Home Affairs Budget: discussion

Home Affairs

07 March 2000
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Meeting report

HOME AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 March 2000
BUDGET DISCUSSION

SUMMARY
The meeting provided an opportunity for the Committee to engage Departmental officials on the prior day's budget presentation especially with regard to the Department's handling of "civic affairs". The Committee stressed the need for the redistribution of Department resources to previously disadvantaged constituencies.

MINUTES
Mr Lambinon (a Deputy Director General in the Home Affairs Department) accompanied by several departmental officials continued to field questions on the prior day's presentation on the Department's budget.

Discussion
The Chair, Mr A Mokoena, commenced by asking why the Department had requested a budget increase, and what the additional funds are to be used for.

Mr Lambinon replied that while extra funding could be put to myriad uses, the increase is in the main for the Home Affairs National Information System (HANIS) project, adding that aside from this project, the proposed budget is actually a "negative growth" one, not even keeping up with inflation, composed in the context of overall budget constraints.

An ANC member asked whether the budget makes provision for the opening of new offices in under-served, previously disadvantaged areas.

In response Mr Lambinon noted that the Department currently has a structure of "head/regional/district/mobile" offices, the last of which are useful in reaching rural areas but are expensive to operate. Concerning the opening of new offices, he observed that it is up to the Department of Public Works to supply space to other governmental departments. Finding suitable accommodation for Home Affairs offices is complicated by the reluctance of landlords to provide such "high intensity usage" space, with its attendant long queues and milling crowds.

Nonetheless, the Department is trying to extend services to previously under-served areas (citing the opening of a facility in Soweto). It was considering other means of broadening service delivery, including the idea of "devolution of certain functions to lower authorities" such as municipalities. This was along the lines suggested by Mr. Pretorius (NNP), who observed that in addition to opening new offices perhaps the Department could cooperate, as with the IEC in the campaign to issue bar coded ID's prior to last year's election, in using existing municipal offices to provide services to citizens.

The Chair pursued the issue of redressing the imbalance in service distribution between white and black areas. In his reply, Mr Lambinon again noted that the Department is working within the framework of an "operational budget" which contains no real scope for the expansion of services. This is especially the case when other resource-consuming projects are prioritised from year to year such as issuance of bar coded ID's in anticipation of last year's election, and the need to make the Department's computers Y2K compliant. He added that it is not possible to simply shift resources without incurring relocation and other significant costs, although it has been done in some places (Nelspruit), and is under consideration in others (Pretoria and Johannesburg). The Chair replied that the Committee nonetheless wants to see more movement in reallocating resources from white to black areas.

Replying to questions from ANC members, Mr Lambinon commented that because of this year's priority matters (dealing with refugees, illegal aliens, and the demands in the migration control arena) it continues to be difficult to expand services to rural areas. Further it is difficult to "rehabilitate" the perception of the Department as "the most notorious department of government" as one committee member described it due to the legacy of the apartheid strictures this Department implemented.

Mr Lambinon also said that the budget constraints result in demoralising conditions for Department workers, who not only are often faced with a lack of computers and other necessary technology, but in some Department offices must supply their own toilet rolls and function in "insecure" conditions (as noted by Ms Maunye of the ANC).

An ANC member from the Eastern Cape, echoed by Mr Morwamoche (ANC) then detailed how under-served her outlying constituency is, noting that six years after the 1994 elections her people still do not receive adequate service from the Department due to the lack of computers and other equipment.

The Deputy Director General replied that it is simply a question of inadequate funds. The Chair interjected that using "budgetary constraints" as an excuse for not providing services to previously disadvantaged areas is unacceptable, and that it is obvious that the Department is missing the point that services must be redistributed from white to black areas. He asserted that the Department's thinking needs to be "shaken up". Along these lines, he also observed that Departmental transformation had clearly not progressed far, given the fact that none of the officials appearing before the Committee either at this meeting (on National Women's Day) or the previous day were female.

Mr Chikane (ANC) then asked why vacant government properties in former homelands and elsewhere could not be allocated by Public Works to the Department, noting that many of these buildings are in exactly the areas that need more service. Mr Lambinon replied that this had been done in some places, but that the costs of shutting offices and then getting the "replacement" ones operational are considerable, and that Public Works is often not amenable to such proposals.

Rev Meshoe (ACDP) queried whether the Department's budget is drawn before or after the funding allocation is made. Mr Lambinon replied that the budget is drawn before the allocation is made, but that at the end of the process the Department must make do with what it receives.

Rev Meshoe then requested that the Department detail what has been previously requested in different categories and what was not granted in order to better target allocations for areas of critical concern. Mr Lekgoro (ANC) added that the Department can assist in the process by earmarking funds for expansion of offices so that the issue can be fully considered prior to the anticipated May passage of the Department's budget.

On another technical budget issue, Mr Pretorius (NNP) asked whether the IEC allocation within the Department's budget was "distorting" the picture, and whether it could be broken out in order to simplify matters. In response Mr Lambinon noted that this was merely a "transfer payment" and that inclusion of the IEC funds did not adversely affect the Department's resources, or their targeting.

In terms of resource "targeting", Ms van Wyk (UDM) asked why the vastly expensive HANIS smart card program was being pursued when there is obviously a problem in the Department's basic delivery of service to large sections of its "clientele". Mr Lambinon indicated that the costs of the smart card were still being evaluated, but that the decision to implement HANIS had been taken at Cabinet level, and as such he was not in a position to elaborate on this.

Along these lines, Mr Waters (DP) expressed concerns about the eventual accessibility of HANIS cards to under-served rural populations. In response it was noted that departmental processing volumes would be increased to satisfy issuance requirements (as occurred with issuance of bar-coded ID's last year). Mr Waters nonetheless wondered why, in view of the fact that many citizens do not even have bar coded ID's, the Department wishes to discontinue official use of all other forms of ID, and whether the Department was working with the Department of Communications on the "one stop electronic shop" project. This project would facilitate the wider dissemination of some services and would fit in with the cooperative "multi-function" approach under consideration in the HANIS "smart card" proposal, and fits in with the Department's goal of using technology to "work smarter."

Mr Marwamoche (ANC) inquired why it takes nearly a year to correct typographical errors in African names on ID books. The official overseeing ID book production noted that it should not take so long to make corrections, which might be caused by human error, but that some "errors" are caused by spelling inconsistencies detected when the Department checks source documents. He also noted that when corrections are necessary, new documents should be issued for security reasons, rather than altering the erroneous ones by hand.

In response to a query from the Chair, this official said that use of special paper, cross referencing, and the bar coding have reduced the use of fraudulent ID's.

In conclusion, Mr Lekgoro (ANC) stressed the need for the redistribution of Department resources to previously disadvantaged constituencies.

The Chair thanked the officials and adjourned the meeting.

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