Electoral Amendment Bill; DHA Quarter 1, 2 & 3 2020/21 Performance; with Minister
15 February 2022
Chairperson: Mr M Chabane (ANC)
President Cyril Ramaphosa: 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA)
The Committee convened on a virtual platform to address issues related to electoral law reform and to be briefed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on its performance and expenditure reports for the first, second and third quarters of the 2021/22 financial year.
The Committee considered the Electoral Amendment Bill, taking into account its previous deliberations on the Electoral Laws Second Amendment Bill, a Private Member's Bill, as well as observations made by the Minister of the DHA in light of the Electoral Amendment Bill. Members gave their inputs on the two Bills that were under consideration, and the Committee subsequently resolved that it would finalise the matter at its next meeting.
The Committee resolved to recommend that Parliament apply to the Constitutional Court for an extension on an order to remedy the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Act 73 of 1998. Parliament had been given 24 months by the ConCourt to remedy the defect. This time period would lapse in June 2022. The primary reason for the resolution was the need for the Committee to undertake an extensive and meaningful public participation process. Following the adoption of a draft programme that would be followed for public hearings to be held across the country, the Committee believed that an extension was necessary to enable it and its sister Committee in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to have enough time to remedy the defect. It felt that thorough work needed to be done to ensure that the amendments met constitutional muster. This extension, if granted by the Constitutional Court, would give Parliament the space to engage with the people of South Africa and arrive at a statute that would strengthen the country’s constitutional order.
The Department briefed the Committee on its performance and expenditure reports for the first, second and third quarters of the 2021/22 financial year. It had achieved 19 of 27 set targets (70%) in the first quarter -- an increase of 41% compared to the same period in the previous year. In the second quarter, 24 out of 30 set targets (80%) were achieved, showing a 21% increase from the previous year. The DHA achieved 20 out of 28 set targets (71%) in the third quarter.
The DHA outlined the way forward regarding its key priorities, which included proactively managing external dependencies to ensure achievement of set targets, enforcing a return-to-work policy, continuing to encourage all employees to get vaccinated, continuing its modernisation programme, and continuing to implement its "War On Queues" strategy to deal with long queues at its offices.
The Committee appreciated the progress made in establishing the Border Management Authority, as an independent body, and welcomed the conclusion of implementation protocols with sister departments and the South African Revenue Service. It called for the conclusion of the implementation protocols with the remaining departments. Members raised concerns about the DHA’s high vacancy rate, which impacted its ability to deliver quality services and contributed to the long queues and delays in rendering services at its offices, and welcomed the piloting of the e-booking system, which aimed to resolve these issues.
The Committee was pleased with the progress made in resolving the information communication technology (ICT) downtime at the DHA’s offices. It recommitted itself to its oversight on the ongoing IT challenges and long queues. The Chairperson commented that the Committee could not rest until the issue of downtime and long queues were resolved for the benefit of the people of South Africa.
The Chairperson said the purpose of the meeting was for the Committee to address issues related to the electoral laws reform, to be briefed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on its performance and expenditure reports for the first three quarters of the 2021/22 financial year, and to analyse the impact of the 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA) on the work of the Committee and the DHA.
Electoral Amendment Bill: Private Member's Bill
The first item on the agenda was for the Committee to hear the responses by Mr M Lekota (COPE) as sponsor of the Private Member’s Bill, and to deliberate on the Electoral Amendment Bill.
The Chairperson said that the Private Member’s Bill had been presented to the Committee last year, and Members had engaged with the Electoral Laws Second Amendment Bill and allowed for the process of consultations with the relevant stakeholders. The Committee had also reflected on the discussion relating to the Electoral Amendment Bill, chaired by Mr Valli Moosa, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on the Electoral System, and ultimately on Cabinet's process, and some of the issues had found expression in the Electoral Amendment Bill. Members of the Committee had also dealt extensively with the issues of ensuring sufficient public hearings for the people of South Africa, stakeholders, and political parties to comment on the Electoral Laws Second Amendment Bill and the issues it raised. He said that it was indicated, in the Committee’s meeting of 8 February, that while the Constitutional Court had mandated a specific timeframe for the completion of the process of reforming South Africa’s electoral laws, there was not enough time to interface with the process involving the Bills presented by the Minister of the DHA and by Mr Lekota, respectively.
The way forward for this item would entail allowing Mr Lekota to make comments on the issues raised by the Minister of the DHA, and then to allow the Committee Secretariat to present the programme on how the matter would be dealt with by the Committee going forward. He asked the Committee Secretariat whether Mr Lekota was present for the virtual meeting.
Mr Eddie Mathonsi, the Committee Secretariat, responded that Mr Lekota had not yet joined the virtual meeting, and he would contact his Secretariat for more information.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretariat to locate Mr Lekota so that the Committee could have a fruitful engagement regarding his views in response to the issues that had been raised on the Private Member’s Bill that he introduced.
Mr Mathonsi confirmed that he was trying to reach Mr Lekota via telephone.
Mr A Roos (DA) asked for clarity on whether the Committee was engaging on the issues of the second item on the agenda, namely the feedback on public participation on the Bills under consideration.
The Chairperson asked Members for their input on the matter of public participation.
Mr Roos said the documents had been submitted to the Committee only on Friday, 11 February 2022, at 19h22, and asked that Members should in general be provided with more time to consider documents after submission. It was quite onerous for Members to have to sift through hundreds of pages involving inputs on the public participation process without adequate time to do so thoroughly. This was exacerbated when Members were required to do so over a weekend, when they had other responsibilities. He requested that documents should be submitted at least a week in advance in the future. It was paramount that the Committee speak to the people of the country to get substantive input instead of only receiving inputs on paper.
In the substantive input that had been received, he commented that there was a key theme of accountability, and this was a principle that any electoral law reform should enact. There was a need for more clarity on the issues of independence and proportional participation. An interesting question arose from the public’s input as to who would be equipped with the specific power and authority to remove an independent candidate from power, and he asked for clarity under what circumstances such a removal would be permissible. In a party system, there were various levels and mechanisms for holding Members of Parliament accountable, but more clarity was required on how this would be done for independent candidates who were standing alone. What processes and procedures would be followed in this regard? This question was relevant to both Bills that were under consideration.
In terms of the Elders’ Council’s input, a question had been raised on the issue of a presidential system versus a system with a Prime Minister, and Mr Lekota’s feedback in this regard was required.
Commenting on the input from the Action Coalition of Women’s Rights Organisation, he said that an important point had been raised where attention was brought to the issue that South Africa’s democracy had not been able to effectively grapple with women's equal participation in Parliament because of multi-dimensional poverty and a lack of human dignity, in which women in families grow up in environments with stumbling blocks. How was it foreseen that the recommended percentage of female participants would be implemented across the board, including with independent candidates? In terms of the court action, he said that the Committee had been put in a difficult place and that the Democratic Alliance had stated at the beginning of the process that the Van Zyl Slabbert Report should be used as a starting point, as it already included a draft Bill for consideration. This did not happen, and the Committee was left in a position of receiving the Bills under consideration extremely late, meaning that the process was already a year behind the timeframes that were given by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). If the Constitutional Court needed to be approached, it was important that the Committee outline that the Private Member’s Bill was in terms of section 75 of the Constitution. and did not require the cooperation and approval of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), while the other Bill did. It was important that the Committee understood and outlined to the Constitutional Court what the expected timeframe going forward would be, and what interim measures had been put in place to expedite the process of electoral law reform.
Mr Roos said he had previously requested that the Committee be provided with a legal opinion outlining how the Committee would meet the requirements of the Constitutional Court’s judgment, and for clarity on the interim measures needed. To request an extension, Parliament would also need to explain the cause of the delays, the proposed way forward, the timeframes for completion, and to outline any interim measures that were put into place. It was not good enough just to request an extension of the deadline, but it was also necessary to provide a proposal on the way forward.
The Chairperson said that the Parliamentary Legal Services were in attendance and would advise the Committee. The Committee had had an extensive discussion with the legal team on this issue, and the delegation from the Parliamentary Legal Services would provide the Committee with the grounds that compelled the request for extension on the deadline given by the Constitutional Court. He asked Mr Mathonsi whether he had been able to reach Mr Lekota.
Mr Mathonsi responded that he had reached Mr Lekota and reminded him that the Committee was engaging with the responses of the Minister of the DHA’s comments on the proposed Bills. He said that Mr Lekota would not be attending the meeting with the Committee.
The Chairperson stated that Members would continue to engage with the issues raised, after which the Committee would move on to the next agenda items scheduled for the meeting.
Ms A Khanyile (DA) noted that the DA reserved its comments on the Private Member’s Bill because of a need to consult with its caucus, which would put it in a better position to make comments.
Ms L Tito (EFF) concurred with Mr Roos and Ms Khanyile and noted that Members required more time to deal with the documents that had been submitted late to the Committee.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) said that in light of Mr Lekota not being in attendance as the sponsor of the Private Member’s Bill, and the note that he was satisfied with the comments made by the Minister of the DHA, there was nothing further to discuss on the issue. He would be satisfied for the Committee to proceed with the rest of its processes in terms of public hearings.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) agreed with Mr Pillay that the Committee should proceed to the next agenda item, as Mr Lekota, as the sponsor for the Private Member’s Bill, was satisfied with the submissions from the Minister of the DHA. On behalf of the Committee, she thanked Mr Lekota for taking the initiative to propose the Private Member’s Bill and for the hard work that had gone into its conception. She said it was the duty of Members of Parliament to correct legislation where gaps had been identified. The proposals and submissions made by Mr Lekota would play an important role in guiding the Committee on its way forward in terms of processing the Electoral Amendment Bill.
Mr M Tshwaku (EFF) concurred with Ms Tito in asking for more time to reflect on and engage with the documents that had been submitted to the Committee in this regard.
Ms M Modise (ANC) joined in thanking Mr Lekota for the extensive work that had gone into proposing the Private Member’s Bill. It was important that the Committee focused on the Electoral Amendment Bill before it for consideration, and that the issues raised by Mr Lekota would find expression in the way that the Committee dealt with the process of electoral law reform going forward.
The Chairperson also appreciated the work that had been done by Mr Lekota in proposing the Private Member’s Bill. He indicated that the Committee had deliberated on the Private Member’s Bill at the time it was presented to the Committee, as well as on the Electoral Amendment Bill before it. He thanked the Members for raising their inputs in this regard.
Provincial public hearings programme and extension of deadline on Electoral Amendment Bill
The second item on the agenda was the Committee’s consideration of the provincial public hearings programme on the Electoral Amendment Bill, and for the Committee to consider Parliament approaching the Constitutional Court for a deadline extension on the Bill.
Summary of presentation on the draft provincial public hearings programme
The Chairperson said that the Committee must still allow political parties, stakeholders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to make inputs during the public participation processes on the Electoral Amendment Bill. Such an opportunity would be properly guided by Parliament. He invited Mr Mathonsi to take Members through the report on how the Committee would deal with the public participation process.
Mr Mathonsi presented the draft provincial public hearings programme to Members on the Electoral Amendment Bill and walked them through the planned processes, travel arrangements, and the planned engagements after the public hearings for the Minister of the DHA and the IEC to provide comments on the submissions received from the public. It was anticipated that the Committee would start deliberations on the Electoral Amendment Bill early in May, and its finalisation was scheduled for 18 May.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Mathonsi and the support staff for the work that had been put into preparing the draft provincial public hearings programme, which demonstrated the Committee’s readiness to engage with the public on the Electoral Amendment Bill. He invited Members to provide their input on the draft programme as presented to the Committee.
Ms T Legwase (ANC)stated that she would follow the draft hearings programme that had been presented, and that she was satisfied with the programme as presented.
Mr Roos asked for clarity on how the Committee’s regular meetings would fit into the schedule as provided by the draft programme.
Ms Tito was satisfied with the programme as presented but agreed that clarity was needed on the issue raised by Mr Roos.
Ms Khanyile was also satisfied with the proposed programme.
Ms A Ramolobeng (ANC) welcomed the submission made by Mr Mathonsi. She agreed with the proposed programme, as presented.
Mr Tshwaku was also satisfied with the proposed programme.
Ms Van der Merwe thanked Mr Mathonsi and the support staff for the work that had gone into preparing and presenting the draft provincial public hearings programme. The approach of dividing the Committee into groups would be helpful for it to cover the entire country, despite the time constraints. She emphasised the importance of ensuring that the public was adequately informed of the dates and times that the public hearings would be held in various communities, to ensure that members of the public were able to make their submissions. She agreed with Mr Roos that there was a need to incorporate the Committee’s regular meetings and scheduled engagements into the draft programme.
Mr Pillay was satisfied with the programme.
Ms Modise also thanked Mr Mathonsi and the support staff for the work that had gone into preparing and presenting the programme. She expressed appreciation for the thorough guidance on how the Committee would proceed with the public hearings. She agreed with other Members and emphasised the importance of the Committee continuing with its regular work, and agreed with Mr Roos that there was a need to incorporate the Committee’s regular meetings and scheduled engagements into the draft programme. She confirmed that she was satisfied with the proposed programme.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their feedback and noted that they agreed with the draft programme. As such, it was duly adopted by the Committee.
Summary of presentation on the request for an extension by Parliament
The Chairperson asked for the delegation from the Parliamentary Legal Services to comment on the request for Parliament to approach the Constitutional Court for an extension of the deadline laid down.
Mr Siviwe Njikela, Senior Parliamentary Legal Advisor, said that the draft public hearings programme laid a solid foundation for Parliament to apply to the Constitutional Court for an extension on an order to remedy the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Act. A resolution from the Committee was required for the Parliamentary Legal Services to proceed with the request, and an understanding between the National Assembly and the NCOP’s Committees was also required.
The Chairperson said that the Committee intended to have an extensive and meaningful process of public consultation. He asked for input from Members on this issue.
Ms Van der Merwe said that the programme ahead of the Committee made it clear that it would not be able to make the current deadline set by the Constitutional Court. There was a lot of work to be done in terms of the public participation processes for Parliament to finalise changes and amendments to the Electoral Amendment Bill, and for the Bill to go to the NCOP. She concurred with the advice from the Parliamentary Legal Services that the draft public hearings programme laid a solid foundation for Parliament to apply to the Constitutional Court for an extension on an order to remedy the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Act. She expressed her support for requesting an extension in this regard.
Ms Tito also expressed her support for requesting an extension to the deadline set by the Constitutional Court, as advised by the Parliamentary Legal Services, and was supported by
Ms Khanyile and Mr Roos
Ms Modise stated that there was a consensus and that Members were in agreement that an extension was required. Mr Pillay concurred with Ms Modise and said it was clear from the draft public hearings programme that Parliament would require more time to process the Bill.
The Chairperson said that the Committee had thus resolved to recommend that Parliament apply to the Constitutional Court for an extension on an order to remedy the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Act. Its collective view was that thorough work needed to be done to ensure that the amendments meet constitutional muster. This extension would give Parliament the space to engage with the people of South Africa and arrive at a statute that would strengthen the country’s constitutional order, especially in a way that allowed for interested parties to make their submissions. While the Committee had always endeavoured to meet the deadline set by the Constitutional Court, various processes outside of the Committee’s control, along with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, had had an unavoidable impact on the Committee’s ability to meet the deadline. However, the Committee would continue to work to comply with the judgment of the Constitutional Court on the electoral law reform.
DHA's quarterly performance and expenditure reports
Mr Tommy Makhode, Director-General, DHA, briefed the Committee on the DHA's performance and expenditure reports for the first, second and third quarters of the 2021/22 financial year.
Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs, said the DHA had a lot of targets planned for the quarters under review and commented that the Committee repeatedly asks whether the reported performance tallied with what was experienced by the citizens on the ground. The biggest service delivery issue within the DHA was to be able to collect a document and be serviced within the shortest possible time period. In this regard, the main challenge was related to the DHA’s high levels of network downtime. The DHA had engaged with the Committee, together with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) on these issues, and commitments had been made by each entity. Three weeks ago, the Cabinet had approved a programme by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies that was called South Africa Connect, intending to connect all sides of government and communities, including schools, clinics, hospitals, police stations, and the offices of the DHA. This would aid in improving the speed of service delivery at its offices.
He confirmed that the Department was in engagements with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies to rectify the issues relating to the DHA’s connectivity and issues of network downtime, and such benefits would come earlier than 2024. The digitisation process, as mentioned by President Ramaphosa during the SONA, would aid this improvement by digitising the manual records of the DHA. This process would also help to reduce the long queues at its offices. The priority of the DHA was to purchase the network switches together with the SITA, along with the other required equipment, to address these issues.
He added that in December, the DHA had worked overtime to serve more people and deliver its services to the citizens of the country.
Summary of DHA briefing
The DHA had achieved 19 out of 27 set targets (70%) for the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year, showing an increase of 41% compared to the same period in the previous financial year. For the second quarter of the 2021/22 financial year, 24 out of 30 set targets (80%) were achieved, showing a 21% increase from the previous financial year. The DHA had achieved 20 out of 28 set targets (71%) for the third quarter of the 2021/22 financial year. The financial performance for the period under review was also outlined on a quarterly basis.
The reasons given by the DHA for not achieving some of its set targets included the need to observe the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, whereby social distancing required officials to work on a rotation basis, the negative impact on its productivity as a result of the closure of offices owing to COVID-19 positive cases, while the temporary closure of missions abroad due to lockdown restrictions contributed to the non-achievement of some permitting targets. In addition, some challenges included a lack of cooperation from external stakeholders, delays in the finalisation of procurement processes by relevant business units, and a loss of staff leading to higher vacancy rates.
Challenges included the DHA experiencing unprecedented long queues in its offices. This was due to high client volumes caused by unpredictable walk-ins, the discontinuation of Saturday working hours, the high vacancy rate, unstable systems (networks and applications), and the accumulation of applications for services that had not been rendered during the lockdown periods.
The Department outlined the way forward regarding its key priorities, which included proactively managing external dependencies to ensure achievement of set targets, enforcing a return-to-work policy, continuing to encourage all employees to get vaccinated, continuing the modernisation programme, and continuing to implement its "War On Queues" strategy to deal with long queues in offices.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister for his opening remarks made. He asked for more detail on what was meant when the DHA stated that the "counter-corruption unit had been achieved," and asked the delegation to demonstrate what this entailed. The Committee had previously requested a report from the DHA on the performance of the counter-corruption unit.
He welcomed the progress made in establishing the Border Management Authority (BMA), despite some delays in the transfer of functions. He asked for clarity on the timeframes for the engagements, on how these delays would influence the work of the BMA.
Regarding the DHA’s spending on combating the COVID-19 pandemic, he asked why the expenditure of the Western Cape and Limpopo was not covered in the presentation.
He asked for more details on the functions assigned to the task team instituted by the former Director-General of the DHA, and what the team’s contribution to improve the performance of the DHA had been, and whether its role had been fulfilled.
Ms Tito asked for reasons to be provided for the under-staffing in the offices of the DHA, and for clarity on the measures that it had been implementing to retain its staff. In which administrative programme did it have the most vacancies, and how had these vacancies affected its overall performance? She noted that the DHA’s COVID-19 expenditure had tripled from the first to the second quarter, and asked for clarity on this increase.
She asked how the mobile trucks were deployed in preparation for the recent local government elections, and for the DHA to provide a framework for how it would continue to deploy these mobile trucks after the elections, and whether any of the mobile trucks would be permanently deployed. In the second quarter, why were there delays in dispatching related to Skynet? How had the DHA outsourced the cleaning equipment involved?
Ms Khanyile noted that there had been an improvement in the performance of the DHA from the first to the third quarters. While its performance looked good on paper, did the achievement of its set targets address the service delivery issues of the entity on the ground, as experienced by the people of South Africa? This remained a concern since Members often received submissions from members of the community regarding long queues, which remained one of the Department's biggest challenges.
She asked the DHA to indicate the dates by which it plans to roll out its appointment system to other offices across the country. What were the reasons for the delays in the evaluation of the tender for a service provider for the service delivery model? She asked for details of the budget allocated to the gender-based violence (GBV) sessions of the DHA. She expressed understanding of the factors that contributed to the vacancy rate and asked for details of the vacancy rate itself. How many DHA offices were currently working on a rotation basis? What was the DHA’s turnaround time to respond to immigration applications for people seeking to become permanent residents, or receive their visas? Members of the Committee had been receiving a lot of queries in this regard, and she appreciated that the DHA’s civic services had provided some responses in this regard when queries from the Committee were received.
Mr Pillay asked for details on the status of staff that were working remotely, particularly office managers. The war on queues was a recurring issue before the Committee, and he appreciated that the DHA had put measures in place to decrease the waiting times at its offices. He proposed that the DHA report to the Committee, at some point in the future, on the progress, success and challenges involved in the pilot e-booking system, as well as how this initiative was addressing the other challenges, such as long queues. It was also important that the DHA report on its plan to roll out the e-booking system to its other offices.
Regarding the DHA’s funds for capital assets, it was reported that the funds had been exhausted in the third quarter, and he asked how the DHA would fund its assets in the last quarter of the financial year. The mobile trucks were delivering good results, and they were crucial for the DHA to be able to reach more citizens. How would the DHA develop a mechanism to distribute the identity documents and other documents to ensure that there was not an influx of people waiting to collect them at its offices?
Ms Ramolobeng asked how the mobile trucks had been deployed during the recent government elections, whether they were still being deployed, and if they were deployed on a permanent or needs basis. Network downtimes and the lack of adequate and stable connectivity had been a challenge at the DHA for quite a while, and this needed to be dealt with urgently as it continuously impacts its service delivery.
AS the refugee centres had been closed since 2020, she asked what had happened to the staff working in those centres. Had the DHA used them to address its own staff shortages? For the second quarter, it was reported that there were 947 funded vacant posts, and for the third quarter, there were 998 funded vacant posts. What measures had been put into place to deal with its shortage of staff? She echoed the comments of Ms Khanyile that while the performance of the DHA looked good on paper, did the achievement of its targets speak to the service delivery issues of the entity on the ground?
Mr Roos welcomed the funding allocated for upgrading the equipment of the DHA’s offices to assist with the war on queues. He asked that the Committee be fully briefed at a later date on the DHA’s progress to reduce the long queues seen outside its offices. Such a briefing needed to include information regarding its expenditure on new equipment being bought, as it was important to evaluate the impact of the expenditure in this regard.
He said it seemed that the number of staff members at the DHA was reducing, while the same amount of the budget was spent on the compensation of employees (CoE). Why was there a gradual decline in the staff numbers? Were there specific reasons why staff members were leaving? What was the impact of the decline in numbers on the performance and service delivery of the Department? He noted that during the last financial year, there were eight people on suspension, yet they had received a total of R 1.1 million in benefits even while they were suspended for an average of 442 days. How was it possible for staff to be suspended and still receive their perks and bonuses while they were sitting at home?
Regarding institutional support, he said that the Committee had been pushing for the finalisation of the implementation protocols for the BMA, but there was a pattern in the DHA that was resulting in this process taking too long because of delayed policies and slow procurement processes. What had the DHA done to cut down on some of this red tape? He reminded the DHA delegation that the Committee had requested a report on the Access Model, but it had not been delivered. It was problematic when the Committee did not receive the documents and information it had requested.
Ms Van der Merwe said the Committee received numerous complaints, especially over the December holiday period, which described various offices of the DHA as dysfunctional because of long queues, and systems that were offline. Members were also confronted with stories of people having to pay bribes to get the documentation that they needed or to access the services of the DHA. There was a definite disconnect between the performance of the DHA as presented on paper, and the lived reality on the ground by the people who used its services.
For example, while the DHA had reported an overachievement on its immigration-related targets, the reality was that there was a full-scale immigration crisis in South Africa. It was an issue that was in the public domain, where organisations were conducting inspections themselves to establish whether there were undocumented or illegal migrants operating businesses or selling items, or even working at establishments. This disconnect between the DHA’s briefing and the lived reality on the ground was very stark, because the DHA was failing to implement its own immigration laws, and yet the briefing states that its immigration services were performing well. The current state of immigration in the country was a national crisis, and there was a need for the DHA to ensure that the immigration branch was achieving its goals on the ground, and not just on paper.
Another example was that, on paper, the counter-corruption unit of the DHA was performing well, but the Committee was regularly confronted with the issue of fraudulent IDs, permits, passports and other documents. There was clearly a disconnect between what was reported by the DHA and what Members were experiencing on the ground and during oversight visits. In respect of the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Management System, the relevant tenders had been outstanding for quite some time, and there was an inability to find a service provider. She asked why the DHA could not find a suitable service provider, and for timeframes to be provided for the completion of the process. She noted that the Department had had discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist it with managing the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Management System, and asked that the Committee be updated on those engagements. She asked for details on the nature and size of the current backlog for immigration applications, and for clarity on how many applications were pending.
Regarding the BMA, she expressed concern that the process of fully establishing and operationalising the entity was moving at a snail’s pace. Was the BMA getting the necessary attention and priority? She welcomed the conclusion of implementation protocols with sister departments and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) but called for the conclusion of the implementation protocols with the remaining departments. What was the role of the task team to ensure that the implementation protocols and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) be finalised with speed? The BMA was an entity that required expedited establishment and full operationalisation.
She thanked the Director-General for regularly being available to assist Members to get mobile trucks to various communities for service delivery. She asked that the Committee be provided with a schedule for the mobile trucks so that Members could provide their constituents with information on when the services were available.
Ms Legwase asked how the delays mentioned by other Members were affecting the timeframes and progress to operationalise the BMA. By now, more progress should have been made. How would the funds allocated by the National Treasury assist in filling the 998 funded vacant posts? Had the DHA prioritised any of the vacant positions? She requested that the Committee be provided with a categorised breakdown of these vacant posts. She also asked the DHA to provide a thorough explanation relating to the expenditure on capital assets, and how it would fund its assets in the last quarter.
Mr Tshwaku asked what the turnaround time was for the DHA's responses to the queries that were sent by Members. Long queues were still a prevailing challenge for the DHA, and there must be a more action-based response to it. There was a need for the DHA to reflect on these issues, as they significantly affect the people and communities of South Africa.
Ms Khanyile said the Committee had received complaints and concerns from the community relating to various offices of the DHA, which included allegations that long queues were also caused by members of the community who made their appointments with the security offices at the gates of the DHA’s offices for the following day. How would the DHA deal with this situation?
Mr Makhode responded to the questions on the piloting of the e-booking system for appointments and said that when the system was rolled out, the DHA needed to ensure that it was functioning optimally in terms of usage and stability. The DHA had noted the Committee’s proposal that it be rolled out to more of its offices.
The rotation of staff was a thing of the past since employees had returned to in-person work, except for those employees who had co-morbidities. The DHA’s online services required back-office support and had continued to function. It had managed to process 155 000 applications that had been completed online and was working towards reopening all of its offices by May 2022.
Work had been done by the DHA and the UNHCR, and 30 lawyers had been appointed to deal with some of the issues related to the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Management System.
The DHA had received similar complaints that the Committee had received relating to bribes at the offices of the DHA, and he confirmed that the counter-corruption unit had been able to visit some of the DHA’s offices to investigate these practices.
Regarding the DHA’s vacancy rate, the DHA had presented a business case to the National Treasury. The areas most affected by the vacancies were Immigration and Civic Services. The business case indicates that the bulk of the positions was for people to work with the Immigration Inspectorate to resolve the immigration issues.
Adv Conny Moitse, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Counter-Corruption, DHA, said that the counter-corruption unit’s target was to address and finalise 50% of reported cases of fraud and corruption within 90 working days, and it had achieved 66%. Of the 89 cases received, 59 were finalised and 19 were referred. The unit was dealing with the backlog of cases, using an integrated approach to deal with corruption from external officials, and was working with law enforcement and the entity’s internal team for analysis to determine the root causes of corruption within the DHA.
The counter-corruption unit had finalised its evaluation of the passport system and was working on the implementation of the recommendations made to close any gaps in the system that would leave it vulnerable to corruption. For identity documents (IDs), the works with law enforcement to implement pro-active mechanisms to determine the root causes of corruption. The goal was to deal not only with the reported cases but also to tighten the controls to reduce the amount of corruption-related cases that were reported.
Regarding the DHA’s vetting processes, she responded that the DHA had received good support from the State Security Agency (SSA) in finalising vetting processes for files when needed. Regarding the issue of bribes and security at the offices of the DHA, the counter-corruption unit had engaged with law enforcement agencies to investigate these allegations and to find mitigating measures to be implemented.
Dr Nakampe Masiapato, National Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), BMA, confirmed that the BMA was on schedule with the timelines for operationalisation that were presented to the Committee on 23 November 2021. The Committee should not be worried about the progress of the BMA’s operationalisation, as the targets reported were based on the previous annual performance plan (APP), which had not been updated with the timeframes presented to the Committee.
The BMA had managed to engage with National Treasury, which had committed to allocating R73 million to it, which would allow the entity to bring in the first cohort of its staff complement. This would happen within the current quarter, and 200 border guards would be brought on board, with 35 support staff members. The Minister had already approved the transitional structure of the BMA to operate within the DHA as a branch. The BMA was awaiting the approval of the Minister of Public Services and Administration to authorise the entity to start with advertisements. There were no major bottlenecks in the process as it currently stood. The BMA’s technical committee had met to identify pushbacks or bottlenecks in the process of operationalising the entity.
He confirmed that the implementation protocols between the BMA and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) had been signed off, and the remaining protocols would be finalised before the end of the current financial year, as many of them were in the final stages of being concluded. The BMA had been assisted by the DHA to engage with the labour stakeholders. Transfers would be handled in a way that allowed the functions of the immigration staff to move into their roles by 1 April. The functions had been transferred, so that from 1 April, the transfer of functions would allow the staff to do their work while remaining on the payroll of their original departments. This would ensure that there was no disruption in services while the BMA was in its incubation period.
Mobile truck deployment
Mr Thomas Sigama, DDG: Civic Services, said that the DHA followed a hybrid deployment model for the mobile trucks to be deployed across the country. The first part of this model involved outreach programmes throughout the country, which was published in the DHA’s operational plan. The plan outlined where the mobile trucks were deployed during the elections, and also allowed the DHA to have rapid response times if the mobile trucks were needed in certain communities because of disasters or other occurrences.
The DHA had a partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to deploy mobile trucks at schools to allow learners to get their IDs on time and without the hassle of visiting a DHA office.
Regarding the issue of the long queues at the offices of the DHA, he responded that the branch of Civic Services had support units to aid in reducing the queues, as well as using a segregated approach to the DHA’s products with dedicated queues, depending on which services were required. However, an initiative was needed to address the queues that were outside the offices, and this was where the e-booking appointment system came in -- so that people could make their appointments in advance. The DHA still needed to strengthen its communication for when its systems or networks were down to inform people in advance if possible.
Mr Thulani Mavuso, DDG: Institutional Planning and Support, responded to the questions on the DHA’s network downtimes. It had been identified that the bandwidth at the DHA’s offices needed to be increased, as well as within its head office. Regarding network outages, the DHA had a number of offices in KwaZulu-Natal that had been disconnected last week, and this was because of a power outage. These services had since been restored.
There had been an increased deployment and usage of mobile technologies in the front offices of the DHA as both a primary and secondary source of connection in areas that were vulnerable to vandalism and theft. Based on the records assessment conducted as part of the DHA’s digitisation project, it was found that many offices did not appear to have the proper maintenance contracts in place to source and use generators and uninterrupted power supply (UPS) machines, leaving them vulnerable to power failures.
As per the recommendations of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), the DHA had submitted a list of access links for migration. However, as Members were aware, the SITA was struggling with connectivity itself. Engagements in this regard were underway. The DHA was working well with the SITA to make progress on the Enterprise Architecture Review, to decrease the demand on the network infrastructure to avoid downtime. The procurement processes in this regard would commence on 1 April.
Responding to the questions on the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Management System, he said that the development of the prototype was underway, although there had been delays. The design of the database had been completed, as well as the graphical user interface. The user interfaces and the forms were expected to be finalised by the end of March.
There had been a communication mishap in relation to the Access Model, but the required documents had been sent to the Committee’s Secretariat. Regarding the e-booking system, he showed the system’s website to Members and indicated that people could enter their ID numbers to enter their information into the population register. The e-booking system would be rolled out to various offices in Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal, Wynberg, and in Paarl in the Western Cape. Other offices requested by the provinces would also form part of the initial roll-out of the e-booking system. This system would allow each of the DHA’s offices to be aware of the number of people who needed to be serviced the next day. At the moment, the e-booking system was designed only for ID and passport applications, and also for collections, as this allowed the DHA to monitor the time needed for these processes. The last day for piloting the e-booking system was 31 March, and thereafter the DHA would scale its implementation to its various offices.
Ms Tampane Sefanyetso, Acting DDG: Human Resource Management & Development, responded to the questions on the vacancies within the DHA, and their impact on the entity's service delivery. She said that the business case had been submitted to the National Treasury, and the document outlines the Department's capacity. The DHA's front offices were operating at around 50% of their capacity, which indicated that it was not adequately capacitated. National Treasury's approval of the business case would allow the entity to fill the prioritised posts that were currently vacant. The DHA had an internal process to ensure optimal utilisation of staff when it came to redirecting some support functions.
There were a variety of reasons why staff left the DHA, including looking for career advancement, looking for other opportunities, and personal reasons like family matters or burnout. The most common reason was health-related, and the DHA was looking at measures that could be implemented to intervene in the issue of high staff turnover. The current vacancy rate was 59.3%, which highlighted the need to improve the entity's capacity.
Mr Jackson McKay, DDG: Immigration Services, said that the turnaround times for applications for temporary residence visas were at eight weeks, and for permanent residence, applications were at eight months. The DHA was working on a rotational basis to address the backlog, but the lack of human resources and capacity remained a problem. He confirmed that a team had been put together to resolve and deal with the queries coming from the Committee and Members. The Immigration Inspectorate was struggling significantly with capacity, and the impact of its work was negatively affected because of a lack of adequate human resources. There was a backlog of 4 000 applications for asylum seekers, and this backlog was mainly because of the failure of applicants to show up for their appointments, which then causes delays.
Minister Motsoaledi said that corruption at the offices of the DHA was a problem where security members were exceptionally active, and sometimes usurped the role of the office managers who did not want to face members of the public. The DHA was working to resolve these issues.
When refugee centres were closed, it did not mean that the staff went home, as there was a lot of work that they needed to do, including dealing with the backlog, and these staff members support the lawyers that had been appointed to deal with the backlog.
Regarding the question on employees being suspended but still receiving perks and bonuses, he said it was a worrying issue because the labour laws of South Africa require that people must be suspended on full pay. However, it was worrying because employees often found ways to postpone their cases for long periods of time.
He stated that the BMA would soon start advertising for posts to be filled.
The Chairperson thanked the delegation from the DHA for the responses given to the questions and concerns of the Committee. He commented that the Committee could not rest until the issue of downtime and long queues were resolved for the benefit of the people of South Africa. While the Committee noted the improvements made by the Department, Members had called for the enhancement of performance to ensure quality service delivery. The Committee would continue to monitor the performance of the DHA.
Impact of the SONA
The last item was for the Committee to be briefed by the Content Advisor and Researcher on the impact of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on the work of the Committee and the programmes of the DHA. The Committee deferred this agenda item to its next meeting after Members had time to interact with the documents.
The meeting was adjourned.
Chabane, Mr MS
Khanyile, Ms AT
Legwase, Ms TI
Modise, Ms M
Motsoaledi, Dr PA
Nzuza, Mr NB
Pillay, Mr KB
Ramolobeng, Ms A
Roos, Mr AC
Tito, Ms LF
Tshwaku, Mr M
van der Merwe, Ms LL
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