/ 14 November 2007

ID books within seven days by 2012, says minister

South Africans can soon expect a vast improvement in the time it takes to obtain identity documents, passports and a range of other services, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced on Wednesday.

While it currently takes an average of 127 days to get an ID, the department is aiming to reduce this to 60 days within a year and to seven days in five years, she told a media briefing at Parliament.

”A passport now takes an average of 41 days. In five years, we hope to produce this document within five days.” Also, a permanent-residence permit, currently taking up to 18 months, should be provided within three months by next year this time.

”A visa today can take up to 10 days to be issued. In five years, we will do so in two.”

Refugee status determination, currently taking up to a year, should be processed within a month one year from now, Mapisa-Nqakula said.

The end of the first phase of the turnaround project is two weeks away, with phase two — the roll-out of large scale programmes — running from January to December next year. The final phase — the continued roll-out of major IT programmes — begins the following year.

The first phase entailed identifying and understanding problems and designing future implementations and ”quick wins”.

”I am indeed happy that in only six months during which we implemented the first phase of this project, we are able to announce major strides towards out ultimate goal of building a new home affairs. The home affairs of the future will look and operate very differently to the way it does today,” she said.

One of the crucial backlogs — in the fingerprint-verification section — has been eliminated since November 1. There had been almost 237 000 applications on backlog in the middle of July, and ”now we have zero”.

This turnaround was not simply due to ”superficial tweaks”, but a deep, fundamental and radical change to the way the department works and thinks. ”We want an organisation free of corruption, led by motivated staff that takes pride in serving the people of South Africa.”

Costing, standards and functionality of the new proposed smart-card ID are in an advanced stage, and could be used as a launching pad for developing smart-card technology in South Africa.

The new passport to be rolled out in April next year will later be upgradeable to an e-passport.

Attention is also being given to making services more accessible, with international trends pointing to convenient locations, such as post offices, travel agents and service centres. It is also being recommended that home affairs offices open at 7am in the morning, Mapisa-Nqakula said.


The minister also said that the closing of a loophole allowing illegals to acquire South African birth certificates and identification documents and grants fraudulently will not leave genuine South Africans at a disadvantage.

The department has been ordered to ”terminate the privilege” of allowing late registration of births, she told a media briefing at Parliament. Implementation is expected in the near future.

Mapisa-Nqakula said late registration of births was originally introduced to accommodate South Africans, mainly in the most remote areas of the country, who have remained there without any form of documentation. These are people who have never registered their children, and others who themselves have never before registered their existence.

”It was meant for that. And I think it was a very good decision at the time,” she said. ”Really, I think it is possible that now a significant number of South Africans are in possession of one document or the other.”

However, the department has also picked up that the process created a loophole for other people, who are not necessarily South Africans and do not qualify, to find ways of obtaining a birth certificate.

Tighter controls

”A birth certificate is the key to everything. It’s your way to get access to an ID. Now without violating people’s constitutional rights … we’ve got to have tighter controls, more stringent measures should be taken in the screening process to ensure that … we are registering South Africans,” she said.

There also needs to be a heightened public-awareness campaign that gives a message to people who ”are colluding in wrongdoing”.

Some religious leaders, traditional leaders and schoolteachers are certifying people as having been in the country ”for donkey’s years, who were born in the country, when in fact they know it is not true”. The challenge is sensitising the public about the implications of such acts for South Africa’s security.

People also need to appreciate that ID documents, birth certificates and passports are important documents, which have to be kept securely. — Sapa