Dept of Home Affairs plagued by corruption

Corruption continues to be a serious problem at the Department of Home Affairs, its director general said on Tuesday.

Speaking after his first 100 days in office, Mavuso Msimang said he hopes to root this out by motivating staff, putting in place better technology and improved facilities.

He conceded that the department continues to be ”sick” and that its computer servers are a ”disaster waiting to happen”.

At the moment it takes more than 100 days on average to produce an identity document and there are more than 600 000 of them in backlog. A significant number of these are duplicate applications.

”Is home affairs so slow that if people want to get a document they try somewhere else as well?” he asked.

With about 80 people handling an ID from start to finish, Msimang said the largest bottleneck is fingerprint verification, which takes about 27 days.

An electronic tracking system to speed up this process and make it less vulnerable to corruption is being rolled out at present. It will also enable people to query the status of their applications via SMS or on the department’s website.

Other problems that will be given urgent attention include lack of skills and oversight, poor customer satisfaction, duplication of functions and systems that are not linked to one another.

The department’s IT system will be upgraded and placed on a single platform to allow systems to be linked. The roll-out will start at the end of September.

Msimang said preparations are under way for the introduction of a national ID card, in line with the upgrading of the home affairs information system. The business case is still being finalised.

Glitches such as a white woman’s photograph finding its way into the ID book of a black man are hardly surprising given the disorder that reigns in some offices, he said.

Msimang showed journalists photographs of a home affairs office where documents were piled on and under desks and on the floor. In an ”after” picture, these had been placed in neatly labelled boxes or on shelves.

‘Laughing stock’

Msimang said he would put his ”neck on a block” and ensure that the following year’s financial statements came without a qualified audit. He could not vouch for the upcoming set of statements, however.

”We have become a laughing stock because for so many years our financial statements have been qualified,” he said.

Turning to risks facing the department, Msimang said 10 had been identified as being either ”likely” or ”almost certain”. The latter included: ”Threat of unauthorised and/or malicious system access due to limited controls” and the ”threat of accidental or purposeful misrepresentation of financial statements”.

The ”likely” category included a bomb or other threat to a home affairs office due to terrorism or a disgruntled employee.

He said there is a ”clear lack of capacity” at management level, which is being addressed.

”I am very confident that by the end of November we should have accessed some of the skills we are looking for.”

On scarce skills needed in the country, Msimang said the department is streamlining the issuing of work permits. A help desk to deal with queries relating to the 35 000 available scarce-skills permits will be fully operational by the end of the month, he said.

Despite efforts to reduce the backlog in refugee processing, it has grown by about 30%. As of April 1, there were about 144 000 unprocessed applications, up from 111 000 on July 1 2005.

He said the Zimbabweans streaming into the country illegally are not ”clients” of home affairs as they did not meet international definitions of refugees as set out in the Geneva Convention and in African Union and Southern African Development Community protocols. These define refugees as victims of political, religious and other forms of persecution.

He said 27% of refugee applications are rejected outright without the option of an appeal.

The Democratic Alliance spokesperson on home affairs said the ”real problem” is the department’s ”absentee minister”.

”[She] has not admitted to, nor managed to address, any of the very obvious problems since her appointment to the position in 2004,” said Mark Lowe. He said her turnaround strategy never bore fruit.

The department has received five qualified audits in a row. An intervention task team set up to investigate the problems in home affairs earlier this year identified the same issues Msimang mentioned.

”The government and the president have known this for many years now. Why have they not acted to either force the minister to do her job, or else put someone in her place who will perform?” — Sapa

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