On Friday, a discussion paper on repositioning the department of home affairs was gazetted for public comment. This will inform the drafting of a white paper that will provide a policy framework for future legislation, including an act defining Home Affairs’ purpose in a sovereign, democratic South Africa. This repositioning is a national project beaconing active and informed support for all departmental officials and is critical for those who depend on our services.
It should be noted that Home Affairs is the only government department with the mandate to affirm citizens’ official identity and status and to issue enabling documents. Only this department has the authority to allow a person through a port of entry and to grant a visa or a permit. To appreciate the importance of these functions at the level of an individual, imagine waking up to discover somebody has stolen your identity, or that no state recognises you as a citizen. You would not be able to open a bank account, book a plane ticket or stay in a hotel.
What is not sufficiently appreciated is the full social and economic importance of the mandate of Home Affairs in a democratic, sovereign state. The voters’ roll is based on the department’s National Population Register, just like citizens’ access to public and commercial systems. I see national security to be the capacity of a state to defend its sovereignty, to ensure public safety and to provide security for the nation. All three aspects of security depend on the integrity of the systems of Home Affairs.
The expectations of citizens in a digital world are that services and information must be secure, rapidly accessible, reliable and personalised. And thus Home Affairs is building an integrated National Identity System (NIS) that will have an accurate and secure record of identities and civil status of all citizens and persons within our borders. Government departments and businesses will modernise processes and build secure applications that interface with the NIS. Linked to immigration and movement control systems, the NIS will be the backbone of a digital economy that will drive development.
Historically, however, Home Affairs had been positioned and funded as a routine administrative department not requiring modern systems, a professional staff or high levels of security. Consequently, it cannot enforce its legislation fully, creating risks for individuals and the country. By 2006, corruption and poor service delivery reached crises proportions, and the poorest and most vulnerable citizens could not access their rights and services. Over the past 10 years, government has responded by supporting initiatives with greatly improved management, culture and efficiency of key systems.
The turnaround programme, launched in 2007, built public confidence by reliably delivering IDs and passports within 40-45 days when the average was 140 days. Home Affairs played a leading role in delivering a secure soccer World Cup in 2010. In the same year, a National Population Registration campaign was launched that saw more than a million previously “invisible” citizens claiming rights to an identity, assisted by locally based stakeholder forums.
The modernisation programme, among other advances, has seen the roll-out of a world-class ID smart card and passport using fully automated processes and online applications. An applicant typically receives a smart ID card within seven days and passports within two weeks. Partnerships with banks and a visa facilitation service have added improved service delivery channels. Despite its advances, Home Affairs still lacks sufficient security, funding and professionals. The National Development Plan points to the department’s strategic role as an enabler of economic growth, social stability and regional development, but it still cannot adequately protect its systems and data and has fewer than 10 IT and business process experts. It is our conviction that Home Affairs should be at the centre of the security architecture of the state.
In response to this situation, in January 2017 the department submitted to Cabinet a business case for repositioning itself as a secure, modern department with appropriate operational, organisational and funding models. After its March 1 2017 meeting, Cabinet announced it approved the business case, and said: “The department must be positioned within the security system of the state so that it contributes to national security and is able to protect its people, systems and data.”
And thus was affirmed the full mandate of the department as a critical enabler of inclusive economic development, national security, effective service delivery and efficient administration.