The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs met on a virtual platform to receive a briefing from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on its performance in the first and second quarters of the 2022/23 financial year. The presentation showed that the Department had under-performed drastically in its immigration services, with a very low adjudication rate for applications received.
In response to the poor performance in the DHA's permitting division, there was consensus among Members that they were deeply concerned with the slow turnaround time. They questioned the cause of the non-achievement in application adjudications in the permit division. They asked whether the slow process was related to the suspension of the six officials facing serious fraud allegations in the division. Members were not optimistic that the proposed mitigating strategies would make a significant difference in the third quarter. They urged the Department to bear in mind that the many skilled professionals and investment opportunities would be lost due to its non-performance. Furthermore, its backlog and slow adjudication resulted in costly litigation against the Department. A Member suggested conducting an oversight visit to the DHA's permitting section to fully understand the situation there.
There were also concerns over the Department’s delay in presenting its key policies to the Committee for them to be legislated. Those policies included the DHA bill, the Marriage bill, and the one-stop border post policy. Members understood that there was a lack of legislative drafting skills in the Department, but wanted an explanation for the Department not having its own legal services unit that should be responsible for the work of such a nature. As this Parliament was nearing the end of its term, Members felt deeply frustrated that the Department had still not presented those policies to the Committee, and demanded to be provided with a solid timeframe.
Members enquired about the 10 000 jobs the Department had committed to recruiting for its digitalisation programme, wanting to know who would be responsible for the recruitment, and a more detailed project plan. They also asked about the Border Management Authority (BMA) -- when the next cohort of border guards would commence their duties, where the additional funding would come from, and the composition of the current border guards.
Among other issues, Members asked about the Department’s piloted online system for applications for identity documents (IDs) and passports, the 50% increase in the cost of passports, the backlog of late birth registrations, and the pilot system that had just been rolled out in the United Kingdom that had assisted the DHA in its work to issue passports to South Africans who resided overseas
The Chairperson outlined the agenda of the meeting, and stressed that Members also wanted an explanation from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on the lack of responses to their queries. He also expressed the Committee’s appreciation to the Minister and the Department’s team for listening to communities and addressing their concerns. The Committee had noted the letters of acknowledgement from complainants, which confirmed the huge progress that had been made in this area.
DHA performance in Q1 and Q2 of 2022/23
Mr Tommy Makhode, Director-General, DHA, said the Department’s overall performance for Q1 and Q2 showed that 50% and 43% of targets respectively had not been achieved, most of which fell within the immigration services.
The Department was bringing in additional capacity to deal with the immigration backlog.
(See performance by programme in the presentation slides).
Mr Gordon Hollamby, Chief Financial Officer: DHA, said that the DHA had been allocated a total budget of R9.4 billion. The non-payment of invoices within the 30-day deadline totalled R1.2 million. Although those payments had not been paid within 30 days, they had been made subsequently, and the Committee was assured that the 30-day payment target was not a big challenge for the Department.
The funds available for the compensation of employees was not under pressure, and the Department was filling vacant posts.
Overall, the DHA’s finances were not under terrible pressure.
Mr Makhode affirmed the DHA’s commitment to getting a clean audit.
(Other details could be referred to in the presentation slides).
The Chairperson noted the performance targets that the Department had not achieved, as well as the explanations and proposed mitigating strategies that had been provided.
Mr A Roos (DA) commended the Department for having communicated with concerned parties and stakeholders about the reported hold-ups at OR Tambo Airport, and congratulated it for its performance in the civic services division.
He expressed his concern with the DHA’s performance in its permitting division, as investigations were being undertaken against officials in that section. He described the situation in the division as a crisis. He was gravely concerned that the Department, on average, adjudicated only one out of every 20 visa applications it received, which would be detrimental to foreign investment and skills attraction. He questioned whether this situation was caused by the suspensions.
He suggested the Committee make arrangements for an on-site oversight visit to fully understand what was going on in the permitting division. The Committee needed to be briefed on all the existing gaps in the Department, including the extent to which the investigation would affect the operation of the permitting section.
Mr Roos pointed out that due to the DHA’s backlog in adjudicating visas, applicants had successfully sued the DHA. It had lost four cases in the North Gauteng High Court, which had resulted in sheriffs confiscating over 100 computers that belonged to the Department.
He did not understand why there were significant delays in submitting bills to Parliament by the Department’s legal services unit. He noted its explanation, and asked how its legislative drafting unit could lack expertise. To his understanding, the DHA surely had lawyers in the legal services unit and if they could not draft bills, what were they busy with?
Mr Roos sought more details on the 10 000 jobs required for the digitalisation programme. He understood that the recruitment process had been assigned to tenders, so he wanted to know who had the authority to select the candidates in the recruitment process. He also requested a project plan, and remarked that the project seemed very ambitious.
He found it shocking that the Department had decided to increase its passport tariff by 50% to 100%, and asked for an explanation as to how it had worked out this percentage increase. He also wanted to know if the Department had compared the passport price, in terms of pricing power, against the passport prices of other countries in the world.
He observed that the presented report excluded the performance of those offices based abroad. He noted that the visa facilitation service (VFS) had been brought in to assist the Department’s services in issuing passports to South African ex-pats who resided in the UK, so he wanted to know if the services had been rolled out to other countries as well.
Mr Roos asked if the 200 border guards for the Border Management Authority (BMA) were newly appointed, or if they had been transferred from other government departments. He also wanted to know the Department’s alternative plan if National Treasury did not cover the cost of the full roll-out.
Mr M Lekota (COPE) greeted his colleagues, as he had been undergoing medical treatment and had not been to the Committee for some time. He was delighted at the successful cancer treatment, and expressed his gratitude for the warm wishes from Committee Members. He apologised for not having prepared for the meeting, and said he intended to use this as a warm-up before officially re-joining the Committee.
Ms M Molekwa (ANC) took note of the Department’s commitment to expedite the permitting process and ensure the programmes that had not achieved their set performance targets were adequately attended to.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) asked the Department when the independent legislative drafter would be appointed.
He asked the Department to provide a detailed timeframe for the DHA bill, the Marriage bill and the one-stop border post policy to be presented to the Committee so they could be legislated.
He requested an update on the decentralisation of the network service providers. He was concerned at the impact that network downtime would have on the Department’s operation.
He also requested an update on the backlog of the late registration of birth (LRB) process.
He shared his colleagues’ concern at the lengthy delay in the Department’s immigration services. 56 out of 896 applications that were finalised meant that the Department had adjudicated less than 10% of its applications. He was not optimistic that a drastic increase would happen in the next two quarters.
Mr Pillay asked the Department to indicate when the next cohort of border guards would be appointed.
Had its piloted booking system assisted in the identity document (ID) and passports application process? When did the Department envisage the next phase, which was the collection of IDs and passports, would commence? How many smart card IDs had not been collected from the Department by their recipients in the first two quarters?
He asked for more details on the Department’s digitalisation programme, which intended to recruit 10 000 unemployed young graduates. He wanted to know if the recruitment was being done via the Department of Employment and Labour. Who appoints the service provider, and what was the DHA’s role in this process?
Ms A Khanyile (DA) noted that the post advertised for the legislative drafter position had closed on 7 October, which was three weeks ago. She thus requested an update on the filling of that position.
She wanted to know what types of misconduct had been found among the Department's suspended officials. She sought clarity on the meaning of “cannot locate or withdrawn” for those witnesses who had not appeared to testify against those suspended officials.
In future, the Committee would need the Department to provide a more concrete timeframe on how long it would take from receiving applications to finalising late registrations of births. Her constituents had complained about the length of time they had to wait to arrange interviews with the Department.
Ms Khanyile noted the Department had met its targets for timeous issuance of passports inside the country, but she did not see any mention of passport applications that were made from abroad. She reminded the Department of the many South Africans working in other countries. She recalled that a lady who worked in London had almost lost her job because of her passport renewal, as she had to travel to South Africa to fetch it.
She highlighted the number of backlogs in the immigration services, and pointed out Departmental officials, such as the Acting Deputy Director General: Immigration Service, who did not respond to applicants. Some Committee Members ended up having to send a lot of emails and even WhatsApp texts.
She asked the Department to send the Committee information on how many applications for the registration of adoption it had received, and how long it took them to finalise those applications.
The Chairperson noted and appreciated the DHA’s unqualified with findings audit outcome.
He shared Members’ concerns over the delay of the bills. He recalled that the Department had indicated that most of its bills would be presented before Parliament by 2022. Now the Committee was informed of the skills shortage in the legislative drafting unit, and that the Department had to outsource the work to law firms. Given the importance of those bills to the Department, he wanted the Department to explain the reasons for those delays, besides the skills shortage challenge in the legal unit. He was deeply dissatisfied with the Department’s attitude on the issue, which would leave the Committee completing its term next year without having passed those key pieces of legislation.
He indicated that the Auditor-General (AG) had the impression that the Department lacked the capacity to maintain the standard of its financial statements.
Dr Nakampe Masiapato, Commissioner: Border Management Authority (BMA), said that since the BMA would appear before the Committee on 22 November for a full presentation on its operationalisation, he would not go into details of the issue but wanted to guarantee that everything was on track. Members would receive the presentation slides before 15 November.
In response to Mr Roos’s question around the appointment of border guards, he said there were two plans, integration and capacitation, that the BMA had decided. The guards at the BMA did not come through transfers, but through capacitation. The advertisement for the position went out in March 2022 and attracted the interest of many persons from military, law enforcement and security backgrounds. He reminded the Committee that the ability to handle guns was a key prerequisite for the job. Transferring would not have complied with the recruitment modality. He also pointed out that South African Reserve Force members were not government employees.
For funding those posts, he referred the Committee to National Treasury’s medium-term Budget Speech and page 42 of the presentation. The Minister had explicitly stated that additional funding had been put aside by government with the intention for the BMA's operationalisation from April 2023. As the BMA was a government entity, its CFO was liaising with Treasury to discuss which portion of the funding would be footed by National Treasury, and what needed to be paid by the DHA.
Should there not be additional funding, the BMA’s alternative plan was an integration process -- to bring all the colleagues from respective departments to assist the BMA’s operation. Since those colleagues all had their own salaries and tools of trade, it would not incur additional expense for the BMA, but would result in it being under-capacitated.
In response to Mr Pillay’s question on when the next cohort of border guards would come into frame, he said the Department had indicated to Treasury that there would be around 600 personnel added to the BMA in this financial year, and had requested that funding be readily available. The Department was currently waiting for Treasury’s confirmation on the funding allocation. The next cohort of guards would commence their duties as soon as the funding was available.
Mr Makhode responded Mr Roos’s question about the Biometric Movement Control System (BMCS) issue. The Department had formed a task team to look at some of the challenges experienced. He emphasised that the enhancement of security at airports depended on the BMCS. The Department was also receiving assistance from the South African Revenue Service (SARS) regarding the network and rollout of the system.
Mr Makhode noted Members’ concerns over the backlog and non-achievement in the permitting division concerning the issuance of critical skills visas, business and work visas, etc. He referred the Committee to the presentation slides the Department had shared at great length and in detail about its plans to deal with the backlog. One of the key strategies was a task team comprising the DHA and the Department of Trade, Industries and Competition (DTIC) to mainly review the critical skills areas and business industries. To increase the Department’s capacity, it had also brought in additional teams from the provinces, and was in the process of shortlisting 16 adjudicators. He guaranteed that changes would be seen by Quarter 3. He acknowledged the severe under-capacity of the Department following the suspension of six of its former officials. However, he did not think there was a crisis in the permitting division, as everything was well under control.
He reminded the Committee that it had been informed of the under-capacity of the Department’s legal services during one of its oversight visits. In that section, the DHA currently had only one deputy director and one acting director, which was not a lot of human resources. He added that its legal service section was also heavily involved with the litigation cases brought against the Department.
He said the Department would share the performance of its offices abroad with the Committee. Regarding the passport piloting work, he confirmed that the current pilot site was mainly in the UK, but reassured Members of the Department’s commitment to expanding its footprint to other areas. New Zealand and Australia may be on the cards next, depending on the outcome of the Department’s assessment.
Mr Makhode said the question on the Department’s employment of young people for the digitalisation programme would be elaborated on in more detail by the Deputy Director-General (DDG) responsible for human resources. In summary, the DHA was engaging with the Department of Employment and Labour through Employment Services of South Africa (ESSA) to recruit 10 000 young people for this programme. It was an ongoing process, and the Department had already started the shortlisting process for the first phase of candidates.
Responding to Mr Pillay, he said that the Department’s booking system was being performed by more than 160 offices throughout the country. The booking system was ready to roll out its next phase, which was the collection phase, as the Department was aware that the application phase had been stabilised at most offices. The Department hoped it would be able to finalise this phase by Q3.
Mr Makhode acknowledged Members’ concern at the delay of the Department’s bills, and indicated to the Committee that the DHA did have an implementation plan. He explained that the policies approved at Cabinet level required legislation to make them enforceable by law. The bills in the Department were still undergoing the consultation process. The timeframe was that in November, the Department hoped that those bills would reach the International Cooperation, Trade and Security cluster. After consolidating the comments and inputs, the Department would go to the Global and Continental Affairs Committee to update. The deadline for that process was set for 17 November. Thereafter, the bills would go to the Governance State Capacity and Institutional Development cluster on 24 November. Then it would go to the Development Committee on 12 December and the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster on 15 December. The bills would then be sent to the Minister and Deputy Minister for final comments. The Department anticipated that those bills would be finalised by the end of February 2023.
Mr Thomas Sigama, DDG: Civic Services, DHA, responded to the question on late registration births, and indicated that the Act made provision for four categories of registration.
- Registering within 30 days;
- After 31 days to one year;
- Between one to fifteen years;
- Over 15 years.
It was the third category that required extra documentation, because the Department had to verify with the parents to know why they had not registered their children after such a long time. The last category, 15 years and above, was managed and checked by provincial managers, which usually took about 180 days to complete, on average. The Department took it that persons over the age of 15 were able to tell the office who they were when it interviewed them.
Mr Sigama said that there were people out there who changed their own identities, or their date of birth, or took other people’s identification information for their own deceitful purposes, so the Department needed to take time to verify such information. If applicants provide the Department with incomplete information, that may also result in delays.
He said that as of 30 September, there were 463 387 uncollected smart IDs. The Department had done its own analysis and discovered that 55 434 uncollected IDs belonged to people who had passed on. It thus brought the figure of uncollected IDs to 407 000. He affirmed that the Department’s outreach effort had proved to be really effective, and again encouraged people to come and collect their IDs.
The Department’s figure for manual passports excluded those issued from abroad because the Department did not have a system to monitor the process of issuing manual passports overseas. The Department’s manual statistics showed that its overseas missions received approximately 3 000 passport applications per month. The pilot work that had just been rolled out in the UK had really assisted the Department in issuing passports to South Africans who resided overseas. On average, the piloting site received about 300 applications weekly. Mr Sigama assured Members that those passports would be given to recipients without any difficulty, and also guaranteed the Department’s commitment to expanding the reach of this piloting work to cover more countries.
He said the DHA relied on the Departments of Social Development and Justice to collect and adjudicate the adoption process. Although the DHA would share the relevant statistics with the Committee, he clarified that it was on the receiving end of the process and was not involved in any of the decision-making processes.
Mr Nhlanhla Mabaso, DDG: ICT, DHA, explained the delay of the One Time Pin (OTP) to the Committee. The issue involved the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), and has since been fixed. The cause had been due to the vulnerability associated with the SS7 protocol for communications over the telephone line. His team had since been advised of the reversal of the OTP route. Until the architectural matter had been resolved, the OTP error would continuously be received. He said that the issue would be covered in the briefing to the Committee next week.
Ms Tampane Sefanyetso, Acting DDG: Human Resources, DHA, said that the suspensions were all within the permitting division. One chief director and another director in the division had been dismissed. Four employees were under disciplinary hearings. Following that, there was a gap in the division which required capacitation. The Department was in the process of recruiting 16 adjudicators, and the shortlisting was due to take place. The adjudicator position was expected to be finalised during either the end of November or the first week of December.
She confirmed that the 10 000 graduate recruitment process would be taking place in phases, and the project was still in phase one at the moment. 2 000 candidates had been recruited, and the interviews would take place this week. The recruitment process in Limpopo would be concluded today, and the process in Gauteng would be concluded tomorrow. The Department would then finalise the appointees and train them in mid-November for them to commence their duties on 1 December.
Referring to the disciplinary hearings, she said that should a witness indicate that they were not available within the 90-day period, it meant that the witness was either sick or truly not available. Hence, the Department was unable to achieve the target, because the witness could not appear at the scheduled hearing.
Mr Yusuf Simons, Acting Deputy Director-General: Immigration Services, outlined the various interventions the Department had undertaken to address the backlog in the permitting division.
Firstly, he reiterated that the Department had roped in additional capacity to solve the delays in its permitting division. It had established a weekly tracking system to identify which permits would be missing the targets. Then, every Wednesday, the permitting division would discuss its recovery plan to try to catch up with the DG. The Department had brought in capacity from provinces to assist with quality assurance level one. Those assistant directors who were brought in could work from the offices where they currently resided, and did not have to come to the Head Office in Pretoria. For quality assurance level two, the Department brought in some directors from its head office and some District Manager Operations (DMOs) to assist in the area. For quality assurance level three, the Department had brought in two additional chief directors. The DDG himself and the CFO also assisted with quality assurance level four. The Department had also implemented overtime work from October for the permitting section so that work could be done during both weekdays and weekends to increase the adjudicating outputs. The Department was closely monitoring applications, and prioritised the adjudication of types of applications that were likely to be missing their targets.
Secondly, he confirmed that the Department had advertised the 16 adjudicator posts and would soon be commencing the shortlisting process. The criteria were set to look specifically for legally qualified persons to assist the quality of the adjudicating process, as the Department was cognisant of its high number of litigation cases.
Thirdly, Mr Simons informed the Committee of the Department’s operation management, which it had started in the middle of October. The Department had brought in a director and a deputy director, with the director being an expert in the operation management area. In the permitting section, daily meetings were held in the morning by identified officials to track the daily performance of adjudicators. The director of operation management reported directly to the DDG’s office.
Fourthly, through its Chief Director, the Department had arranged a permitting colloquium, which was a discussion with all permitting staff. The key areas of the colloquium focused on detecting fraudulent practices and documents, etc. It was used as a means to re-train and capacitate adjudicators.
At last, the Department had signed a change request to change its visa adjudication system so that directors to senior managers could adjudicate applications remotely.
Mr Makhode said the Department was working with many trade commissions of other countries to expedite the visa issue to reduce the negative impact on investment and skills. For instance, it had had stakeholder engagements with the Japanese trade mission representing Mitsubishi and Toyota, the French trade Commission, the German trade Commission representing Mercedes, VW, etc. This was an ongoing process, and the Department would get regular feedback to support the country's economic growth.
Mr Njabulo Nzuza, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, reaffirmed the Department’s stance to encourage parents to do early birth registration, as it would really solve many existing challenges, such as confusion around citizenship. He said it did not take much time for late birth registration once the Department had all the supporting documents. The challenge of birth registration was that many infants and children were left in the care of their grandparents, who then struggled to get their grandchildren registered. He encouraged fathers to be present at the registration. The Department’s view was that it was unfair for children whose parents had not registered them at birth to suffer the consequence of their parents’ negligence, so it was working with the civic service department to develop a robust system for registering children in the absence of parents.
Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs, commented on the shortage of legislation-drafting skills in the Department. The Department was in general short of lawyers to deal with its mostly litigation cases. He reminded Members of their oversight visit in 2019, during which this issue had been exposed. The only professional with legislation drafting skills was later poached by the Department of Justice and Correctional Services. The Department had been acutely aware of its lack of skills, which was why it had sourced external law firms during the Electoral Laws Amendment Act process. He was unsure why there was such a shortage of legislation-drafting skills, and speculated that most law students had majored in commercial law, constitutional law and criminal law.
He said the last time the Department adjusted the passports price was in 2011. He assured the Committee that the price was not determined by the DHA, but rather by the Government Printing Works, which did the printing work. When benchmarking the price of South African passports against other similar economies, an independent service provider found that the price for South African passports was three times less than that of other countries. He added that the Department had increased its original price by only 50%, whilst it had contemplated increasing it by double. He pointed out that the Department had subsidised much of the cost of passports, whose recipients were comparatively well-to-do people, whereas it was not providing a sufficient subsidy for IDs, many of whose recipients were poor. He remarked that he could never reconcile that irony.
Dr Motsoaledi stressed that the misconduct cases in his Department were not minor offences, such as a traffic cop taking a bribe. He described those misconduct cases as permeating the Department, with a well-organised syndicate ready to fight back against his effort to root out corruption in the Department. The extent and scale to which corruption took place was shocking and involved huge amounts of money. He recalled a conversation with Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) regarding patriotism and corruption. He remarked that not a single element of patriotism could be found from those who were involved in those blatant misconduct cases. One junior official who had been caught last month, on level 6 post pay scale, owned a Range Rover, a Mercedes-Benz, and three other cars. To store those cars, he had built a huge garage in some rural Limpopo area. When caught red-handed, they always put up a big fight with postponements, doctors’ letters, attorneys, other commitments, etc.
Recently, he and the officials committed to rooting out corruption in the Department had noticed that those corrupt ones had united together to launch a huge fight-back. They had even gone to the extent of spreading malicious and untrue lies to discredit the Minister himself and other officials, such as the Director of Counter Corruption, Adv Conny Moitse, accusing her of having an affair with the Minister. He also noted the many false rumours published and spread by "Star" newspaper. For instance, the person who had been caught in the misconduct for having given paperwork to Prophet Shepherd Bushiri had taken the Department to court more than three times. Despite the challenges, the Minister said he would not accept defeat and would continue to fight and root out corruption in the Department.
On the registrations for adoption, the Minister reminded Members that the DHA was merely a recipient of all the paperwork from the Departments of Social Development and Justice, and was not involved in any of the decision-making processes.
Dr Motsoaledi explained the reasons for the delays in the Department, and said that he had appeared on eNCA News this morning for an hour to explain the issue as well. He said that not everyone came to the Department to change their names or dates of birth out of good faith. Some people decided to change their names because they had criminal records, or were in debt. Some came to Home Affairs to change their date of birth to get early access to a SASSA grant. The Department therefore needed time to verify such information. Furthermore, as the Department’s archive contained 350 million records dating from 1895, the verification process took time.
Feedback on draft job profiles for IEC officials
Feedback on the draft job profiles for the public office-bearers for the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Full-time Commissioners and Part-time Commissioners of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
Mr Adam Salmon, Committee Content Advisor, took the Committee through the letter which the Committee planned to send to the House Chairperson, Cedric Frolick, on the draft job profiles for the public office-bearers for the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, full-time Commissioners and part-time Commissioners of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
In the letter, the Committee raised three questions:
- Where and how were the differences decided between part-time and full-time Commissioners, the Chair and Vice Chair, if their job descriptions were identical?
- For the two full-time Commissioners, other than the Chair and Vice Chair, who decides which priority would be their focus to prevent unnecessary duplication?
- Who decides, and how was the “time spent and weighting” for each key performance area decided, since it was left blank in the job descriptions received?
The Committee approved the letter to be sent to the House Chairperson.
The meeting was adjourned.
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