Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says his department is making progress in addressing system downtime issues at offices around the country. However, the upgrade project could take longer than expected due to fiscal constraints.
Responding in a written parliamentary Q&A, Motsoaledi said several challenges had been identified by his department and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), which are now being addressed.
Some of the key issues include:
- Power supply issues have led to systems being offline – Generators have now been installed in 197 modernised Department of Home Affairs offices. Discussions are also taking place with telecommunications providers to provide backup solutions for their facilities.
- Cable theft and vandalism have led to downtime – SITA has begun a process has to install multiple connectivity links to offices.
- Ageing equipment and an unstable network have led to infrastructure issues – Since 2019, 180 new routers and 130 network switches have been deployed. Work is now underway to roll out the 1,050 routers and 1,000 network switches required, Motsoaledi said. He added that SITA is currently doubling internet speeds connecting some Home Affairs offices, which should help increase processing times for applications.
Motsoaledi said that this upgrade project is still ongoing, and due to fiscal constraints, the project’s completion date might be stretched to the end of the 2024/25 financial year.
Motsoaledi has previously pinned the blame for the state of Home Affairs’ systems on SITA – pointing to other government services such as the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which rarely experienced downtime because it procured its services from private companies, which government departments were not allowed to do.
In response, SITA boss Luvuyo Keyise hit back, pointing out that Home Affairs had bought the cheapest possible IT services with the lowest service level agreements, which led to prolonged downtime. The bronze service used by many of Home Affairs offices provides only a single 2Mbps copper-based ADSL connection with no backup in place, Keyise said.
SITA wants Home Affairs to consider upgrading to a platinum-tier service to give the department the redundancy it requires and a far more stringent service-level agreement.
Keyise said that, with a platinum service, SITA or the designated service provider must resolve problems within an hour. However, due to the redundancies, the service problems that come with any outage is usually mitigated within minutes.
A lack of backup network links and outdated equipment are the real reasons Home Affairs branches’ systems are often hit by extended downtime, said Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Adrian Roos.
Roos said it was alarming that only 35 out of 691 Home Affairs branches had a backup link. Home Affairs was the only major government department without dual communication links to all its offices.
“This means that if one form of the network goes down, then the system cannot be accessed,” Roos said. He cited data presented in parliament, which showed that 90% of Home Affairs systems downtime incidents was caused by issues inside Home Affairs offices due to 88% of network equipment being obsolete.