LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE MEDIA
Five days from today, women all over South Africa will be celebrating Women's Day. Celebrating with them will be their little children who see their mothers as their first line of security - security against cruelty inflicted on them by fellow human beings.
Among these South African women and children, will be our sisters and their little ones from our neighbouring states, who came here to seek refuge from torture, blatant violation of human rights, political intolerance and many other inhumane deeds. Here I am talking about our asylum seekers and refugees. These are the people who unfortunately also tend to be viewed by most locals as illegal immigrants. Of course various people give numerous reason for this mistaken identity. One of those reasons is that most of our neighbours abuse our asylum procedure, disadvantaging the South African citizens in the long run. We are aware of such abuse and negotiations are continuing with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to develop a new asylum procedure for the country.
The SADC Council of Ministers has also appointed a Working Group, of which South Africa is a member, to consider proposals on how to address the problem of refugees in the region and to draft a Declaration of Refugees for consideration by Summit in September 1998. A final Declaration will be presented to the Council on 10 September 1998.
Although South Africa is a member and signatory of a number of international organisations on refugees and migration, it is imperative that we work towards establishing our own refugee policy. As such, the Draft Refugee White Paper was formally launched on 18 June 1998 and published for general information on 19 June 1998. Inputs from interested parties were expected by 20 July 1998 and the Paper is expected to be tabled in Parliament very soon.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which works quite closely with my Department in terms of training and development of asylum policy, has expressed its willingness to assist the Department with Identity and Travel Documents for Refugees. These issues will be taken up again once legislation on asylum has been put in place.
A Task Team on International Migration has also been put together to co-ordinate the drafting of a migration policy of South Africa. This Task Team, which is under the chairmanship of the Director-General of Home Affairs, Mr Albert Mokoena, has already started with its activities and will now be engaged in provincial and public hearings. Tentative dates have already been set to conduct these hearings in all the nine provinces as it is my wish to have legislation in this regard adopted before the end of the present legislative term. We therefore appeal to you, ladies and gentlemen of the media, to help us make these migration and refugee policy processes known for wider and varied comment from the public.
It is a clearly known fact, ladies and gentlemen, that inputs from other government departments in drafting our refugee and migration policies are of great importance. Equally so, is the role these departments will play in the implementation of our policies. We have also expressed a need for greater co-operation by writing to fellow departments and advising them of the immigration procedures and the assistance that we are able to render should they require our services. This refers to functional processes as well as the collation of information available in various government departments.
In line with my Department's commitment to improve service delivery, Identity Documents (ID's) are now issued within a period of two months of application. Of course this is if all the necessary information have been supplied in the application. My Department makes it a point that the applicants are informed in time, if such an oversight occurs.
The ID Campaign was launched in April this year with an emphasis put on the fact that all eligible voters should apply for the green bar-coded ID's timeously to avoid the last minute rush. While we were processing +40 000 applications per week up to the first quarter of the year, the figures rose to 98 000 a week towards the last week of the second quarter. This is enough proof that my Department is and will be able to handle bigger volumes and process them timeously. Citizens in possession of non bar-coded ID's have since increased their applications for the green bar-coded ID's. About 55 000 applications in this category are processed per week. The same cannot be said about the applications for first issues, which have dropped significantly.
Despite our preparedness to handle an increased workload of ID applications, we will not be able to process all last-minute applications before the registration cut off date and the Post Office may also experience problems in delivering such a large number of documents in such a short space of time. If there is anyone to blame in times of such unfortunate circumstances, then that would be the last minute applicants themselves. My Department is not prepared to shoulder any responsibility for this category of applicants' failure to vote in the 1999 election. The logic is clear: No ID, no registration and no registration, no voting. So, lets apply now before time runs out.
The Department has recently noticed a significant increase in the number of applications for identity documents where the applicant applies for late registration of birth at the same time. It was also found that the number of Aliens using this method to obtain a South African identity document has increased likewise.
Certain offices of the Department were very prominent regarding increase in such applications and the possibility of assistance being rendered by officials of the Department was not excluded. Specific precautionary measures such as training of staff in scrutinising techniques were put in place and the Market Street office of the Department in Johannesburg was targeted as a pilot project. The number of applications of this nature received from this office immediately decreased from more than a 100 per day to a mere 10 per day. Four officials of the Department were found to be involved in this and they were dealt with accordingly.
The measures applied at the Market Street office were extended to all offices of the Department and the number of such applications has decreased significantly. The Department is however aware of the fact that efforts at assisting Aliens in obtaining SA Identity Documents will be continued with and the Department will likewise continue its efforts to curb this serious problem. To date, about 20 000 applications have been disapproved and sent back to the offices of application as procedures for approval of late registration of birth were not followed.
The involvement of my Department's officials in this fraudulent acquisition of Identity Documents is viewed very seriously in the light of wider corruption practices.
Following the Department's decision to rule out corruption and all forms of serious misconduct, 17 officials have been discharged or directed to resign as a result of fraud, theft and aiding and abetting illegal aliens, since the last media briefing here.
A total of 18 officials have also been suspended from duty, pending the outcome of disciplinary action against them, for similar offences as those mentioned above.
My Department realises that no matter how water-tight our policies might be, implemented by corrupt officials, they will still be of less value. We consequently, with permission of the Cabinet, established an Anti-Corruption Unit, which is hard at work cleansing my Department from the few corrupt officials which may still be in the Department's employ.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my greatest wish to see all South Africans identify with the Department of Home Affairs as the Department that they can trust and be proud of. We have already started issuing monthly media releases about progress made in uprooting corruption in my Department because we acknowledge our clients' right to be served in a friendly and corrupt-free environment at all times. These releases bear names of all officials arrested by either my Department's Anti-Corruption Unit or the South African Police Service.
In conclusion, I would like to appeal to the public once again, to blow the whistle when they see corruption-related activities taking place in any of my Department's offices throughout the country. The Department of Home Affairs is your Department, help us make it a better home for us all.