State of province 2018/2019: Western Cape; Minister on matters affecting Department

Home Affairs

17 September 2019
Chairperson: Mr M Chabane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) in the Western Cape briefed the Committee on its state for the 2018/19 financial year. Earlier, Members had been disappointed with the presentations from the Northern and Eastern Cape provinces because the documents they presented were different from the documents sent to Parliament prior to the meeting, so they felt limited in their ability to discuss the issues raised.

The Minister asked the Committee to reject their presentations and reschedule them to be presented at a future date. This was agreed.

The DHA in the Western Cape provided details of their performance in respect of civic services, immigration services, finance and supply chain matters, human resources and achievements attained. The province had achieved all nine of its targets in the first quarter. The 100% mark had been achieved for targets covering births registered, smart ID Cards issued, employers detected in contravention of the Immigration Act (Act 13 of 2002), undocumented foreigners deported, and cases of detected fraudulent marriages and marriages of convenience finalised.

Some of the challenges encountered by the province were the DHA’s inability to cope with the demand for services within its offices because not all the counters had staff, the difficulty in maintaining roaming services in health facilities, the inability of the various health facilities to provide the DHA with office space, and the lack of capacity for immigration officers to attend joint operations in rural farming areas where illegal employment was rife.

The Minister was forthright in urging that the country needed to conduct introspection due to the abuse of its asylum system, such as the Sec 22 permits, marriage laws and the refugee appeal processes. Even international jurists were worried that judgments coming from South Africa were being cited as benchmarks and impacting negatively on their own countries. Weaknesses in the legislation needed to be identified and amendments introduced, as judges were often not aware that a kind judgment in favour of an individual could have adverse consequences for the whole country. 

Meeting report

Northern Cape and Eastern Cape reports rejected

The Chairperson asked for a minute’s silence to be observed for the passing of Ms Bavelile Hlongwa, Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.

The meeting had been convened for the Committee to receive a briefing from three provinces – the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Western Cape. However, after the presentation by Mr Ricardo Abrams, Acting Provincial Manager, Northern Cape, Members were appalled that the presentation was different from the documents submitted to the Committee and the pages were improperly labelled. They said they could not engage properly because of all the new information in the presentation, and refused to accept the situation.

They asked the Eastern Cape delegation if they had similar issues to those of their Northern Cape counterparts, and they confirmed this was the case. 

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs, agreed that the presentations should be rejected, and the officials from the two provinces be compelled to make their presentations another day.

He asked the Committee to bear with him, because when he arrived at Home Affairs, he had been told that the practice in the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) was that the national Department must never interfere with reports from the provinces, because the Committee sensitised them. As a result, he never interfered with the documents to be presented to the Committee. He asked the Committee to allow him to see the reports first before they come to the Committee, because as politicians he knew what the Members want to see in a report. He wanted to be given permission for the provinces to first present to him so he could guide them before coming to the Committee.

The Minister’s request was accepted, and the Committee also reiterated that the provinces must first have the Minister’s approval before coming to Parliament to present on anything. They pointed out that there was a difference between sensitising a presentation and correcting discrepancies and gaps.

Status of Western Cape province

Mr Yusuf Simons, Provincial Manager: West Cape, DHA, identified some of the burning issues. These were:

Vredenburg:

The municipality gave the DHA notice of termination of the lease at Swemmer & Levine Building, with effect from 30 June 2017. The municipality had provided an alternative facility which the DHA was in the process of refurbishing, with the view to modernising the office in 2019/20.

Malmesbury:

The landlord served the DHA with an eviction notice with effect from November 2017. New office space had been procured through the Department of Public Works (DPW) and was in the process of being refurbished by the landlord. The envisaged operational date was November 2019.

Mitchells Plain:

The office infrastructure was not conducive to service delivery, and there had been occupational health and safety (OHS) issues and complaints from clients. The DPW had tendered three times to find suitable property identified for possible refurbishment.

Efforts were being made to reduce waiting times, such as through an improvement in management capability and leadership with the appointment of two district managers. Signage was now displayed on queue poles placed outside of the office to categories queues into smart card and passport applications, smart card and passport collections, and legacy system applications (birth and death registration, and temporary ID certificates).

Client categories were being prioritized. The elderly, pregnant mothers, mothers with infants, and scholars in uniform accompanied by parents were prioritized. It was now compulsory for office managers to engage clients prior to the office opening, and to visit front office areas every two hours to interact with clients. Floorwalkers directed clients and communicated approximate waiting times to clients inside of the office, and radio bulletins directed clients to low volume offices during morning and afternoon slots.  Moetapele leadership programme rating cards had been implemented and monitored, and there was continuous communication to clients when high volumes were experienced so they could be redirected.

The following challenges had an impact on service delivery:

  • The large Cape Town office was without an office manager (L12), leading to a lack of management capability, an escalation of queries and complaints,
  • The 26 front office clerks were unable to cope with the demand for services within the offices. Not all counters had staff, and it was difficult to maintain roaming services in health facilities  
  • It was challenging to roll out banking without impacting on other key services -- a public-private partnership (PPP) was in process.
  • With immigration officers, there was a lack of capacity to attend joint operations in rural farming areas, where illegal employment was rife.

Mr Simons reported that the province had achieved all nine of its targets in the first quarter. The 100% mark had been achieved for births registered within 30 days, smart ID Cards issued to citizens 16 years and older, employers detected in contravention of the Immigration Act (Act 13 of 2002) being charged, transgressors detected in contravention of the Immigration Act (Act 13 of 2002) being charged, undocumented foreigners deported within 30 calendar days, detected undocumented foreigners transferred to Lindela within 20  calendar days, 80% of detected fraudulent marriages and marriages of convenience cases finalised, 170 general inspections conducted, and valid invoices settled within 30 days of certification.

Discussion

Mr A Roos (DA) asked why seven of the nine posts were inactive. Why were two District Manager Operations (DMO) positions not funded? On the provincial archives facility at Bellville, if they were physical documents, what was in place for mitigation if there was fire in the building? Why did it take two years for the Malmesbury DHA office to reopen? Why was the Department kicked out of the building in 2017? In Mitchells Plain, it seemed that the office had been closed down due to occupational health issues -- had those issues been raised on time, and what had been the timelines since it was a DPW-leased building? Was any action taken against the lessor? The Department had 538 staff listed but had vetted 682 -- how had that happened? There was a concern that the busiest office in the Western Cape, in Cape Town city, had no office manager. This was a risk in terms of the moratorium on hiring. What were the discussions with the Minister in this regard, if people in senior positions left and they could not be replaced? Why was the coloured staff representation below the equity targets? The Department had been congratulated for staying within its budget because the Western Cape was the only province where the compensation of employees was within budget.  However, with the proposed budget cuts in the next cycles, where were cuts going to be? The percentage of achievements, especially in smart ID Cards, had gone up, but the physical targets were way down. Why? What was the revenue?

Mr M Lekota (COPE) asked why the provincial DHA was losing staff.  Other than budget constraints, what other elements were responsible for the loss? What were the courts and national Department of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) doing about people who were arrested trying to commit fraud but then claimed asylum? A person looking for asylum should not start by committing a criminal act. The Western Cape was a border point, especially for people coming by ship. How many people came into SA through the seaport?

Mr V Pambo (EFF) wanted the Minister to speak about the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the downtime the Department was experiencing across the provinces. The Western Cape (WC) was commended for presenting a comprehensive report, but he wanted to know how many man hours were lost due to downtime? If this information was provided, it could help the Committee to estimate whether the man hours lost were due to downtime or lack of staff. The report was not addressing these minute details. Not much had been said about security in DHA offices. In Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, they had said there was burglary and R34 000 had been lost, and in other presentations, some provinces had their offices guarded 24 hours from Mondays to Fridays. Knowing that the DHA had peoples’ sensitive documents, what security did they have in their offices in the WC? Did they have cameras and CCTV in their offices?

Mr Q Dyantyi (ANC) emphasised the point that Home Affairs was not a concurrent function or competency. It was not a provincial function but a national function, and provincial governments were clients and serviced. It was wrong to allow the provincial offices to come here without the agreement of the Minister, because the success and failure of all the nine offices was a national success and failure. Could the Committee get a list of the 27 connected health facilities and their locations? The failure to modernise the rural areas like Vrendenburg was a big problem. If this was not done, it would slow down the production of the smart cards. How far was the Department progressing with interactions with the Government Communication Information System (GCIS)? The radio stations could help with voice clips, but there was a government institution in the GCIS. The records, according to the Moetapele Reporting Tool, show that the staff smile very well, but the figures go downwards in terms of professional conduct, and clients were less satisfied with the service. The critical part of serving and satisfying customers was more important than just smiling. Why was a sample of participants not taken from the biggest offices, which were Cape Town City and Khayelitsha? Why 26 front office clerks were unable to cope with the demands of their work and left their employment? In the report it was stated that 53% of the DHA staff were females -- what were the levels at which they were employed? Were they mainly at the entry points?

DHA’s response

Mr Simons responded that there was only acting manager -- at Barrack Street – and the other offices had appointed officials. Regarding the DMOs, the province had six districts and three district managers. The Department had worked on the principle that every two districts had to have one manager; so all the positions were fully occupied. There were unfunded posts for DMOs, but the district managers filled the void.

On the archiving at Bellville, when the facility was created, there was an archiving directorate at the Head Office that met with the DPW and the landlord to effect a particular epoxy coated flooring, a steel filing facility and fire extinguishers, all created to minimise the risk of fire. It was not just an open room that was being used to store documents, but was rather designed and developed for this particular purpose. Members were encouraged to go and view the facility if they had time.

On why it took two years to reopen the Malmesbury DHA office; the Department had been evicted by the landlord after they had offered him a three year lease extension. Over the years, he had never cared to even fix the toilets, and did not want to spend money on what were his responsibilities because the DHA could not find other accommodation that fitted its needs. The landlord had decided he did not want a government department renting his property, but rather a furniture shop, and had gone to the courts and given the Department two months to vacate. They had had to pack up and leave, because two months was not enough time to vacate. Even when they had approached the magistrate to give them a space at the Tucson Centre, they were put on a rugby field in a mobile truck, where all they could do was issue birth and death certificates. Malmesbury staff was then redeployed to the Paarl and Atlantis offices, and they had been there now for two years. The DHA had gone out on tender, and when the first tender came, there was a technicality. With the second, there was a legal challenge because the service provider said the DHA did not comply with the requirements, and so took them to court. The last tender had gone out, and it was interesting to note that the same four service providers had tendered every time because the town was so small and it was difficult to find the kind of space the DHA needed. They had eventually found two old campus buildings next to each other and it had worked well in hindsight because one building would be for applications only and another for collections and the queues could be split, they could apply in one building and collect in another, but it had been a very frustrating experience all in all. The building would be handed over to the Department at the end of September, and when all the connectivity was completed, it would open to the public in November.

As for Mitchells Plain, the DHA had occupied the building for ten years and for the last few years they had asked the landlord to fix the emergency doors, there were cockroaches in the building, the carpets were not in good condition, the tiles were broken and the air-conditioning did not work. In fact, he did not want to spend a cent because he knew the Department was on a tender and on a month-to-month DPW lease. When the Department of Labour came to see the conditions, they said things were very bad and closed the building down on a Thursday.  The DHA brought its own service providers over the weekend, and were able to re-open on the Tuesday. The DPW had given the landlord the bill and it was now being deducted from the monthly rental paid to him. Right now they were viewing buildings in Mitchells Plan to move to.

The 528 staff included the DHA staff in the Western Cape, but did not include the airport, the harbour and the refugee centre staff, because they were not part of the WC establishment. However, support services in the Western Cape were performed by the provincial office. The vetting office, counter-corruption and human resources (HR) units also assist with vetting, which extends to the harbour, the airport and refugee centre staff as well, which explains the difference between the WC number of staff and those vetted. 

A detailed breakdown would be sent to the Committee secretary describing the security architecture, such as what type of security each office has, the security company they had engaged, which office had security Monday to Friday, and all other security-related information. 

Staff were leaving for different reasons. The head of the Barrack office had left a year ago for personal reasons -- he wanted to spend more time with his small kids and to look after them too because his wife had a professional job and could not be at home. Another reason people leave was the ceiling on the budget which affected upward mobility and staff morale. Many of the level sixes were looking for other opportunities, because they had been at the same level for 6-8 years.  Some would rather go to the private sector for better career opportunities and advancement and sadly, it was always the good people that were lost.  Some were also dismissed as well, and a person had recently resigned to go the private sector to open his own business. The Department could send to the Committee a report on the last 31 staff that had resigned, and their reasons. 

He explained why the coloureds were under-represented. When a post was advertised, it stated the qualifications one must have, and in the recruitment process, preference was given to disabled  and women. The other course that followed was, who the best candidate was. 

It was difficult to cut the budget -- probably the finger lunch food could go -- but there was never entrainment at any exco meeting since members all local. One could perhaps look at travelling costs and use more video conferencing, as the Director General (DG) always commented on the huge travelling costs incurred through flying to Pretoria and accommodation while there.

On why targets were down but the percentage of achievement was up, he said the previous year there had been a branch decision that targets must be based on the performance baseline. Some argued for and against it, but as the provincial manager, he had said he was against it. Even birth registrations were based on occurrence, but not on performance as before, and the same applied to smart cards.

In 2018/19, revenue in the Western Cape had been R84m, but in the first quarter of 2019/20 the Department had generated R42m.

Regarding what the courts do if someone claims asylum, a criminal apprehended by the police who claimed asylum in court would still be kept in custody. It was only when there was no criminal offence involved and someone claims asylum that the Refugee Act takes precedence, and this allows the person to be given the opportunity to finalise the asylum case first.  All other minute details would be sent as a written answer to the secretary of the Committee by Friday.

Mr Richard Stoltz, Chief Director: Immigration Support, DHA, said that the volumes that came through the Cape Town maritime port was relatively low compared to other ports in SA. For 2018, there were 27 678 processed in the Cape Town maritime port, compared to 2.6m at the Cape Town airport.  The maritime port had two characteristics. There were the crew members processed on a continuous basis throughout the year, and the seasonal cruise ships that come and go. As for the refugee reception centre which was reopened by the order of the courts, the midterm report from January to June on asylum seeker management showed that only 197 asylum cases were registered. The rest of the persons processed were extensions of those already in the system. 

Mr Thulani Mavuso, Acting Director General: DHA added that there had been no cases of persons coming through the sea port to claim asylum in SA. There had been the argument put forward by the Department in court papers against opening a refugee reception centre in Cape Town, though that had been rejected by the courts.

On the issue of security at DHA offices, the Department used to operate Mondays to Saturdays, so the arrangement was that security would be provided accordingly. On Sundays, alarm systems were then used mainly, also because of budgetary constraints. Obviously, the DHA no longer works on Saturdays since the bargaining chambers stopped it, but efforts were being made to restore it. There was a consideration that all offices must have CCTV and alarm systems so as to have a security response in the case burglaries. A lot of burglaries had been experienced in Gauteng in particular, and recently one case in Limpopo.

Regarding the mobile units, it was painful because the old generation trucks had been decommissioned because they were ill-equipped to issue smart cards. New trucks of different sizes and shapes and customised were bought to suit the DHA’s needs, except for the connectivity. Unfortunately, connectivity in terms of the SITA Act was a mandatory service to be provided by SITA. The Department had tried at some point to deviate in order to do it on its own, but that would have meant sitting with a qualification and irregular expenditure. It was only now that the Department had concluded an arrangement with MTN to connect some trucks, both hospitals and points of entry. All the trucks bought with MTN would eventually have connectivity.

Minister on matters affecting the Department

The Minister added that the Department was engaging with Treasury on the staffing issue, because they had a ceiling on the amount the DHA in the whole country could spend on the compensation of employees. If one more person was hired after the ceiling, then Treasury’s targets had been exceeded and this was very mechanical. A circular had come out recently, stating that the strategic vacancies should be looked at so they could be filled, and that was where they were sitting now.

The country had to sit and do introspection, as some people might think that SA was moving backwards. After 1994, South Africa had gone all out to be a model country and do what no other country was doing, not aware that reality in life was not like that. There was a lot abuse of their systems. For example, two weeks ago there had been a conference in Cape Town of International Jurists on migration. One of their complaints was that SA was making judgments that were impacting negatively on them because they were being quoted by international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as benchmarks.

A case in point was non-refoulement, where there were three judgments made by the courts causing problems now in the country. One was that when people come here for asylum, they were given a Sec 22 permit. This permit gives the asylum seeker three to six months to be in the country while seeking refugee status. During those six months, the permit says they were legal even if that person entered the country illegally. These people could not be sent to Lindela detention centre nor provided with food, and one of them had gone to court and the court had ruled that he deserved to work and must be allowed to do so, even though he had not been given any status in the country. Many employers, when they stop hiring South Africans, make use of that to hire them, and this had been deliberately done with the truck drivers in Durban. The second was that they were allowed to open a business even though they were not yet legalised in the country. Thirdly, even though a person came illegally, and the Sec 22 permit expired, it had to be automatically renewed and that person could not be arrested.

The international jurists had said they did not have these situations in their own countries, and imagine the kind of trouble South Africa was in if it was international judges who were complaining about what it was doing. SA was also using the legal concept of non-refoulement, that states that it cannot send a person back to the country where they fled from if they were claiming refugee status. Whether SA liked it or not, 95% of the people coming here were looking for jobs. There was TV coverage yesterday of them harassing workers at the Desmond Tutu refugee centre in Pretoria, accusing them of corruption, inefficiency and being unfriendly to asylum seekers. However, the fact remained that SA was faced with 95% of people coming to that centre who were looking for jobs when our own people were unemployed.

The 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, upon which our Act rests, is very clear on who qualifies for a refugee status. He asked where on the continent, or Pakistan or Bangladesh, there was a war. Even in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the war was in only one region, but the Convention states that there must be war, and a person seeking asylum must be being persecuted for political, religious, cultural and traditional beliefs, or gender discrimination reasons. Though African leaders talk carelessly about gender issues, there were few cases of persecution. An anti-gay act was passed in Kenya recently, but it was not yet applied, and people come to SA to claim of anti-gay persecution. The Act also says one must prove a case of actual persecution, but all those coming to refugee reception centres here cannot produce any single proof of persecution.

The DHA has a lot of cases of appeals. When people arrive here, the officers who interview them to determine the veracity of the refugee claims are trained, and those who claim that they were cheated by the DHA were actually scammed by those who claimed to be agents, and who promised to get them asylum quickly, many whom were not DHA officials. They were then given fraudulent documents, and these refugees seekers then go the courts and cry that they were cheated by DHA agents.  When they appear before a DHA refugee appeals judge, who tells them they do not qualify, they appeal to the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs (SCRA), then to the Refugee Appeals Committee. They could still go to a magistrate and if not satisfied, to the high court. By the time they reached the high court, they can see the red light, and they then activate plan B by marrying an SA citizen. Once that was done, the whole appeal process falls away. Because they know that the court also says that the best interests of the child must be taken into account, they impregnate these women and have a child, and this is what is faced by the Department. Our own women abet these acts with foreigners seeking asylum. Since last financial year, there have been 632 marriages which were found to be fraudulent, because people had got married for this reason and tried to cancel the marriages. How could 632 marriages be legal, and then they decide to terminate the marriages? These were their own people who then approached the NGOs and so on. There was this group that went to the Wits Legal Aid Clinic and said that Home Affairs officials were marrying them without their consent, and all of them had tried to terminate the marriages. They did not know that once one was legally married, to terminate it was by divorce, and the person must go to court and it involves money because one had to hire a lawyer.

In a nutshell, SA’s legal regime had to be overhauled, as it was now being used against the country. The country was now been viewed as xenophobic when it had not done some of the things other countries on the continent had done. How could SA be xenophobic when it had more Ba Sotho than in Lesotho, more Ba Tswana than in Botswana, and the biggest concentration of Indians outside of India? When the DHA last visited the Maseru border post, children there were attending school at Ladybrand Manyatseng from Maseru every day, and they had asked it to please stop putting stamps on their passports because those kids would need 50 passports. It had now allowed them to go through the border without stamping anything on their passports because they were learners who must go to school. SA had public servants working for the Lesotho government but were staying in Ladybrand Manyatseng. This xenophobia was an unfortunate problem which SA had created for ifself by making laws that were now being misused.

Another issue was that on 9 and 10 September, all Home Affairs offices were down, which had nothing to do with this Department. It had happened because most of these offices were owned by the DPW. They pay the electricity bills, and it so happened that in Pretoria -- the nerve centre of Home Affairs, where all identity documents (IDs) and passports are cleared -- there was a squabble between the Pretoria municipality and the DPW about electricity bills. The Department had refused to pay the bills sent to them, so the electricity was cut and the DHA became part of the collateral damage.  The DHA building, which was classified as a national key point, was caught up in issues that were not its own making. If it had been the DHA paying for that electricity, it would have paid and then sorted it out with them later, because it knew the consequences of not paying for the whole country. These were issues that the Department experienced all the time which needed to be resolved.

Follow-up questions

Ms L Toto (EFF) asked how many burglaries had been recorded in the Western Cape, and how much had been lost in the process?

Mr Roos wanted timelines regarding the mobile units, because there was a desperate need for them. There had been suggestions to look at Rwanda, where they had model units which managed to issue smart card IDs out of suitcases to millions of their citizens within a one year period. Was the Department looking at that, as opposed to big trucks? The leases with Public Works were a big concern, especially as quite a large number were on a month-to-month because when that happened, the landlords had no motivation to fix things. Other provinces had raised the same issues, so why not build their own offices instead of leasing?

Mr Dyantyi suggested that the issues raised by the Minister required a coordinated approach between Home Affairs, the Justice Department, the Police and various other stakeholders. Given what had happened recently and the inconsistent judgments from the courts, Parliament could help to arrange oversight where all these departments could respond to these issues. It should not be done in silos.

Mr J Maake (ANC) suggested that the Committee opt for legislative amendments in order to solve these problems, otherwise they would remain. Given the legislation that existed, the DHA would always get unfavourable judgments. The Department should go back to look the particular legislation and identify where it was problematic and suggest amendments to be brought to Parliament to deal with it. There was no other way. SA would like to be a model country, but the law was not working for the country and Africa as whole. Even the jurists had complained about SA’s legislation. Maybe Parliament could give the Department a time frame to come with amendments to be made to the present legislation.

The Chairperson said they were all going to solve the problems of the Department and collectively identify where there were weaknesses.

DHA’s responses

Mr Mavuso said the Department envisaged that it would complete all the trucks by the end of the financial year because they were fitted with all the equipment, except the connectivity. The issue of the mobile suitcase had been explored and a procurement process would be followed. They had small scanners and nice cameras, and clients could easily be served without the use of huge trucks. Another option being considered was a self-enrolment kiosk model. 

The leasing of buildings was not working for the DHA, because the leased buildings were not purpose built. People queued outside their offices and in Pietermaritzburg, for instance, it was in front other shops and was creating a nuisance even for the people working next to the office.  The best model was a campus style DHA office, an example of which was the office in Randburg. They had a huge parking space and inside was a campus layout. The Department had spent R300m last year on leases and had nothing to show for it -- and it excluded the amount spent on fittings for the offices so they could suit their purpose. The DHA believed that amount of money could go long way towards building permanent infrastructure, rather than just giving money to landlords. This approach had turned the state into a tenant state that owned no infrastructure.

Minister Motsoaledi summed up by referring to the suggested amendments to legislation, and said that request had already been tabled at the last management meeting, and the weaknesses identified would be communicated to Parliament. Some judges did not know the implications of their judgments. They would look at one individual and be kind to that person, not knowing that they were adversely affecting the whole population. Another suggestion was that SA should have judges who were specifically trained for migration cases.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and his team for their presence, and reiterated that Parliament stood ready to assist the DHA to amend the relevant laws when the weaknesses in the present legislation were identified. The report of the other two provinces had been referred back and they would be informed when Parliament reconvened. He hoped that at the next session, they would be accurate and more detailed. The Minister was asked to submit the oversight report of the Desmond Tutu Refugee Centre.

The meeting was adjourned.

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