The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) briefed the Committee on resolving the network downtime at DHA offices and the procurement process of the Automated Biometric Information System (ABIS). The Department also provided details of its litigation case management system and issues arising from the extension of the Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) contract.
The DHA said it had been working on network connectivity with SITA and the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services since 2013, when it had started with the live capture system (LCS) which relied fully on the network at all 193 offices and 15 bank sites. Network disruption caused service delivery downtime in front offices, and was now categorised as a denial of services. It had continued to host the enhanced movement control system (EMCS) on the South African Revenue Service (SARS) network to avoid service disruptions at the ports of entry. However, challenges had arisen with the introduction of the eVisa and new Biometrics Movement Control System (BMCS) network before the end of the 2019/20 financial year.
Both the DHA and the SITA described the long processes involved in trying to source the expertise and assistance needed to improve the network services and the Department’s network management capabilities. The Minister identified corruption in SITA, where a number of officials had been fired or suspended, and the supply chain management process, as the main challenges impacting on operations.
The DHA presently had contingent liabilities totalling R2.015 billion. There had been 2 493 cases filed against the Department in 2017, 3 706 in 2018 and 3 333 in 2019 so far. The main reasons for the increase were opportunistic litigations and delays in finalising the adjudication of applications for visas, permanent resident permits, appeals for rejected visa applications, judicial reviews of negative asylum decisions, and detention of illegal foreigners at the Lindela holding facility.
The Department refuted assertions that some asylum-seekers were, or remained, undocumented. Every foreigner who approached the DHA and stated that he or she was seeking for asylum, was documented. Undocumented individuals were those who had never approached the DHA. There were migrants who were self-declared asylum seekers, but who had never made an attempt to approach the refugee reception offices. The arguments of NGOs that the DHA was not documenting asylum seekers were not true.
Members were concerned about the high legal costs involved in litigation, and asked why the DHA did not try to settle matters out of court, or opt for an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism.
The services agreement with VFS Global had been extended for a further period of 24 months, from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2020, in compliance with the terms and conditions of its contract. The next step was to move towards a public private partnership (PPP) for the appointment of a service provider, but if the PPP process was initiated, it would not be concluded by the time the VFS agreement came to an end in December next year.
Members described SITA as an entity that rendered the work of the DHA difficult to achieve. Its corrupt activities needed to be investigated to bring those involved to account. It had to bear the blame for the DHA’s inability to deliver. Both SITA and the DHA were requested to prepare reports on the findings of the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA). They welcomed the proposed remodelling of the SITA as an IT entity responsible for digital migration and transformation.
The Chairperson said that the meeting had been convened to discuss the management of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the challenges arising from its dependence on the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). He welcomed Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Communications and Telecommunications & Postal Services, and Mr Njabulo Nzuza, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.
Resolving network downtime at DHA offices
Deputy Minister Nzuzo said that the DHA operations were dependent on SITA. They needed a network to operate. Downtown was based on power failures. The Department would propose a way forward. The Director General’s (DG’s) presentation would deal with the technical matters.
Mr Thulani Mavuso, Acting Director General: DHA, addressed the current situation, such as progress regarding networks, lack of Tier III data centres, SITA procurement challenges, and audit failures involving the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) procurement. He said the network connectivity challenges had been reported to SITA and the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services since 2013, when the DHA had started with the live capture system (LCS). The LCS fully relied on the network at all 193 offices and 15 bank sites. Network disruption caused service delivery downtime in front of offices -- now categorised as “denial of services.” The DHA had continued to host the Enhanced Movement Control System (EMCS) on the South African Revenue Service (SARS) network to avoid service disruptions at the ports of entry. The dilemma/challenge had arisen with the eVisa and new Biometric Movement Control System (BMCS) network before the end of the 2019/20 financial year.
Mr Mavuso referred to the progress regarding network. As a compromise to the DHA’s request for exemption from SITA, a trilateral agreement for management of the DHA network had been proposed by SITA in 2016. SITA had been responsible for drafting the specifications for the bid, inviting proposals for the management of the DHA network. DHA was invited to participate only in the bid evaluation process. Dimension Data had been recommended and appointed as the successful bidder. A contract between SITA and Dimension Data had then been entered into. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) had subsequently been entered into by SITA, Dimension Data and the DHA.
A network assessment conducted by Dimension Data had identified power and Telkom datalines as the leading causes of network outages – for example, the SITA switching centre losing power or Telkom copper cables being stolen by thieves, etc. The network assessment had also identified obsolete network devices and recommendations regarding a technology upgrade were made. A strategy and investment plan for uninterrupted networks had been developed by Dimension Data, recommended by SITA and submitted to the DHA for approval. The DHA EXCO had conditionally approved the strategy and investment plan, subject to an independent expert review of the proposal, to ensure that it would yield the desired outcome.
The procurement process
Mr Mavuso talked about the procurement process. The Tier III Centre was not yet launched. In 2014, the chief executive officer (CEO) of SITA had contracted a Telkom Tier III data centre at Hartebeeshoek to the DHA, promising The Department that it would host its systems within a Tier III data centre built and operated by SITA within three years. From 2014 to 2016, plans for a Tier III SITA data dentre were not formally shared with DHA executive management. Between 2017 and 2018, the DHA had asked SITA for a Tier III data centre within Government, but SITA had again recommended that a third party be used for hosting the incoming ABIS. The DHA had therefore been informed in 2019 that a plan for the construction of Tier III data centres at SITA was still a draft process, and was yet to be considered and recommended by the SITA EXCO for SITA Board approval.
Delays in procurement had had an impact on mandatory services. On 26 October 2016, a request for connectivity solution for mobile units, hospitals and ports of entry had started. The DHA had sent SITA a letter to request their connectivity, dated 15 November 2016. A letter of complaint was sent in May 2018 to register concern about the delays. A reminder letter dated 26 March 2019, requested SITA to speed up the process. The award to MTN was communicated to the DHA in May 2019 and an agreement between SITA and MTN was concluded on 5 August 2019. Actually, the DHA had waited for a period of over 36 months to get a service provider to connect health facilities, mobile units and ports of entry.
Mr Mavuso said that there was also a request for network cabling. On 12 October 2017, the request had been approved by the DHA bid adjudication committee (BAC). SITA’s approval of the bid specification was on 16 October 2017. The SITA bid specification resolution was on 19 January 2018, and was published on 6 March 2018. The cabling tender was partially awarded to three provinces -- Gauteng, North-West and the Eastern Cape -- on 27 July 2018. The DHA still awaited the appointment of service providers for cabling in six provinces 24 months later. It had tried to mitigate against the delays in SITA’s supply chain management (SCM) processes by using the quotation system, but this had unfortunately been highlighted as possibly irregular expenditure, as network cabling was a mandatory SITA service. The DHA had requested a temporary exemption for network cabling whilst SITA’s SCM processes were in progress, but SITA had recommended that it run the quotation processes on DHA’s behalf.
Mr Mavuso provided the background to the ABIS procurement and audit failures. The ABIS contract was awarded to EOH Mthombo for the design, provision, customisation, integration, and migration of existing data, and for the commissioning, maintenance and support of an ABIS business process for DHA for a period of 60 months. The DHA had followed section 7(1)(a) of the SITA Act, which gave the mandate for procurement of information technology goods and services to SITA as a procurement agency. During the audit of 2018/2019, the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) had found that this contract to develop the ABIS had been awarded irregularly. This conclusion was based on the findings which had been issued by the AGSA to SITA, which SITA could not resolve.
The AGSA had concluded that:
- The DHA had resolved with the AG to disclose this possible irregular expenditure as irregular expenditure under investigation in the financial statements;
- This was due to the fact that the DHA believed -- and was still believing -- that the process followed was above board and if SITA could provide the necessary documents, then these findings could be resolved;
- DHA had since requested SITA to provide the relevant documents in order to further investigate this matter, as alluded to in the disclosure note of the 2018/19audited financial statements (AFS); and
- SITA had provided the DHA with some documents, but most of the key documents had not been located due to various reasons.
Deputy Minister Nzuza commented that they had met with two departments, and these engagements had yielded good results, such as the connectivity of mobile trucks. The DHA had also committed to establishing a specific management unit with a high intensity of IT users. He appealed to the Committee to note the presentation and challenges faced by the DHA on SITA mandatory dervices.
SITA on uninterrupted network progress
Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams appreciated the opportunity for SITA to make brief presentations on its concerns and challenges. What the DHA had raised with her was what Mr Mavuso had presented to the Committee. Between 2016 and 2017, her Department had appealed to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) to deal with the corruption that was happening -- and was still happening --in SITA. There had been an investigation which had resulted in some employees being sent away. Others had been suspended. There was a master document missing from SITA, and they were trying to recover it. The SITA had been requested to take alternative measures, including confiscating the computers of those who were involved. These issues remained a challenge.
The SITA was an IT company and was involved in a procurement process. There was – as the President had announced – a decision taken that SITA should be remodelled to be an IT company dealing with digital transformation. Members should recall that network connectivity relied on other aspects, such as electricity. If there were power cuts, the network connections would be disrupted. If there were these disruptions caused by power failures, SITA would be blamed. All these procurement and related challenges should be resolved for DHA to deliver on its mandate before people could rise up against the government.
Mr Ntutule Tshenye, Acting Chief Executive Officer: SITA, said the issue of network connectivity had been covered by Mr Mavuso. He agreed that the request for exemption from SITA had initially been requested in 2016. The business relationship of the DHA and SITA was governed by a business agreement and service level agreements (SLAs).
In February 2018, SITA had appointed Dimension Data for expertise and assistance in improving the network service and management capabilities for the DHA. After several weeks of engagement between SITA and DHA, it was evident that a broader view of the SITA and DHA landscape was required in order to improve the end to end service delivery and availability. It was also recommended that Dimension Data define the existing network landscape and understand the scope of remediation required to achieve an uninterruptable network.
In March 2019, an investment plan that outlined areas that needed to be addressed in order to achieve the envisaged uninterruptable network architecture was developed and submitted to the DHA. This had excluded the environmental systems, power, and applications from the final investment plan.
In July 2019, DHA had engaged SITA with findings from Gartner related to the investment plan submitted to DHA. An engagement was held with Gartner and DHA in August 2019, where the finding was addressed to satisfaction of the DHA. The acceptance of the investment plan was within the DHA’s processes.
In September 2019, the DHA had requested SITA to provide a plan covering redundancy matters related to SITA’s core network. A draft plan was provided to the DHA in October 2019 for their inputs. This formed part of SITA’s service delivery model (SDM) strategy, which was being implemented in a phased approach.
Mr Tshenye said that by 2019, SITA had achieved a number of targets. The investment plan, which outlined areas that needed to be addressed in order to achieve the envisaged uninterruptable network architecture, had been was developed and submitted to the DHA on 25 March 2019. SITA/DHA had successfully connected 13 of the 25 priority banking sites to fibre. Of the 12 remaining sites to be connected, four were in progress, while eight sites were pending new locations from the DHA. SITA had contracted MTN for the installation of connectivity in hospitals, mobile trucks and ports of entry. The proof of concept (PoC) was successfully concluded and seven trucks were successfully implemented. The DHA had recently utilised two trucks at the SITA GovTech 2019 conference. For the remainder of the sites, installation was envisaged by 6 November 2019.
SITA/DHA was tagging the assets -- 146 trucks, 41 hospitals, and 35 ports of entry. SITA had received a request for service for 1 285 sites at health facilities for the registration of children at births. The ABIS equipment was housed in the SITA cloud in Midrand, and disaster recovery for the DHA at Telkom SA in Centurion. SITA had successfully concluded the assessment for the shortcomings in the DHA local area network, to which the DHA had accepted the findings in March 2019.
Mr Tshenye concluded by commenting that SITA was working with the two departments.
SITA briefing on procurement process
Mr Tshenye said the current procurement processes presented challenges in both delivering and maintaining network services to clients due to the following:
- The current LAN and WAN (access links) sourcing models for both connectivity / cabling to new sites, as well as upgrades of bandwidth / cabling to existing sites, follow a competitive process on a per site level. This had various implications on the SITA mandate.
- Modernisation of sites from outdated diginet (copper) technology to fibre / microwave solutions had cost, logistical and contractual implications. For example, budgets to address connectivity modernisation and high availability solutions were required by customers in a climate of budget cuts. The high cost to industry for modernisation resulted in a high cost to government in areas that did not yield a return on investment to industry.
Service improvement actions were being implemented. SITA was currently revising LAN & WAN sourcing models, looking at the following aspects:
- Appointment of a service provider for longer periods, promoting localisation / geographic area allocations.
- Regular price benchmarking to ensure market competitive pricing.
- Installation, commissioning and maintenance turnaround times, with related penalties for non-performance.
Other service improvement actions included:
- Capacitation of the supply chain environment through a stabilisation process to address current volumes and backlogs as a result of the current sourcing model challenges.
- Highlighting to National Treasury the current Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and other procurement policies and regulations that do not support procurement of 4th Industrial Revolution Solutions and small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) development and localisation.
The Chairperson said that he was not happy with presentations, because they were too technical. Presentation should address Members in such a way that lay persons would understand them. People were interested in reasons why they could not get services on time. Members should talk about the undesirability of SITA that the Minister had alluded to.
Mr A Roos (DA) said that presentations should speak to solutions. He asked why other departments did not have problems with network connectivity, but the DHA did. In the next three years, the DHA would go down. He sought clarity whether Telkom was involved in the power failures. When services were delivered, there was a loss on the side of the public on the one hand, and the DHA on the other. Was there any accountability for the downtime? Were other departments procuring individually, and if so, how were they procuring?
Mr J McGluwa (DA) reminded SITA that there should be a list of abbreviations and acronyms, and as well as definitions of technical terms. He could not understand the presentation. He was merely confused. He could neither read it nor comprehend the nature of presentation. He said Members read, listen and engage. The SITA could have discussed the downtime and the challenges that they had in simple language. Why did the SITA not talk about the industrial revolution in its whole presentation? What had been presented was contrary to what Members were expecting. The SITA should also respond to the AGSA report. If Members talked about SITA, they were talked about information technology (IT). It was evident that the DHA relied on network connectivity and availability.
He agreed with the Minister of Communications and Telecommunications that the SITA should be remodelled. If there was a contract, what were the aspects of the contract that had to be implemented to ensure that some challenges faced by the DHA were addressed? If practical barriers arose from the SITA Act, the Act should be revisited and amended. He was not interested in new devices, because they would cost a lot of money. How many devices, or what kind of devices, was SITA talking about? Was there a maintenance contract? They had talked about transferring from bronze to gold, but this looked like scheming. Every time Members discussed the issue of SITA, the DHA never indicated that there had been engagement with SITA regarding contracting a third party.
Ms T Khanyile (DA) asked how many offices would be connected at the end of 2019/20 financial year. The DHA had closed offices in the uMkhanyakude district and as a result, people were travelling as far as 200 km in order to have access to a DHA office. They would take a bus to get there. In order to get in the queue early in the morning, they would arrive the day before, book a place to sleep and wake up in the morning to find that there was no network connection or the system was down. After spending a lot of money, these people had no choice but to return home without services. When would the DHA open the offices? Why could it not deploy mobile units in this district?
Ms L Tito (EFF) said that the Minister had talked about issues of corruption in her opening remarks, and asked whether criminal charges had been levelled against those involved in corrupt activities. She asked what would happen if files went missing, and what measures had been taken to address irregular expenditure of more than R376 million.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) commented that SITA had been appearing before the Committee on the same issues, same incidences and same challenges. It had evidently had challenges in delivering an uninterrupted network for many years. Every time it promised to find solutions, but the problems persisted. What were the challenges at offices that had no network, and what alternative measures were being implemented? She apologised on the behalf of the Committee for putting pressure on the DHA when it was the fault of the SITA.
Mr M Lekota (COPE) said that it did not matter the political parties they were affiliated to -- Members should have one voice. The Committee, and the public at large, did not need another three years to sit and wait for the fixing of problems that had been noticed five years ago. The DHA and SITA did not have plenty of time to act as they pleased. This Committee had to be firm and take a decision, and should stop the DHA from debating with the SITA; since these debates were taking too long to reach solutions. People were going to uMkhanyakude because they could not find services in their areas. Mobile units should be deployed to serve people in their areas.
Mr M Chabane (ANC) said that the DHA and SITA had to brief the Committee on the findings of the AGSA. In its previous report, it was evident that SITA had been challenged with downtimes. What had it done to address this matter? There was a trilateral agreement, and the aspects that SITA should be working on could not be clearly identified from the presentations. A lot had been said on the inability of SITA to deliver. Different narratives suggested that it was a corrupt entity. All departments were crying. Staff members of SITA were unnecessarily fired or suspended. He suggested that there ought to be an evaluation aimed at determining whether the entity was still needed, or whether it should be closed down.
The Chairperson stated that it was depressing to hear the comments of Members on SITA. Why were staff members of SITA fired or suspended? What procedures were applied or followed when staff members were suspended? The DHA could not operate without network connectivity. Members could not keep quiet about it -- they had to speak out on behalf of the people. Resolutions should be taken and a roadmap for network connectivity should be developed. He appealed to the Minister of Communications and the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs to guide the Committee on what alternative measures should be taken.
Mr Lekota said that members would like to hear what the DHA had decided to do. The Committee would be submitting the resolutions on the DHA/SITA situation to Parliament.
Mr Van der Merwe proposed that the SITA should present on ABIS.
The Chairperson asked what had happened when the documents were lost.
SITA on ABIS
Mr Tshenye outlined the procurement process that was followed in the appointment of a service provider for a new multi-modal biometrics identification system for the DHA. The process was in two phases. The first was a request for accreditation (RFA) process that was aimed at accrediting the service providers who would be short-listed for the next phase. Phase 2 was a closed request for proposals (RFP) process to select and appoint a service provider.
In Phase 1, the bid specifications and advertisement had been approved. The bid specification committee (BSC), constituted by a cross-functional team comprised of SITA employees, had reviewed and approved the specification on 14 April 2016. The committee had been chaired by SITA. The bid was advertised in the Government Tender Bulletin and on the SITA website on 22 April.
A compulsory vendor briefing session was held on 6 May, and the closing date was initially 20 May, but it was extended to 27 May at the request of the prospective bidders. On the closing date, 15 responses had been received. One bid was received late, and it was not considered. The screening process was conducted at SITA’s Beta office by the tender office. The screening report was signed off by the tender office manager and handed over, together with the bid responses received, to the sourcing department on 31 May 2016.
In Phase 2, the four bidders that were accredited in the RFA process were considered for a closed bid. An introductory briefing session with the four bidders was held on 14 December 2016, where bidders were provided with the background to the request and were also given the bid document and specifications. A compulsory vendor briefing session was held on 21 December. Initially the bid was to close on 2 February 2017, but it was extended to 28 February at the request of the prospective bidders. On closing, three bid responses were received. The public opening was held on the same day. The screening process was conducted at SITA’s Beta office by the tender office. The screening report was signed off by the tender office manager on 6 March 2017 and was handed over together with the bid responses received to the sourcing department the following day.
In accordance with the SITA SCM policy, external auditors were appointed to conduct an audit review process on the RFP. After having followed an RFQ process for this service of the auditors, the bidder had been awarded the business. In terms of the final audit report that was provided, the auditors identified non-compliance because of the absence of confirmation of budget, and no proof had been furnished on the appointment of the BSC and BEC members.
As a way forward, Mr Tshenye said that a submission to the National Treasury for condonation was required to be prepared and submitted for consideration. The SITA had undertaken significant SCM reforms to address the challenges experienced in the past.
Mr Lekota commented that the Parliament had to hold the Executive to account, as per the Constitution. Nothing could be hidden from it. The SITA needed to provide details on staff members who had been suspended -- who they were, and why and when they had been suspended. How much money had they stolen? Who had they bribed? What had SITA done when it discovered that some files were missing? All these questions needed answers. Parliament needed to know this so that it could take a decision. The Committee was not a platform where people could come and make jokes. Its Members were people who were on duty, and people who appeared before them should tell the truth and nothing but the truth. If a presenter lied to the Committee, he/she would find himself/herself in big trouble. They could be held criminally accountable.
Deputy Minister Nzuza remarked that there was a contract through which the DHA wanted to migrate from the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) to ABIS. The procurement had been carried out by SITA. The AGSA had raised an issue of R200 million being irregular expenditure. The AGSA had found that there was something wrong in the manner from which the contract had been awarded. This issue was raised with the DHA. The first matter was incomplete documentation, which meant a limitation in terms of scope. There was a responsibility to reconstruct the file. The DHA had assisted SITA with the information it had, but they were old records. However, the file had been reconstructed and submitted by the DHA to AGSA, who had accepted the file and stated that they would record the expenditure as irregular, pending investigation. The final findings would be reported after investigating the matter. The records needed to be verified. On the side of SITA, there had been the suspension of employees. Both the DHA and SITA needed time to decide on a way forward after the final findings.
Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams agreed with the Deputy Minister, and said she also felt that the presentations were too technical. In future engagements, the presentations would be simplified according to the language used by the Committee.
On the side of SITA, a lot of work needed to be done. There had been arrests, and investigations were still being conducted. The challenges SITA faced had arisen from the past. It had to be remodelled to be an IT company that promoted technology innovation. The security cluster was discussing how mass data could be stored. The issue of downtime could be caused by power failures and the network connectivity. Generators could be a solution the power failures. However, the SITA was a corrupted entity. Corruption was a two-way process that involved clients and people in the procurement section. There had been arrests and suspensions. There was a roadmap, but it did not have a timeframe for implementation.
Mr Mavuso responded on the issues in the uMkhanyakude district. The DHA had been there twice in the past four months. Its office had not been modernised to enable it to issue smart ID cards. That was why people had to travel to Mbazwana to get services there. A traditional leader had provided land for an office, but the DHA did not build on its own -- its offices were built by the Department of Public Works (DPW). There were engaging with the DPW on the matter. In this district, the mobile trucks were being utilised.
The Chairperson excused the Minister, as the issues falling within her Department’s mandate had already been covered. He asked who the other stakeholders were who could be invited to present.
Mr Tshenye said that they were working hand in hand with other service providers, such as Telkom, which was doing network linkages at offices of the DHA. Other service providers were MTN and Vodacom. They worked closely through various contracts.
The Chairperson said that these were entities that the Committee should engage with.
DHA on litigation
Mr Mavuso described the management of the litigation process, including the nature of litigation, contingent liabilities, statistical analysis and legal fees. He explained that litigation was primarily by way of application (notice of motion) and action (summons) proceedings.
He defined a contingent liability as a potential liability that might occur, depending on the outcome of an uncertain future event, such as a civil claim against the DHA. In this context, as at 4 November 2019, the DHA had a contingent liability as far as actions were concerned totalling R2.015 billion. This amount was divided into the following categories:
- Immigration Services -- R698.5 million;
- Civic Services -- R479.7 million;
- Tenders & Contracts -- R829 million; and
- Other -- R7.8 million.
Cases filed against the DHA had amounted to 2 493 in 2017, 3 706 in 2018 and 3 333 in 2019 (as at 4 November). Legal costs had increased considerably over the last few years, compared to previous years, where legal fees would hardly exceed R5 million per annum. The main reasons for the increase were opportunistic litigations and delays in finalising the adjudication of applications for visas, permanent resident permits, appeals for rejected visa applications, judicial reviews of negative asylum decisions, and detention of illegal foreigners at the Lindela holding facility.
Mr Mavuso stressed costs in these types of matters were always awarded against the DHA. In instances where costs were awarded in favour of the DHA, recovery was always a challenge, as the State Attorney was not prioritising the recovery and applicants in most cases did not have funds (or attachable property) to pay costs awarded in favour of the DHA, or the DHA was unable to recover such costs as the applicants were indigent foreigners and in most instances, asylum seekers.
DHA on Visa Facilitation Services (VFS)
Mr Mavuso said the DHA had extended the service agreement with VFS Global for a further period of 24 months, effective from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2020. The extension of the agreement was legally provided for under clause 11.2 of the existing agreement. The DHA had given due consideration to its own internal environmental factors, such as the modernisation programme (BMCS and eVisa), infrastructural and operational commitments, financial commitments, and maintaining its operations. Globally, the number of VFS visa application centre offices had been increased over a period of years. Visa applications had been 390 784 in 2018 and 221 369 by August 2019.
He took the Committee through the procedures followed by the DHA in extending the VFS contract. The supply chain process had been observed prior to the contract extension. An ad hoc BAC meeting had been convened on 12 December 2018 to consider a request for approval of the extension. There had been a consultation process with VFS management.
The next step had been to move towards a public-private partnership (PPP) for the appointment of a service provider. The appointment was in line with National Treasury recommendations. Some additional considerations taken into account included the modernisation programme of the BMCS and eVisa.
Mr Mavuso concluded by stating that the modernisation programme itself had presented a new challenge. It had been anticipated that the introduction of an eVisa would reduce the dependency of the DHA on a permit business partner to render support operations. He added that if the PPP process was initiated, it would not be concluded by the time the service agreement came to an end on 31 December next year.
Mr Roos said that presentations had provided Members with a lot of facts. There were four cases with contingent liabilities, and other categories that had given rise to contingent liabilities. He asked what the other categories were. According to presentations from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), there were cases arising from instances where the refugee status determination officers (RSDOs) were cutting and pasting decisions to asylum-seekers who applied for asylum. They were not considering applications for asylum individually, and thus giving individuals reasons why an asylum-seeker could not qualify for refugee status. This was among the reasons why the DHA was losing cases. He asked the DHA to elaborate generally on why it was losing cases.
With regard to the VFS, he asked why it had taken a year to get a document on an expression of interest. He remarked that VFS was operating in foreign countries, and asked how much money was being raised and what percentage of that revenue would come back to South Africa. Why was the VFS increasing its fees?
Mr McGluwa queried the legal fees totalling R2 billion, and asked how these contingent liabilities affected the DHA’s operations. He remarked that most litigation took place simply because the DHA had taken too long time to amend the policy. The DHA operated under policy and staff restraints. For effective service delivery, more people had to be employed. The DHA should find solutions to key problems. He was concerned with billions that were spent on litigation.
Ms Khanyile said that the contingent liabilities were alarming, and sought clarity on what the DHA was doing in order to decrease the expenditure on litigation. Why was it taking too long to correct errors on the IDs or birth certificates? She referred to a case that had been resolved after 11 years, stating that names captured erroneously should be rectified as soon as possible. Errors in names hampered people from receiving service delivery. Children could not get access to social grants. She also asked why death certificates could not be issued for people who died at home, and what procedure could be followed. There had been a young lady whose father had died at home, and she had called the Induna to certify that her father was dead. She did not have the money to take her father’s body to hospital, so the death was not confirmed by a medical doctor. The DHA was insisting that a death certificate would not be issued unless a medical doctor certified the father dead. How should cases such as this be handled?
Ms Van der Merwe asked what would happen to the refugees who were insisting that they needed to be relocated to third countries. Why did the DHA not engage with refugees? Did it have the financial capacity to deal with all the cases filed against it? She proposed that more staff members should be recruited in order to increase the capacity of the DHA to deliver services. The money that was spent on litigation should rather be spent on service delivery.
Mr Chabane referred to the contingent liabilities, especially the R7 million allocated to “other” non-identified categories. What constituted the “other” categories? He asked why the DHA could not settle matters out of court when it was sued. Why should it challenge the applicant in a court? He understood that the DHA had contracted the VFS to carry out certain work because of human resources problems, and sought clarity on how it could be capacitated. He was very concerned about the VFS in case it withdrew its services. If the services were withdrawn, there would be a chaos. Were local companies being considered to provide the same services?
The Chairperson said that presentations should not be designed to give information only, but also to suggest solutions. He asked why the alternative dispute resolutions (ADR) mechanism could not be used. Why did the DHA always have to go to court? He agreed with Mr Chabane -- why could matters not be settled outside of court?
Mr Mavuso referred to the Department’s human resources capacity, and said two letters had been sent to the National Treasury requesting it to increase the employment ceiling, in particular for those who were deployed to work in foreign countries. This particular issue of incapacity in the context of human resources had been highlighted in the letters. An increase of R36 million had been requested. In its response, the National Treasury had objected to the request based on the ground that the request was not in line with the long term objectives of the government. These two letters served as evidence of the efforts on the part of the DHA to increase its human resources capacity. In order to increase its existing human resources, the money for the compensation of employees was being tken from goods and services. There was no need to have goods, for example, if they had no staff members to provide services.
On the cut and pasting of decisions, he said that if the RSDO could not determine that a person was being persecuted, that person could not be granted refugee status. The reasons why refugee status could not be awarded would be clearly stated.
On the modernisation programme, Mr Mavuso said that the BMSC was used at the ports of entry. The network issue had, in this way, been solved.
The VFS could not increase fees without the consent or approval of the DHA. The application fee was R1 350 for foreigners applying for a visa. Local companies were being considered to do the work the VFS was doing.
Regarding the sit-in events by refugees and asylum-seekers, Mr Mavuso said that refugees and asylum-seekers who were protesting had made it very clear that they did not want to have an engagement with the DHA. However, the DHA had an interest in the matter. It was its duty to conduct assessments to see whether all protesting refugees were genuine refugees and asylum-seekers.
He refuted a narrative that some asylum-seekers were, or remained, undocumented. Every foreigner who approached the DHA and stated that he or she was seeking for asylum, was documented. Undocumented individuals were those who had never approached the DHA. There were migrants who were self-declared asylum seekers, but who never made an attempt to approach the refugee reception offices. The arguments of NGOs that the DHA was not documenting asylum seekers were not true.
On the issuance of death certificates, he said that a medical assessment had to be done because it needed to be ensured that a person had indeed passed away.
The Chairperson said unanswered questions should be responded to in writing. The DHA should go further to solve the issues relating to contingent liabilities and network connectivity.
The Deputy Minister asked Members of the Committee, whenever they came across queries, to refer them to the Parliamentary liaison office so that they were communicated to the DHA.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Resolving DHA offices network downtime & ABIS Procurement process: DHA & SITA briefing; DHA on litigation case management system and categorizing of the cases 2
- Resolving DHA offices network downtime & ABIS Procurement process: DHA & SITA briefing; DHA on litigation case management system and categorizing of the cases 1
- SITA - on procurement process of ABIS
- DHA - Litigation Case Management System
- Contingent Liability as at 2019/20 - 4 November 2019
- DHA - Uninterupted Networks Progress Report
- Progress Report by State Information Technology Agency (SITA)
- Minister of Home Affairs & Acting Director-General of DHA - Visa Facilitation Service(VFS) Contract