The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs says that it is disturbed by the persistent delays in completing the migration from the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) to the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS).
Delays in the modernisation towards paperless Home Affairs have been in the pipeline for years, and the portfolio committee said that these delays are occurring despite major investments into the migration process.
The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has been trying to upgrade its system in terms of its technological prowess, including facial recognition and biometric modalities to improve the population register.
A system migration is vital for the department to meet its goal of decreasing queue times at offices and to mitigate system downtime which has plagued its operations for years.
The portfolio committee said the service provider tasked with taking the department online has been requesting numerous extensions.
“While the committee welcomes the imposition of penalties against the company for the delays, the committee called for solutions to challenges encountered,” it said.
Challenges that need to be tackled include:
- Not migrating data as per the plan;
- End-to-end testing;
- Migrated HANIS data not synchronised;
- Misalignment of registered fingerprints between ABIS and HANIS.
Home Affairs has now been urged by the committee to ensure that the service provider pays the imposed penalties.
The committee has approved a meeting between the department and the service provider to test their systems. The department is expected to provide a detailed action plan with timelines by 23 May, after the assessment is completed.
A further concern has been raised over the Biometrics Movement Control System (BMCS), which has revealed teething issues relating to inadequate bandwidth access, load shedding at ports of entry and downtime as a result.
The committee urged the department to find workable solutions to these challenges to ensure a fully functional movement control system, as this has a direct impact on securing our borders.
As far back as March 2021, the minister of the DHA, Aaron Motsoaledi, said that the department plans to make a big shift toward digital services to assist in the curbing of identity theft and improve security features for official personal documents.
Motsoaledi’s department has, however, become synonymous with long queues and struggling with high-profile incidents of fraud and corruption.
Computer systems are often offline, causing delays in the processing of documents, and many physical branches are not exempt from load shedding.
Home Affairs offices in partnership with private sector businesses – such as banks – have fared far better; however, Home Affairs’ persistent system issues pose a significant risk to even these.
While South Africans can apply for and collect Smart IDs and passports at bank branches, officially, these branches are part of a pilot project.
The pilot programme, which was initially scheduled to end in July 2022, has been extended until September 2023 by participating banks and the Banking Association of South Africa as the participating groups await to sign service-level agreements.
Banks previously reported hesitation around the pilot, as Home Affairs downtime negatively impacts the reputations of the banks involved.