South Africa wants a new ID system – but Home Affairs needs to fix long queues and IT failures first

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs has expressed its disappointment in the failure of the department to resolve its constant IT problems.

The committee held meetings on Tuesday (26 January) that included a briefing from the department on its annual report for the financial year 2019-20, and a briefing from the Auditor-General of South Africa on the audit outcomes of the annual report for the financial year 2019-20.

While the Department of Home Affairs achieved many of its targets, the consistent failure of IT systems and resultant long queues have proven to be a major problem for a number of years.

“It is unacceptable that the IT environment has not improved over the past few financial years and is worrying in the context of a department with a vision to be totally automated in delivering services,” said committee chairperson, Bongani Bongo.

“It is also unacceptable that it has taken this long to fill the position of the Deputy Director-General (DDG): ICT which the committee considers critical in resolving technological challenges at the department.”

The meeting highlighted the impact of the lack of improvement of the IT environment at Home Affairs and its impact on the ‘war on queues’ programme.

The committee said the glaring and perpetual long queues that are evident at service points indicate the far-reaching implications of the impact of the lack of improvement within the IT environment.

It is further concerning, the committee said, that the long queues are prevalent at a time of the Covid-19 crisis and when they pose a high risk of being super-spreader sources, it said.

In response, the Department of Home Affairs said it is interviewing the shortlisted applicants from this week to fill the position of the deputy director-general: ICT.

New ID system

These issues will need to be addressed as the department has proposed a new draft identity management policy for the country.

Currently open for public comment, the policy plans for the following changes:

  • Records of persons throughout their lifespan;
  • ID numbers based on parents;
  • Re-registration of children at five years of age;
  • Recognition of other sex/gender categories.

The department said that the current Identification Act is now more than 20 years old and is not based on a policy that considers key local and global developments in managing official personal information.

“This in part explains why the current legislation and systems are outdated, fragmented and do not fully align with constitutional principles of equality, non-discrimination and human dignity,” it said.

In addition to outdated legislation, the department also acknowledged issues with crime and corruption which has led to the theft of identities in South Africa.

“It is currently possible for anyone who has not applied for an ID to successfully claim and use the identity of another person who has also not applied for an ID,” the DHA said.

Read: This high-paying job is likely to be in demand post Covid-19 in South Africa

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South Africa wants a new ID system – but Home Affairs needs to fix long queues and IT failures first