee’s role of oversight and accountability. There was need for an urgent investigation into the procurement process for ABIS which is expected to replace the obsolete HANIS.
Mr Mohapi replied that there were 15 companies that submitted from accreditation. SITA was given an auditor’s report to respond to. There were four people on the evaluation committee and they were on financial side.
Mr Hoosen asked who were the names of these people and if SITA was satisfied with the report.
Ms Shabalala wanted to speak to recommendations. The presentation stated that ABIS would go live in May 2019. How sure are they that this would happen? She asked who the sub-contractors were and who contracted them and how they fitted into the main contracts. Were they part of the competitive bidding?
Mr Mohapi replied that he did not know about contracts but knew about the awards.
Mr Hoosen commented that the response was political and asked if Mr Mohapi was satisfied with the conclusion of contacts.
The SITA CEO did not respond directly.
The Chairperson stated that Mr Hoosen should note that there was no response forthcoming.
Mr Hoosen commented that if SITA was playing a critical role, SITA should also take responsibility.
The Chairperson pointed out that Mr Hoosen’s question was still standing as no response was provided. DHA should take the floor and intervene.
Mr Mavuso, Acting DHA Director General, replied that when the process started he was far from being part of it. He was not part of the process. He was satisfied with the checks and balances put in place.
Mr Hoosen remarked that if Mr Mavuso was satisfied; hence he was part of the process. Mr Mohapi and Mr Mavuso should answer yes or no to whether they believed the contract was above board.
Mr Mavuso replied that he was satisfied, but he would welcome an investigation. On the vetting process, all four companies were qualified. They were ready to continue with these companies. On the sub-contractors, they were needed not to take services from DHA. When they differed on charges, they asked to see what the subcontractors were charging. DHA asked how they arrived at the price that they were requesting. They subject this to an independent reviewer who stated that the subcontractors were charging less. The independent assessor arrived at the price, which was agreed by both parties. HANIS was going, but it was still needed during the transition period otherwise the system would collapse.
Minister of Home Affairs, Siyabonga Cwele, said he had had a meeting with stakeholders on the capacity matters they were worried about. He asked if they had capacity to roll out e-Visa. At this stage, he had no information on whether they had capacity or not. When running electronic systems, one needed the capacity, including specialists. On the question of SITA, there was no way it could opt out. They should find a way of working together. There should be transparency. There was no way of opting out now until the current legislation was changed. On the question of dependency, Cabinet had agreed that DHA should own its own software. The Department should not depend on private companies. Private companies might run away, leaving DHA in a crisis. On investigation and review of the process, that could be done. The starting point was to check if they met the specifications and see whether they were satisfied. All questions raised by Members were noted. Original contractors were running away and DHA could remain with nothing. There were international companies that were saying that they were no longer contracting some companies. The Department wanted to make an evaluation of what would be impact of such a move. At this stage, it was difficult to get all the information.
The Chairperson stated that they were not going to compromise the process. However, these companies ought to be investigated and one needed to look at the companies that were eliminated and why they were eliminated. An investigation would ensure that the awarding of the contract was above board and adhered to Treasury governance standards. The investigation ought to happen before the 5th Parliament rises to enable the Committee to consider it.The Minister should draft a report in writing in response to all the concerns raised by Members and submit it to the Committee within a week. He should look at the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) reports such as the police commissioner report which was already in the public domain and look at the comments of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts. For the next two years, DHA would remain under contract with the existing companies and this was worrying. He was not asking if contracts would be extended. The Committee would like the Minister to brief the Committee on these reports. Except for Bosasa, the e-Visa agenda item would be moved to the next meeting.
Minister on Bosasa contract at Lindela Repatriation Centre
The Minister stated that the state should not be brought into disarray because of liquidation process that was taking place. The main problem was involuntary liquidation of a company which was not insolvent. He said that he had written to liquidators and told them that they should have a place where people should be detained, despite of liquidation. The Department should have a facility to hold those foreign nationals facing deportation. The liquidators were left with one day to respond and to state that the liquidation would not destabilise the holding of deportees. The Lindela holding facility was the main facility that kept people waiting deportation. The Department should have access to that facility. The existing contact commenced from 2015 to 2020. It was a five year contract.
The Chairperson asked how much DHA was paying on the facility.
The Minister responded that it was R9.5 million per month of which R1.3 million was rental fee. The other amounts were spent on medical, food and security services.
The Chairperson stated that the only holding facility for deportation was Lindela Holding Facility. The members were concerned about the possibility if its closure as it could be difficult to find other holding facilities. He thanked the Minister for his brief and time. He also thanked the DG and the CEO of SITA for their presentation.
The meeting was adjourned.
Chauke, Mr HP
Cwele, Dr SC
Dambuza, Ms BN
Gumede, Mr DM
Hoosen, Mr MH
Kekana, Mr MD
Mkhaliphi, Ms HO
Raphuti, Ms DD
Shabalala, Ms NF
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