I wish to thank the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs for
the opportunity to address it on the activities and planning
agenda of the Department of Home Affairs. This discussion is all
the more pertinent in view of the forthcoming Home Affairs Budget
Appropriation Debate, scheduled for this very month. I hope that
the information we share during this meeting may enable Members
of this Committee to engage in constructive debate on that
occasion. Furthermore, with your active support, informed advice
and your policy input, the Department will be better positioned
to meet social expectations with regard to the provision of the
services allocated to it by Parliament.
As you all know the two functions of the Department are firstly the identification of members of the population and the granting of specific rights and powers, and secondly the exercise of control over the admission of aliens to, and their sojourn in the Republic of South Africa. In addition, the Department manages and operates the Government Printing Works.
I can say with conviction that the staff of the Department of Home Affairs has performed these functions with dedication and hard work over the past years. I know the difficult conditions under which they often go the extra mile to please our clients. Unfortunately, however, the few times in which we fall short in rendering exemplary services, are those that are remembered and focussed on. We must also draw a constant distinction between the hard work and dedication of the majority of our officials on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the problems and malfunctions affecting our service delivery which are the product of a combination of obsolete administrative structures and many of the laws, which we are struggling to reform, and our failure to render services to the best of our ability because of the poor funding this Department has received ever since I was appointed.
Recent media reports focussing on the tabling in Parliament of the Public Service Commission's report "Home Affairs Batho Pele and Management Audit Investigations", bear this out. This despite the fact that the report was based on investigations conducted in 1999 and early 2000, covering a period when the Department was without a Director-General. At that time, the Department had already embarked on an extensive programme of service delivery improvements. On April 12 I instructed the Department to report what has been done since February 2000 to address some of the issues highlighted in the report. In my instruction, I also instructed the Department to abandon ideas of redesigning the Department before we build on the plans which are already in place and fix the most obvious problems and shortcomings. I am awaiting the Department's response.
I must stress that the many problems the Department is experiencing are only marginally caused by its people. To a greater extent they are caused by our lack of resources and the structural imbalances within the organisation of its two functions, which can only be corrected through the long-term reforms we envisage. In the mean time, to resolve the problem of resources we must find ways and means of doing things differently. I have urged a change of attitude which starts at the delivery interface between our structures and our clients in respect of both our civic affairs and migration control functions. We need to be more responsive and more accommodating, especially in respect of our clients seeking migration control benefits. We also need to find ways and means of performing our tasks more simply and effectively with fewer resources.
To this end, but also as a requirement laid down in the Public Finance Management Act, my Department embarked on a strategic planning process that constitutes the first comprehensive planning instrument of the Department of Home Affairs. It is the product of deliberations during a top management workshop held during the period 21-26 January 2001. I opened this workshop by restating the policy vision of reform, restructuring and transformation in line with my submission to Cabinet during our Cabinet lekgotla. Given the general interest in the matter, I instructed that my opening address be posted on our Web site. Together with the implementation of this strategic vision, I urged the development of a new institutional culture and operational parameters which define who we are and what we do. Unfortunately, the Department has not yet reported to me on the outcome of this workshop, in spite of the time which has lapsed. Nonetheless, I trust that the report will emphasise the need to pursue the ambitious goals and objectives we have set for ourselves, as well as mechanisms to measure progress and success in a multi-disciplinary framework focussing on high priority, short-term needs and daily management agenda items, as well as important long-term objectives for improved service delivery.
Of course, any strategic plan can never be seen in isolation from the budget allocated to my Department. I reported in detail at last year's Home Affairs Budget Appropriation Debate on the insufficient funding in every sphere of activity of my Department. Unfortunately, the situation this year looks no different. In fact, for the 2001/2002 financial year the budget allocation of the Department, personnel expenditure excluded, has decreased by 5,9% when compared to the previous year, which is unbearable, taking into account the increase in the services expected from the Department. This severe under-funding impacts negatively on all the Department's activities and, consequently, on our level of service delivery. It has impaired a number of the Department's identified priorities, such as the upgrading of the Population Register, the upgrading of the Movement Control System and the taking over of 14 border posts from the South African Police Service, at their request. The legal cases, often arising out of deficient legislation, which my Department defends resulted in expenditure of over R3 million. Yet, with the current budgeted allocation, only R1 million is available for this purpose. Furthermore, although the computerisation of Departmental offices and linking them to the Departmental mainframe in order to optimise service delivery has been identified as one of the strategic goals, the practical implementation of this will be seriously hampered by insufficient funding. National Treasury has already indicated that the Department should consider Public Private Partnerships for funding
of these priorities.
Due to these budget constraints, the Department has had to place a moratorium on the filling of all vacancies since 1998. As a result of this moratorium and the vacancies created by a number of personnel taking voluntary severance packages, the Department had a vacancy rate of 19,2% on its establishment for almost the whole of 2000.
The effect of this can be seen in a statistical decrease of almost all the services being rendered by the Department of Home Affairs. During the latter part of 2000, a stage was reached where the Department, with its existing personnel, could no longer render a professional, efficient service to its clients. The morale amongst existing personnel had become low, due to the tremendous workload and continuous working of overtime, and with backlogs increasing steadily. It had become imperative to appoint additional staff to avoid serious embarrassment.
Consequently, through a process of critical analysis, 231 posts, to be funded from savings accomplished by extreme belt-tightening efforts elsewhere in the Department, were identified for filling. The process of filling these 231 critical posts will be completed within the foreseeable future. Despite this exercise the Department still had 16,1% of the posts on its establishment vacant on March 31, 2001. To render the kind of services expected from the Department while operating with 84% of a staff establishment determined on the basis of the needs six years ago, is impossible.
It has clearly become imperative that a scientifically based staff establishment for the Department, based on current needs, be compiled and that the necessary funding be obtained to suitably fill the posts concerned in order to render the kind of service members of the public expect and deserve.
Following the new demarcation of municipalities, my Department has embarked on a process of re-evaluating the present location of its network of offices so as to endeavour to align this with the new municipal areas. This is obviously a long-term exercise but is part of the ongoing efforts to improve the Department's service delivery to the public of South Africa. However, the fundamental issue of the unequal distribution of civic affairs services across the territory cannot be solved within the present paradigm. Apartheid has left us with a concentration of our offices in affluent areas, and with vastly inadequate resources where the majority of our people live and where, because of historical backlogs, the need for our services is the most intense.
As mentioned in the President's state of the nation address, we will need to devolve functions to municipalities in order to provide a long-term stable and sustainable solution to the problem. This is an essential part of the overall strategy of reforming and restructuring our Department which I mentioned earlier. On the basis of the presentation I gave to the Cabinet lekgotla, I instructed the Department to begin planning the transfer of the delivery functions of civic affairs to municipalities and traditional authorities. Municipalities are equally distributed across the territory and there is no reason why, in our country, one should not be able to receive birth and death certificates, identity documents and other civic affairs services from municipalities, as one can in most countries of the world. It is also cheaper to build capacity in municipalities rather than building our own capacity wherever it is required, because the capacity which can be built in municipalities can also be employed for other services, either other government delegated functions, such as the delivery of welfare services, or other municipal services which can be delivered by the same office and with the same staff, in the same place.
Once the delivery aspect of civic affairs is devolved to municipalities, the central government will maintain all the powers and functions relating to the population registry, the national identification system, including fingerprinting, and any policy and legislation relating thereto. Our Department will help build capacity in municipalities, maintain the integrity of the system and access protocols and, generally speaking, monitor how municipalities perform their function, and assist them as and when required. This approach will also enable our Department to deal with the problems and inadequacy it experiences in respect of its function of migration control. Indeed, the reform of migration control and the delegation of powers and functions to municipalities are two complimentary sides of the same long-term reform and restructuring of our Department. The present delivery structures, offices and personnel of the Department will be able to be directed more suitably towards the exercise of migration control. In fact, migration control is less sensitive to the requirement of equal distribution of offices across the territory and our present allocation of resources fairly reflects the distributional needs of migration control activities across the territory.
While pursuing this long-term vision, and in preparation thereof, my Department has also, with the blessing of our colleagues in the Department of Provincial and Local Government, embarked on a process of negotiating with local and rural authorities for co-operation in the rendering of civic services. These negotiations have met with positive responses from several quarters.
My Department is also co-operating closely with the GCIS initiative to establish Multi-Purpose Community Centres (MPCCs) to integrate service delivery at community level, especially in rural areas. MPCCs have allowed for close collaboration between national, provincial and local governments, as these centres are homes for government services in different spheres. The Department will participate in all MPCCs and will ensure that appropriate staff is made available for these purposes.
Improving service delivery also pertains to the services Home Affairs renders in respect of foreigners. The Department has grown used to administering migration control in terms of the Aliens Control Act and at times fails to accept that from the viewpoint of our clients, the function of migration control has become inadequate and ineffective in sustaining present pressures and satisfying future challenges. The inefficiency and inadequacy of migration control is one of the contributing factors preventing our country from acquiring the skills and human resources it needs to grow and prosper. After four years of intense policy formulation, a new vision for migration control in the 21st century has been developed, which has been embodied in the Immigration Bill serving before Cabinet. As the matter is still in the process of being finalised by Cabinet, it would be improper for me to comment on it or discuss it extensively.
Many of the members of this Committee honoured me with their presence during the international conference we held on the Bill in July last year and are therefore familiar with the features and purposes of the new Bill. Since the draft Bill has been substantially amended to reflect comments and requests made by my colleagues during the extensive discussions held in Cabinet and its committees or by their departments during the extensive interdepartmental discussions held since the Bill was first tabled in Cabinet. The latest version of the Bill has been posted on our Web site for a while. However, there is a second version of the Bill which has been prepared at the request of Cabinet, in which the Immigration Service no longer features, which, for transparency sake, has also been posted on our Web site.
At this juncture it shall suffice to remind the Members that the main thrust of the new legislation will be that of simplifying the processing of temporary and permanent residence permit applications so as to attract required skills to our country and to move administrative capacity towards law enforcement and the prevention, detection and investigation of illegal aliens and their removal from the country. The President, in his State of the Nation Address, mentioned the urgent review of immigration laws and procedures as one of the priority actions to stimulate the economy of the country.
Cabinet has recently held a workshop in which uncertainties regarding the Immigration Bill were clarified. The Bill has received wide support in civil society in spite of being part of what will always remain a controversial field, and I trust that this Bill will pass through the parliamentary process in the current year. As you know, in his State of the National Address, the President has indicated his wish that Parliament may process this Bill this year, and the parliamentary schedule reflects this hope. I hope that my Department and this Committee may work hand in hand in processing this Bill once it is approved by Cabinet, and I can assure the Committee that I and my staff will be available at all times to provide whatever assistance the Committee may require in this task, which I know from experience to be a very difficult and complex one.
We must take cognisance that, unfortunately, migration to our country takes two forms, legal, that is in terms of the prescribed immigration procedures, and illegal, as people enter and reside in South Africa in an unlawful manner. At present both add significantly to the workload of the Department and the severe shortages of personnel and funding that I have described earlier similarly impacts on migration management. For lack of resources, not much is being done in respect of illegal immigration, which in the long run will cause difficult policy problems for the country as a whole. We hope that once the new legislation brings about a complete overhaul of the administrative structure presently dedicated to migration control, more can be done to deal with illegal immigration. However, until then, in a certain sense we are postponing facing up to a difficult policy debate that we, as a country, will sooner or later need to confront, relating to the degree of law enforcement we wish to achieve in migration control and the measure of resources and energies we intend to dedicate to this end.
I have instructed the Department that foreign spouses of South African citizens and permanent residents must be allowed to work within South Africa and that they be eligible for work permits free of charge, while their permit application for permanent residence is being processed. The renewal of their permits will also be entertained free of charge. It should be noted that such spouses must lodge an application for an immigration permit within ninety (90) days from the date of receipt of a temporary residence permit. I hope that this instruction has in fact been carried out.
Measures are also currently in place to accommodate the residence of life partners in South Africa. I recently reviewed and extended the cut-off date of March 19, 2001 for life partners of South African citizens or permanent residents to apply for an extension of their exemptions. These life partners have the opportunity to work in South Africa and to apply for permanent residence. All these interim measures will be deal with in the new legislation once enacted.
April 1, 2001 marks the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Refugees Act, 1998, (Act 130 of 1998) and its Regulations and the implementation of the new refugee status determination procedure. The Act increased the structure of the Refugees Appeal Board from one person to three persons, and broadened the scope of the Board. Furthermore, the Act required that the powers of the Standing Committee on Refugee Affairs be delegated and decentralised to the Regional Directorates of the Department of Home Affairs. Five Refugee Reception Offices were established at Braamfontein, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban. Although the Department requested an additional amount of R11,218 million to implement the Refugee Reception Offices required by the Act, it could only make provision for R1,3 million to fill some of the posts at the Refugee Reception Offices.
Recently, my Department has implemented a number of measures that will enhance the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa. As you may have read in press reports, some of such measures have been controversial, including those embodied in a circular adopted without prior consultation with me or my office, as should happen in respect of policy matters of this nature. I have instructed the Department to deal with any matter relating to refugee affairs in terms of the strictest compliance possible with applicable international law rules and standards, and that such circular be reviewed in terms thereof.
The exercise to clear the backlog of asylum applications which were active and pending at the date of entry into force of the new refugee status determination procedures, embarked on with the assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Human Rights Commission, was completed on 31 March 2001. The conversion of the Section 41 permits issued in terms of the Aliens Control Act, 1991, held by asylum seekers who applied under the old procedure, into Section 22 permits issued in terms of the Refugees Act, 1998, was completed by 31 April 2001. To respect acquired rights of former Section 41 permit holders, the Section 22 permit will be endorsed to enable the holders to continue working or studying, as they have done hitherto. Of course, under normal circumstances asylum seekers are not allowed to work, in terms of the provisions of the Refugees Act, 1998. As from 1 May 2001 my Department has commenced with the issuance of new Refugee Identity Cards to all recognised refugees, which will enable them to fully exercise their rights and comply with their obligations in South Africa.
Since 1 April 2000 visa applications from foreigners wishing to visit South Africa may only be lodged at South African missions abroad. This new policy was, in general, well received and is working effectively. Nationals from countries where South Africa is not represented are lodging applications timeously with the assistance of courier services and travel agents. The number of persons arriving at South African ports of entry without visas has decreased. This is ascribed to the strict policy of refusing entry to persons arriving without visas.
In this regard it should also be mentioned that the Department of Foreign Affairs has indicated that the workload in the consular sections of South African Missions abroad has escalated to such an extent that more officials from the Department of Home Affairs need to be transferred to these Missions. It would, however, not be possible to consider this, as my Department is struggling to financially maintain the current number of officials abroad.
The Movement Control System that records the movement of persons through the border posts of the country was developed and first implemented in 1989. The programme had an estimated usable life of five years but has now been in use for twelve years and is completely outdated, and can no longer cope with the volume of data. The system no longer satisfies the needs of the various user departments and requires a complete rewrite. This would cost approximately R20m, but funds have not been made available for the purpose. As the programme is so outdated, new technology cannot be used on it. Consequently it is becoming progressively less efficient and will soon be unusable.
Turning now to the second form of migration, namely illegal immigration, the Department of Home Affairs spends approximately R35m annually on repatriations of illegal aliens and deportations. This amount does not include salaries of staff involved and their accommodation costs.
As is the case with all the activities of the Department of Home Affairs, the Department's task in the tracing and removal of illegal aliens is being hampered by the lack of manpower and financial resources. The Department will henceforth place more emphasis on the prosecution of persons who employ, provide accommodation or education to aliens in contravention of the Aliens Control Act. Nonetheless, the Department ordered or caused the repatriation of 170,317 illegal aliens to their countries of origin last year.
A concern in this regard is the fact that the so-called "marriages of convenience" where illegal aliens enter into marriages with South African partners, either by fraudulent means or by arrangement with a South African accomplice, are on the increase, in their attempts to legalise their stay in the country. Administrative procedures are constantly being reviewed in an attempt to curb further increases of this abuse of an otherwise fundamental human right.
The Department's bilateral contact with its SADC counterparts on migration issues has increased and strengthened over the past 12 months. Major progress has been made on issues that have long been outstanding with Mozambique, Lesotho and Botswana. The Department strives for continuous contact with all SADC members on migration concerns that impact on the country and the region as a whole. The International Organisation for Migration has initiated a forum for the region at which migration strategies for SADC are examined and Departmental representation at this forum is active.
Turning to the Civic Services terrain I am once again proud to say that, in the run-up to the Municipal Elections, my Department was able to cope with the demand for identity documents. No prospective voter was disenfranchised as a result of my Department's inability to provide the necessary documentation timeously. It is in fact heartening to be able to say that, despite the staffing levels mentioned earlier, the Department is currently able to exceed the service delivery standard of six weeks and issue identity documents within 2-4 weeks from the date of application.
One way in which the system was being abused by illegal aliens to regularise their stay in the country, was through late registration of birth, usually with the assistance of South African accomplices. To eliminate the number of illegal aliens who endeavour to obtain South African identity documents by furnishing false information through this method, my Department has established screening committees at all regional and district offices of the Department with a view to interviewing applicants who apply for first identity documents and who cannot submit documentary proof to substantiate their claim to South African citizenship. The Department is still monitoring the success of this control measure, but it is envisaged that this will curb malpractice in this regard.
The implementation of legislation that legalises the green bar-coded identity document as the only acceptable identity document will further assist in curbing fraud in this regard.
A major challenge that the Department has embarked on is the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) of which most Members will be aware by now. This project, which consists of the automation of the Department's manual fingerprinting system and the issuing of a new, smart card identity card should be seen as more than just a new identity card project: it is in fact the advent of electronic governance in South Africa, as this card will eventually become the key to accessing government and other social services.
The Department of Home Affairs has been working very closely with a number of other departments in the arena of smart cards and e-governance. A Request for Information (RFI) was published in this regard in July 2000 with a closing date of 31 August 2000. The outcome of this RFI, requesting inputs from the information technology industry and other stakeholders, was then used to undertake a thorough investigation of the viability of implementing smart cards as the national identity card. A recommendation in this regard is to be submitted to Cabinet soon. It is also envisaged that the card will eventually be used by a number of private organisations such as banks, insurance companies, medical aid schemes and many more, to combat fraud. The benefits of reduced fraud in these practices should result in substantially higher profits and therefore increased revenues to the State through taxes. It should be noted that I have appointed a commission headed by Prof. Fink Haysom to monitor any stage of the procurement of the smart card technology and assess available options, so as to avoid any possibility of impropriety, and to look into any possible allegation from the public which may emerge at any time.
My Department is also embarking on the implementation of an electronic document management system. The current manual records system has reached the point where it has become almost unmanageable. An electronic system will greatly enhance service delivery, but will also address the current fraud gap that exists due to the excessive manual process requirements. Computerisation of the records environment will also remove the current need for physical storage space and reduce the disaster impact risk.
Following the national and provincial elections of June 1999, new municipal councils were elected for the whole of South Africa on 5 December 2000. These elections were the first in the municipal sphere where the principle of one person, one vote fully applied. The Electoral Commission did not have an easy task. A wide variety of problems around the demarcation of new municipal boundaries meant that final preparations for the elections had to be delayed until very late. The allocation of funding for the elections was also somewhat delayed. This adversely affected a variety of projects and programmes. In the end the elections were, however, acclaimed as free and fair and well run. The Electoral Commission advises me that it received general acclaim for the conduct of the elections but that it also received many more complaints and objections from political parties and others than with the 1999 elections. This they regard as a positive sign, showing that education in electoral practices and procedures has clearly improved knowledge of and constructive participation in the electoral process.
The turnout for the municipal elections was high by international standards. Once again the faithful were queuing before sunrise to cast their votes and early indications were thus of a high turnout. A significant number of voters did not participate, however, and that is a cause for concern. This is a matter which the Electoral Commission will study and analyse in the coming year and will further comment on when it submits its report on the elections.
In the coming year, both our Department and the Commission will commence important projects in the electoral fields, reviewing the South African electoral legislation and practices. The Department will carry out its responsibility of piloting the substitution of the Electoral Act, 1998 with a new one which will also consolidate the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act, 2000 into one electoral act and bring it into line. This process will require important and delicate policy decisions, in respect of which I have already written to Members of this Committee.
As you know, it was formally announced that Cabinet had approved the establishment of a task team, comprising of one representative appointed by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, one representative appointed by the Minister of Provincial and Local Government, one representative appointed by the Chairperson of the IEC, two representatives appointed by myself, and the Chief Director of Legal Services of the Department of Home Affairs. The task team, to be chaired by Dr F van Zyl Slabbert, is meant to be appointed to draft the new electoral law on the basis of interdepartmental co-ordination and a consultative process with relevant role players and stakeholders.
We will need to discuss how this task team will liaise with this Committee and the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and how it should interface with political parties. However, in spite of such public announcement, the finalisation and appointment of this task team has not yet taken place as it is awaiting resolution of certain pending matters which rest with the Deputy President. Electoral regulations must also be reviewed and consolidated.
The Films and Publication Board and the Films and Publication Review Board are funded from the Home Affairs Vote. The Films and Publication Board is responsible for the classification of films. The Board processed a total of 3,149 applications in 2000. These included 2,201 applications for the classification of films for general release, 392 films under the category of "adult" films and 68 interactive computer games. In addition, the Board processed 29 applications for exemptions and 459 registrations for distributors and/or exhibitors. In addition, the Board has examined and provided opinions on a number of videos and computer disks submitted by police investigating child pornography offences.
The Films and Publications Act, Act 65 of 1996, requires classification guidelines to be subjected to public scrutiny in order to establish generally-accepted community levels of tolerance of classifiable elements - violence, sex, nudity, language and prejudice. The procedure requires the gazetting of the guidelines and an invitation for public inputs. In order to reach as wide a cross-section of the South African population as possible, the Board, after gazetting the guidelines, invited public responses through several newspaper, radio and TV advertisements, as well as communicating the information for responses to almost every single school in the country, several NGOs, Departments, interest groups and individuals. The guidelines were made available in all official languages.
The Board shares responsibility for the business of adult premises, the so-called "adult" or "sex" shops, with local licensing authorities. Adult premises are licensed by local authorities in terms of the Business Act, 1991, and are registered with the Board in terms of the Films and Publications Act, 1996. In order to avoid confusion and conflicts between the two authorities with regard to the conditions under which such businesses should be allowed to operate, the Board has held several meetings with local authorities and has gazetted regulations which define the general terms and conditions which should apply to all such businesses, while allowing for variations at the discretion of local authorities.
As far as the Government Printing Works is concerned, I wish to inform members of this Committee that in the process of investigating the privatisation of the Government Printing Works, a consultant was appointed to advise Government on what will best serve the interests of the country. The consultant's recommendation that the Government Printing Works be privatised and become a State Owned Enterprise in terms of the Companies Act, was accepted by Cabinet earlier this year. The next phase in this process is the appointment of another set of consultants to plan and implement the commercialisation of the Government Printing Works. This entails drawing up procedures and methods by which the envisaged enterprise will operate meaningfully in the competitive profit-oriented environment in which it will find itself.
Though the process may appear cumbersome, cognisance must be taken of the fact that transforming the Government Printing Works from a public sector institution into a commercial or private sector establishment is an involved process. There is no room for any margin of error in the planning stage as, once it takes off, there will be no second chance to fall back on. Just like any structure, a weak foundation is bound to have serious repercussions on its future operations. The Government Printing Works, Umtata, which had been a financial burden on the Department for the past years, was successfully closed down at the end of March this year. All staff were able to be re-deployed elsewhere, resulting in no job losses.
Ladies and gentlemen, with this overview I trust that I have given you a glimpse into the workings, the strategic direction and the stumbling blocks towards achieving the objectives of the Department of Home Affairs. From my side, I will ensure that all pertinent matters are brought to your attention. Moreover, I desire that you become, and remain, constructive participants in the shaping of the Department in order to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.
I thank you.