The Committee convened in a virtual meeting to be briefed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on the work done by the Counter Corruption and Security Services (CCSS) branch.
Members were told that the strategic objective of the branch was to spearhead the implementation of measures to combat fraud and corruption in the DHA. The DHA reported that there had been a continuous decline in the number of reported cases of corruption and irregularities since the 2015/2016 financial year. In that year, there were 494 reported cases of which 345 were finalised, compared with 189 reported and 138 finalised cases in the 2020/2021 financial year.
The most common offences in the immigration field were the approval of permits with fraudulent supporting documents; bribes to reverse stamp dates at ports of entry; bribes to avoid long queues mainly at refugee centres; aiding and abetting; passports stamped without the owner being present; foreigners awaiting deportation being released without official approval; bribes to avoid paying fines for overstay; and permits extended without approval from the Refugee Board.
Common irregularities in the DHA’s civics branch were fraudulent passport applications through photo swaps; fraudulent death registrations; fraudulent marriages; and fraudulent births or foreign children registered as citizens.
The DHA was working together with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations to investigate the operations of organised crime syndicates involved in the fraudulent issuing of documents. An undercover operation had caught a syndicate involved in the fraudulent issue of passports by means of photo swaps.
The Minister of Home Affairs told the Committee that the most high profile cases of irregularities related to the naturalisation of members of the Gupta family and the granting of irregular residence permits to Pastor Shepherd Bushiri and his family, which emerged after they had fled from South Africa after being charged with fraud. Disciplinary action was being taken in relation to the Gupta matter. Five departmental officials accused of collaboration with Bushiri had been charged and suspended pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings. Criminal investigations would follow.
The Committee was told that a task team was examining all permits and visas issued since 2004, when the Immigration Act 13 of 2002 came into force. Regarding the CCSS branch’s finances, it was reported that the entity had a budget of R176.33 million for the 2021/22 financial year, of which it had already spent R63.06 million.
Committee Members emphasised that speedy finalisation of disciplinary cases and implementation of consequence management remained central in instituting a culture of intolerance to corruption and fraud within the DHA.
The Committee welcomed the 215 arrests that had been made since the inception of Operation Bvisa Masina in 2015, which included 123 officials of the DHA, 84 syndicate members, and eight officials from the South African Police Service.
The Committee appreciated the information from the Minister of Home Affairs that he was interacting with the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture to charge an official that left the DHA to join the Department of Arts and Culture. The Chairperson commented that there was a worrying trend of officials resigning from one department when facing disciplinary cases only to reappear in another department.
Concerns were expressed about a long-standing lack of cameras and electronic monitoring systems which affected the security of premises.
The Chairperson convened the virtual meeting and welcomed Members and the delegation from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). The purpose of the meeting was for the Committee to be briefed on the work done by the Counter Corruption and Security Services (CCSS) branch on its work and high-profile cases.
The delegation from the DHA consisted of Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs; Mr Tommy Makhode, Director-General (DG); Mr Jackson McKay, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Immigration Services; Mr Gordon Hollamby, DDG: Finance and Supply Chain Management; Mr Thomas Sigama, DDG: Civic Services; Mr Thulani Mavuso, DDG: Institutional Planning and Support; Adv Conny Moitse, DDG: Counter Corruption; Ms Nkidi Mohoboko, DDG: Human Resources and Development; and Mr Gene Ravele, Project Manager and acting Commissioner of the Border Management Authority.
The Chairperson commented that issues of corruption in the DHA had been exposed over a long time, alongside corruption in various state entities. The Committee was to be informed of the measures implemented by the DHA to mitigate the issues raised by high-profile cases. It was crucial that the Committee interact with the DHA to be aware of the challenges it faced and to monitor the progress in the implementation of measures to combat corruption.
Opening remarks by the Minister of Home Affairs
The Minister commented that corruption within state entities was detrimental to South Africa’s entire society. The DHA must be at the epicentre of fighting fraud and corruption as its services affected the entire country. The DHA was prepared to fight with everything at its disposal to ensure that the battle against corruption was won. Support from the Committee and from Parliament was paramount. It was appreciated that the Committee had taken a zero-tolerance approach to corruption. However, a tricky aspect was that the DHA could not legally disclose all the details of its investigations to the Committee. This was not because of an unwillingness to do so, but rather to safeguard the integrity of high-profile cases to ensure that wrongdoers were brought to justice.
He noted that five officials had already been suspended because of a report by the Public Protector. The DHA was collaborating with other law enforcement agencies to finalise these investigations and hold the perpetrators accountable. It was noted that issues of immigration accounted for two thirds of the work done regarding corruption. In this context, the DHA had put together the Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate all permits issued since 2004, including permanent residence permits, corporate permits, mining permits, and all visas. They were investigating everything issued by the DHA in the form of a permit since 2004, which was the year the Immigration Act 13 of 2002 came into effect. The report of the Anti-Corruption Unit was expected before the end of the year. The high-profile cases that were under investigation involved all the relevant law enforcement agencies.
Briefing on the CCSS branch
The Committee was given an overview of the CCSS branch of the DHA with an emphasis on its strategy, successes, and challenges. Adv Conny Moitse, DDG: Counter Corruption, presented the briefing.
The Committee was told that the CCSS branch was mandated to combat fraud and corruption; to ensure that property, officials, and clients of the DHA were safe; and to promote a culture of honesty and integrity in the conduct of staff and in the systems and processes of the DHA. Its mandate was also to promote organisational integrity within the DHA, and to ensure that thorough investigation was pursued where corruption was discovered. The strategic objective of the branch was to serve as a mechanism to spearhead the implementation of measures to combat fraud and corruption in the DHA, in compliance with a Cabinet resolution in 2002.
The DHA’s anti-corruption strategy was organised around four components - Prevention, Detection, Investigations, and Resolution. The DHA’s strategy was aligned to the National Anti-Corruption Strategy in the public sector. To achieve the objectives, the DHA needed an ethical organisational culture.
The CCSS branch was responsible for various measures in combating fraud and corruption. To prevent corruption, the branch undertook continuous awareness initiatives aimed at all the DHA’s officials. Other measures included preventative security, pre-employment screening and vetting, and improved internal policies. DHA processes were reviewed and evaluated regularly to establish their vulnerability to fraud and corruption. Recommendations were shared with the DHA’s business branch to close the identified gaps and deter further abuse of processes. Reported cases were investigated internally and a multi-disciplinary approach to investigation of cases with relevant stakeholders was always encouraged. Proactive investigations were also undertaken. Finalised investigations were referred for internal disciplinary proceedings and criminal processing by law enforcement agencies, leading to suspensions, dismissals, arrests, and convictions.
Performance and annual targets
The Committee was told that the objective of the security services section was to conduct physical security activities such as access control and the guarding of the DHA’s premises. Additional objectives were to conduct threat and risk assessments at DHA offices, to develop strategy for emergency evacuation plans, to establish functioning security committees, to provide security at DHA events and projects, and to raise awareness of security responsibilities and related issues.
It was reported that all annual targets relating to the number of threat and risk assessments (TRAs) were achieved for the financial years from 2018/19 to 2020/21. The target for the 2021/22 financial year was to conduct 40 TRAs and to monitor and conduct security awareness activities at 40 offices.
The objectives of the investigations section were to investigate allegations of fraud and corruption, including improper use of the DHA’s resources by DHA personnel, or other activities in breach of the DHA’s rules, policies and procedures. In addition, the branch had to investigate all cases of fraud and corruption referred from the National Anti-Corruption Hotline. The branch also conducted forensic testing of disputed documents. In addition, its objectives included providing support to mandated security structures on crime and corruption related projects.
All annual targets relating to the number of reported cases on fraud and corruption finalised within 90 working days were achieved for the financial years from 2018/19 to 2020/21. The target for the 2021/22 financial year was to finalise 50 percent of cases within 90 working days, and to finalise 16 percent of the backlog cases. The number of cases for the Civics branch was significantly higher than the other branches. On a comparative percentage analysis, more Civics cases had been finalised over the past four years.
The most common offences in the immigration field were the approval of permits with fraudulent supporting documents; bribes to reverse stamp dates at ports of entry; bribes to avoid long queues, mainly at refugee centres; aiding and abetting; passports stamped without the owner being present; foreigners awaiting deportation released without official approval; bribes to avoid paying fines for overstay; and permits extended without approval from the Refugee Board.
Common irregularities in the DHA’s Civics branch were fraudulent passport applications through photo swaps; fraudulent death registrations; fraudulent marriages; and fraudulent births or foreign children registered as citizens.
Trends of cases reported and finalised
For the 2017/18 financial year, 405 cases were finalised and referred out of the 509 cases reported. For the 2018/19 financial year, 219 cases were finalised and referred out of the 298 cases reported. For the 2019/20 financial year, 186 cases were finalised and referred out of the 262 cases reported. For the 2020/21 financial year, 137 cases were finalised and referred out of the 189 cases reported.
The DHA reported that there had been a continuous decline in the number of reported cases of corruption and irregularities since the 2015/2016 financial year. In that year, there were 494 reported cases of which 345 were finalised, compared with 189 reported and 138 finalised cases in the 2020/2021 financial year.
A total of 215 arrests had been made since the inception of Operation Bvisa Masina in 2015. These included 123 officials of the DHA, 87 non-officials arrested inside the buildings of the DHA or during raids, and eight members of the South African Police Service (SAPS). Currently, 12 officials from the DHA had been criminally convicted.
Vetting was done to assess the security competence of all officials in the DHA. This was done under the auspices of the State Security Agency (SSA) to which all completed files were referred for decision making. The annual target for the 2021/22 financial year was to refer 300 completed confidential files to the SSA for finalisation.
The prevention objective involved the evaluation of all the DHA’s processes with the aim of identifying loopholes, security breaches and risks and vulnerabilities to fraud and corruption. Once a process had been evaluated, a report was issued to the Director-General for approval and shared with relevant stakeholders for remedial action. In addition, there was a need to conduct awareness interventions on ethics, fraud prevention and counter corruption, and to conduct an analysis of fraud and corruption trends.
Regarding the Border Management Authority (BMA), the 2021/22 target was to evaluate the BMA’s processes to identify possible vulnerabilities to fraud, corruption, and security breaches.
Collaboration with law enforcement agencies
The Committee was told that the DHA collaborated with the SAPS in meeting the requirements of minimum physical security standards (MPSS) and in conducting physical security audits at selected offices of the DHA. The State Security Agency (SSA) conducted information security audits. The DHA collaborated with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) regarding disaster management. Municipal fire departments monitored compliance with evacuation plans.
Regarding investigations, the SAPS and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) collaborated with the DHA in the execution of entrapments, making arrests, conducting surveillance and obtaining records. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was responsible for the criminal prosecution of cases referred by the SAPS as a result of investigations conducted with the DHA’s investigators. The SSA provided support in profiling persons involved in syndicate related fraud and corruption relating to officials from the DHA. The SAPS was responsible for fingerprint verification as part of the vetting and pre-employment screening process.
One challenge noted was slow turnaround times in finalising vetting files. A high-level meeting of officials from the DHA and the SSA had reached an agreement to address the slow turn-around times by October 2021.
Another challenge reported was the lack of cameras and electronic systems. The DHA would conduct an audit of its offices and hold consultations with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) on finding solutions for these challenges by December 2021.
An integrated case management system to track referrals to various branches was due to be completed by December 2021.
Regarding the CCSS branch’s finances, it was reported that it had a budget of R176.33 million for the 2021/22 financial year, of which it had already spent R63.06 million.
The Chairperson thanked the delegation from the DHA for the detailed briefing. He expressed concern about the lengthy turnaround times but appreciated the progress by the DHA. He emphasised that the speedy finalisation of disciplinary cases and implementation of consequence management remained central in instituting a culture of intolerance for corruption and fraud within the DHA. He asked the delegation to expand more on the budgetary limitations of the CCSS.
Ms M Molekwa (ANC) expressed appreciation for the briefing and with the progress on the cases being investigated. She acknowledged that criminal processes often took long but highlighted that there was a need to conclude internal disciplinary processes quicker to ensure consequence management. She asked for a timeframe on when the investigations of high-profile cases would be concluded. Were any follow-ups done with the law enforcement agencies on all cases that were still outstanding?
Ms L Tito (EFF) asked for clarity on the progress made by the DHA in implementing the findings of the Public Protector relating to the naturalisation of Gupta family members. She asked whether the DHA had implemented any disciplinary measures against the DHA’s officials that had been found to be involved.
Ms A Khanyile (DA) appreciated the briefing presented by the DHA and the opening remarks made by the Minister of Home Affairs. She noted that the DHA had taken a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption but was concerned that there were still instances where officials had been found guilty and were still in the employ of the DHA. She asked for clarity on the criteria used by the DHA to choose the sanctions that would be implemented after the conclusion of disciplinary processes. What measures were being used to ensure that those who were found guilty and continued to work for the DHA would never repeat the same offences? She welcomed the arrest of 123 officials of the DHA, and eight officials of the SAPS.
Ms A Ramolobeng (ANC) welcomed the briefing by the DHA. She expressed concern about the timeframe of December 2021 for addressing the lack of cameras and electronic systems. This should be a matter of urgency, and the process should be fast-tracked to be finalised long before the end of the year. Regarding the outstanding cases that had not yet been finalised, she asked how the DHA ensured that cases were finalised and that reports were submitted by the various law enforcement agencies. It was of concern that immigration related permits were being extended without the knowledge of the Refugees Board. She asked for clarity on what would be done to prevent these situations from reoccurring.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) asked whether the anti-corruption unit utilised internal or external specialists, such as investigators, and asked for clarity on the budgetary constraints in this regard.
Ms M Modise (ANC) appreciated the briefing presented by the DHA and the opening remarks made by the Minister of Home Affairs. While she appreciated the reports and progress made by the DHA, she noted that the presentation was severely limited in the information provided. A concrete strategy was needed to mitigate the corrupt activities within the DHA. While there was progress, it was not enough. New cases were reported daily, and budgetary constraints needed to be considered in this regard.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their contributions. He asked whether Operation Bvisa Masina had been yielding results in the fight against corrupt activities and how effective the DHA’s strategy was.
Adv Moitse responded that five officials had been suspended because of the Public Protector’s report and that the disciplinary proceedings were ongoing. Regarding the questions on the naturalisation cases before the DHA’s counter-corruption unit, she responded that the case had never been brought to the unit.
She said that when the DHA dealt with cases of corruption, investigations were conducted and recommendations were made before matters were referred for employee engagement. An undercover operation had caught a syndicate involved in the fraudulent issuing of passports by means of photo swaps within the DHA. She stated that the DHA was a hornet’s nest of corruption as people sought fraudulent means to obtain documents granting them citizenship or residence rights. Regarding syndicates, she stated that a case was ongoing in Cape Town after eight staff members had been caught.
Regarding implementation plans, she said issues would be fast-tracked to ensure that the DHA had a clear audit of what was outstanding. There were also measures in place to prioritise dealing with the backlog in the finalisation of cases. About 99 percent of the cases were investigated internally with the help of law enforcement agencies. The DHA was doing everything in its power to eliminate opportunities for officials to commit fraud or corruption.
The Director-General, Mr Tommy Makhode, commented that the DHA had started with disciplinary actions arising from the Public Protector’s report. The relevant officials had been approached for their responses to the report and its recommendations for remedial action.
In disciplinary cases, the criteria that were applied depended on the offences that the officials had committed. The DHA was currently working on an integrated system for the investigation and referral of cases that would allow the DHA to have a view of all the cases that were in the system. He noted the comment from the Committee on the need for an integrated and concrete strategy in this regard.
Ms Nkidi Mohoboko, DDG: Human Resources and Development, noted that the DHA was guided by its disciplinary code that pronounced on the nature of outcomes or sanctions for cases. Each case was dealt with on its merit, with the appropriate sanction being implemented.
Minister Motsoaledi said that officials did not escape liability when they transferred to other government departments. He noted that he had asked the Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture to institute disciplinary proceedings against a former senior official of the DHA who now worked for that department. He had also provided recommendations for charges in this regard.
The Minister said the most high-profile cases of irregularity related to the naturalisation of members of the Gupta family by the former Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Malusi Gigaba, in 2015, and the granting of irregular residence permits to Pastor Shepherd Bushiri and his family which emerged after they had fled South Africa after being charged with fraud of R100 million.
Five departmental officials accused of collaboration with Bushiri had been charged and suspended pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings. Criminal investigations would follow.
Disciplinary steps had been taken against officials who had failed to do due diligence and verify the accuracy of information on which the early naturalisation of the Gupta family members in 2015 was based. They were part of the remedial actions recommended by the Public Protector report published on 7 February 2021.
The DHA was looking into everything that had been issued as a permit since 2004. A task team headed by Mr Cassius Lubisi would submit its report by the end of 2021.
The Minister referred to legal advice being obtained on how to deal with ministerial discretion to grant early naturalisation in exceptional circumstances. The Public Protector’s remedial action had proposed a descriptive framework for exceptional circumstances, which did not encroach on the Minister’s discretion, but allowed for a guideline to facilitate a fair and uniform approach. He informed the Committee that the matter was still with the legal unit, and he anticipated advice that the relevant section of the Immigration Act must be amended.
He expressed concern over the slow pace of disciplinary proceedings, light penalties and recourse to courts and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). He added that public servants seemed to protect one other in disciplinary proceedings. He welcomed the Department of Public Service and Administration’s efforts in putting together a panel of retired judges for disciplinary hearings as there would be truly little chance of anyone trying to bribe these panel members. He outlined how the CCMA had ordered the reinstatement and back pay of a junior employee who had released illegal immigrants about to be deported.
The Chairperson stated that while the Committee welcomed the implementation of the Counter Corruption and Fraud Prevention Strategy, it must be underscored that it was only through effective consequence management that the DHA would successfully win the war against malfeasance. He welcomed the suspension of five officials because of the Public Protector’s report. He appreciated the information from the Minister of Home Affairs that, as per the law, he was interacting with the Minister of Arts and Culture to charge an official that left the DHA to join the Department of Arts and Culture. He commended this action by the Minister, especially in the context of the worrying trend of officials that resigned from one department when facing disciplinary cases only to reappear in another department. The actions by the Minister would ensure that any official accused of wrongdoing was taken through the necessary process. He commented that the Committee would request updates on the disciplinary cases at the DHA, and thanked Members and the delegation from the DHA for their contributions during the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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