Extra Funding for Department, Municipal Electoral Bill: discussion

Home Affairs

04 June 2000
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE; SOCIAL SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE: JOINT MEETING
5 June 2000
PLEA FOR EXTRA FUNDING FOR HOME AFFAIRS; CONTROVERSIAL CLAUSES IN THE MUNICIPAL ELECTORAL BILL

SUMMARY
The Director General in the Department of Home Affairs briefed the committee on the financial needs of his department and some of the reasons for its general inefficiency. Due to a badly managed process of offering voluntary severance packages, the Department had lost valuable skilled personnel. He pointed out that the department was losing millions every year due to non-production at the Umtata government printing works. With the local government elections coming up, problems of inefficiency and poor service delivery would worsen. He said R59 million was needed to sort out the personnel problems in the Department.

The IEC, the Department and the State Law Advisors are in agreement that Section 55 (Special Votes) and Section 7(1)(b) (Exclusion of prisoners from voting) of the Municipal Electoral Bill should be left out of the Bill. This would circumvent a constitutional challenge to the Bill which would delay the municipal election process.

It was stressed that registration as a voter and voting can be done with a Temporary Identify Certificate if the person has applied but not yet received a bar-coded ID.

MINUTES
Extra funding for Department
Mr B Masetlha, the Director General in the Department of Home Affairs briefed the committee on the financial needs of his department and some of the reasons for its general inefficiency.

He said that the Department was in dire straits in terms of personnel shortages. The process of offering voluntary severance packages had not been managed properly and had resulted in a mass exodus of personnel who had invaluable expertise and skills, required in the functioning of the Department. The initial idea of introducing severance packages was to right-size the department. The Department was still largely labour intensive and the packages had resulted in 539 lost personnel whose posts had been frozen. Eighty per cent of these people had valuable skills such as relating to the finger-printing and ID sections.

The Director General said that there were 765 vacancies, according to approved establishment of the department, which could not be filled because of a lack of financial resources.

Due to the gaps caused by the voluntary severance package process, there were about 139 casual workers hired on a contract basis. This proved to be problematic since these people were paid per hour. In addition there were 58 additional casual posts created to patch up the gaps.

Another issue which compounded the problem was that the Umtata government printing works which falls under this department had not been functioning since 1995. Between 1995 and 1998, this had cost the state around eleven million rand per year. In 1999 non-production had cost seven million.

The chairperson inquired whether this meant that a printer would come in to work and do nothing yet still earn a salary?

Mr Masetlha said that most did not even come to work! When the Director General inquired about this, he found that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts was dealing with this issue and there had been a decision taken that people should not be laid off. Nevertheless the department had decided that in the current financial year no money would be made available in this regard until a resolution was reached. At the moment there was a process under way to try and absorb certain people affected into other areas so that fruitless expenditure did not continue.

There were currently 203 filled posts in Umtata and all were printers. It was felt that around 70% of these could be deployed elsewhere although some had refused bluntly since 1995 to relocate to the Government Printers in Pretoria. The department was coming up with various options for these people. They had to be productive in order to justify their wages.

In the department there was a total of 5 943 employees. As the department was largely labour intensive it required the 765 vacant posts to be filled for it to function efficiently. If the department received R59 million it would be able to sort out the personnel problems and ensure that services were delivered to the best of the department's ability.

Discussion
The Chairperson, Mr Mokoena, asked if the Director General intended the increase in staff for the purposes of the elections only, or whether it was to increase the department's complement permanently.

The Director General said that the R59 million had to be recurring in terms of the overall annual budget. He felt that more permanent staff was needed. The previous year, at the height of the general election campaign, the Department was asked to provide many additional services. As a result over 2000 people were employed on a casual basis. This was an expensive exercise. He did not feel that one should rely on such artificial arrangements.

The co-chairperson, Ms L Jacobus (ANC, NCOP) wanted a breakdown of the categories of the posts where people had taken packages.

The Director General said that he did not have the categories readily available. He said that they ranged from Deputy Director General downwards but he would make the information available.

Mr Sikakane (ANC) asked the chairperson how the Portfolio Committee could exert pressure to ensure that the money requested be provided.

Mr Mokoena said that he could write a letter to Cabinet, via Parliament's Speaker, saying that in the midst of all the hearings, there was an extra-ordinary request for R59 million by the own department. This issue could be raised by the Minister himself as well. It could be added that this extra staff would be needed to help with the elections.

Mr Sikakane felt that it had to be the Portfolio Committee's findings and not the department's that shortages actually existed.

Mr Mokoena said that the Home Affairs office in his constituency was short of twelve people. There were 30 working there but the staff complement was 42. This was an example of how he had become sensitised to the problem. Furthermore there were numerous complaints from the public to various MPs, including himself, about the slow process, delays and inefficiency at Home Affairs.

Mr M Waters (DP) asked if the R59 million would cover staffing for the local government elections. Did this include provision for the Port Elizabeth region where 30 additional staff were required to run six mobile offices in areas where people were far removed from the regional Home Affairs offices?

Mr Masetlha said that the upcoming local government elections was not seen to be as demanding as the general election. However there were about 1.7 million people without bar coded IDs and another 6 million people who had to register. There needed to be some voter education around this, which was a political issue and not the department's duty. He also said that there were about 253 000 uncollected ID books gathering dust at Home Affairs offices. In reply to a member's question as to whether this could be due to emigration, he felt that this could not be the main cause and he would be surprised if 2% of the uncollected ID's belonged to emigrants.

Mr Waters asked if there was not unnecessary pressure and cost being put on the department because of the Identification Amendment Bill?

Mr Masetlha said that 900 000 people still had the old blue IDs and they had to be encouraged to apply for the bar coded IDs so that they could be linked to the Home Affairs database. The Identification Amendment Bill would make it impossible for them to vote with those blue IDs.

Mr Waters asked if the Director General had brought the problem of lack of staff to the attention of the Minister of Home Affairs. If so, what was he doing about this.

Mr Masetlha said that the Minister was aware of the problem and they had spoken about what needed to be done. One of the things being worked on was to sensitise Cabinet through a memorandum. From discussions with State Expenditure, it was realised that Information Technology upgrading, which would cut down on the amount of labour needed for certain jobs, could not be considered now. Therefore personnel expenditure was a priority since the activities were still very labour intensive.

The previous year the Minister had approached Cabinet and State Expenditure at the height of the ID campaign. He had asked for 75 million rand and received 14 million, which was spent on hiring casual staff.

The co-chairperson, Mr Mokoena, said that he was confident that the 59 million being requested would nevertheless be granted.

Mr W Skhosana (ANC) was concerned with the problems experienced by especially elderly people who had ID books with incorrect dates of birth or spelling of names. Some were scared to apply for or collect their new ID's since they felt that this would cause them to be cut from pension payouts for example. Transformation was not happening at Home Affairs and it was noted that officials were rude and they did not have time to give service to people.

Mr Masetlha agreed that transformation had not taken root firmly. People still felt that they were going to the Home Affairs of 1973 where, if officials did not like your name, they would simply give you another! One had to accept that this was the reality of the past. Part of the challenge for Home Affairs was to ensure adherence to the Batho Pele principles where officials were humane, sensitive and felt obliged to serve the people and make sure that they felt at home - as Home Affairs should do!

Mr Mokoena felt that the Director General should in his motivation for the R59 million, state that this would not be an annual request which would go on forever. This would increase the chances of getting the money.

Mr Masetlha agreed that if all went well in the next two or three years, many manual functions in Home Affairs could be taken over by information technology-based processes. In some offices where over 400 people were working in the ID section, this number would be able to be cut by 300 with the use of information technology. The excess personnel could then be shifted to other areas. The business processes in the department would also be transformed and fast-tracked.

Controversial clauses in the Municipal Electoral Bill
Adv K Malatji, Chief Director of Legal Services in the Department of Home Affairs, said the department had met with the IEC, the Department of Provincial and Local Government and the State Law Advisors to discuss how to ensure that the Bill would be passed by the end of this session of Parliament and avoid any constitutional challenges on the controversial clauses of the Bill. They had looked at Section 7(1)(b) on the exclusion of prisoners from voting as well as Section 55 on special votes. The discussion was to try and eliminate lengthy deliberation on these issues by the committee. It was agreed by all to eliminate the sections to avoid constitutional challenge.

Discussion
Mr van der Merwe from the IEC said that many people were still applying for ID documents. It would take some time to finalise the issuing of these ID documents so that people could register..

Adv Malatji replied that Home Affairs would issue the Temporary Identity Certificate to enable people who would not receive their ID books in time. He stressed that the Temporary Identity Certificate would enable people to register and vote. Mr Masetlha said that the Temporary Identity Certificate would contain the required ID number.

Ms A van Wyk (ACDP) asked if details regarding the campaign period and its rules would be included in the regulations as the Bill was silent on this. If it was to be part of regulations, then when would such regulations be ready?

Mr van der Merwe said that he was not too sure about the campaign period, but the rules of campaigning would be covered mostly by the Code of Conduct in the Bill. The campaigning period was not too relevant. What was relevant was no public campaigning could be done on election day.

Ms van Wyk pointed out that especially with local government elections, there were official days when campaigning started which influenced when posters could be put up, radio advertisements could be flighted and so on. The bill was silent on this.

Mr van der Merwe said that Ms van Wyk could be referring to the Independent Broadcasting Act which dealt with radio advertisements for example.

The meeting was adjourned.

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