The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) plans to address fundamental issues at its branches across the country that are causing administrative nightmares for many South Africans.
In the department’s latest annual performance plan for 2023/24, the minister of home affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, said that the DHA has important obligations to fulfil the government’s strategic and service delivery goals.
It is a vital part of the state’s security system, and its use of a risk-based approach to immigration management is crucial for national security and development objectives, he said.
The deputy minister of the DHA, Njabulo Nzuza, added that the department is, among other things, bolstering its human resource capacity in offices and well as improving its use of technology to address challenges such as long queues.
These are some of the big interventions the department plans for offices across the country.
Through partnering with third parties, the DHA is expanding its footprint across the country, making administrative dealings more accessible for the average South African.
One way the department aims to do this is through the introduction of a virtual interactive self-service machine (Kiosk) that will allow clients to directly apply for smart ID cards, passports and the re-issue of birth, marriage and death certificates.
According to the DHA, these machines will be deployed in both modernised and non-modernised offices to increase the number of people able to access them, as well as in strategic locations such as malls and shopping centres.
“The DHA will be responsible for basic rental and utility costs as well as minimal lay-out costs,” said the deputy minister.
The DHA will pilot the self-service kiosks in 2023/24.
More people and wider reach
The DHA has historically been sufficiently under-capacitated in terms of human resources. By the end of the last financial year, the department was mostly understaffed, with only 60% of position vacant.
With more budget and working with National Treasury, the department aims to reduce the vacancy rate to 54%. A total of 742 posts were identified for filling, of which 654 were earmarked for provinces and civic service back office.
Problems stemming from this lack of officials have been exacerbated recently by the fact that the DHA could not, for prolonged periods, replace staff as and when positions became vacant, given the restrictive compensation of employee ceilings imposed by the National Treasury, said the DHA.
It said that in order for processes to be more efficient, there has to be a drastic shift in the composition and skilling of the DHA workforce as a whole.
Regarding facilities, the DHA is reliant on the Department of public works and Infrastructure for its physical offices. It said that there is a fundament lack of offices across the country.
“The footprint of the DHA does not meet the minimum accessibility norms (distance to be travelled by clients to access services) of 25 km in urban areas and 20 km in rural areas. There is a lack of DHA purpose-built infrastructure,” said the department.
As a result, the DHA is planning to improve its geographic access through mobile units and permanently fixed offices.
It plans to roll out more branches to shopping malls in South Africa, expand its mobile unit fleet by adding 100 more vehicles, while negotiations are still ongoing with major banks for more partnerships in this regard.
System and network connectivity instability
“The instability of systems remains a root cause of slow and ineffective service delivery. The rendering of services as part of the live capture environment is not possible when systems are offline.”
According to the DHA, through collaboration with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), the mandatory provider of technological solutions to the government, the DHA is working towards ensuring that systems, networks and enabling IT infrastructure are optimally deployed and maintained as part f the DHA and SITA Joint Implementation Plan.
The DHA said that the ageing infrastructure had been replaced in all offices across the country.
Technology refresh and system integration are ongoing to address the inefficiencies of the system, said the DHA. It is looking at spending R139 million in financing these measures in the coming year.
Key SITA commitments include:
- The provision of a detailed plan for the upgrade of switching centres and the expansion of the SITA Core Network;
- The aggregation of all government network demand;
- Provision of multiple access links in order to ensure service continuity and provision of support and capacity to DHA.
System instability and a lack of adequate capacity and infrastructure lead to South Africans standing in queues for hours on end to get their hands on basic documents.
The DHA has launched the “War on Queues” initiative within offices across the country. In response to public backlash, the DHA has launched a handful of key interventions aimed at eradicating queues in its offices:
- The rollout of the Branch Appointment Booking System (BABS) that allows people to pre-book a time slot at an office
- Collaboration with SITA, the home affairs ICT system
- Improved management and communication of practices dealing with long queues
- A “war room” to provide departmental executives with progress reports of system stability and functionality.
Fraud and corruption
Operations at home affairs are often threatened by fraud and corruption, including bribes, voiding transactions and pocketing cash.
The DHA has reiterated its commitment to rooting out fraud and corruption in its department through close collaboration with law enforcement agencies.
“For the period April to December 2022, 29 arrests were effected in collaborative efforts between law enforcement agencies and DHA investigators,” the DHA said.
The department flagged corruption as one of the biggest risks to its operations – including internal and external fraud and corruption.
It said that it will tackle this through the implementation of the DHA Counter Corruption and Fraud Prevention Strategy which will include critical interventions such as:
- Providing private security services for departmental offices (R102.8 million);
- Conducting threat and risk assessments at offices (R642,000);
- The ongoing vetting of officials (R939,000);
- Assessment of business processes to detect vulnerabilities (R355,000) and
- Investigation of fraud and corruption cases (R729, 000).
The DHA said it will also partner with other stakeholders to continue with the arrest and conviction of criminal elements.
“The DHA will be intensifying its collaboration with security cluster members with the aim of enhancing compliance and adherence to any security legislative prescripts within the DHA,” it said.
Home Affairs plans to continue its process of digitising its record to ultimately modernise its civic services.
“The DHA has more than 340 million paper records. A decision was taken to prioritise the digitisation of records relating to birth, marriage and personal amendments. The identified category of records dates back to the early 1800s, which necessitates care and reliable systems that will bear tolerance for digitisation purposes,” the DHA said.
According to the DHA, its record digitisation programme will be implemented over a period of 36 months with effect from the 2022/24 financial year.
The digitisation project will also lead to a reduction in long queues and ensure that backlogs are not accumulated in core areas, it said.
The department said that 10,000 young people have been hired to execute the digitisation, and funding to the amount of R500 million was made available for the 2022/23 financial year and
an additional R839.8 million for the 2023/24 financial year.