Banks raise reputational concerns over DHA downtime

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 26 May 2022
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Banks are worried about the reputational damage the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) system downtime will cause them if they rollout more services on behalf of the department.

This is according to the DHA, which says the banks have since seconded specialist engineers to assist in stabilising the department’s network, as well as the installation of key IT infrastructure.

The development follows limited take-off of the DHA’s partnership with banks, which allows citizens to apply for smart ID cards and passports.

To fast-track the rollout of smart ID cards, the DHA partnered with Absa, First National Bank, Nedbank and Standard Bank to replace close to 38 million green barcoded ID booklets.

Using the eHomeAffairs portal, citizens are able to apply for their smart IDs and passports online, and finalise the application process at certain bank branches.

However, this week, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the pilot project with banks did not work as fast as planned.

Motsoaledi made this statement when he revealed the DHA’s near-term ICT plans in Parliament during the department’s budget vote.

The minister said the DHA has since brought in eight IT engineers from leading banks to assist it to stabilise its network.

“We believe the partnerships with the banks will rapidly reduce the skills deficit and assist the department to improve and maintain system uptime.

“Members of the portfolio committee will remember that we mentioned on numerous occasions that banks are prepared to offer some of the home affairs services at some of their branches,” said Motsoaledi.

“This did not work as fast as we envisaged because the banks are worried of reputational damage that our system downtime would cause them. Remember that for them to offer home affairs services, they need to verify the details of the client by using our system. If there is downtime, the banks also get stuck.

“We believe that as soon as their own engineers have helped us to increase system uptime, the banks will cheerfully open their doors for home affairs services.”

Project rebuild

The minister also revealed the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) has committed to spend almost R1 billion on IT infrastructure to support the DHA and other departments.

At the DHA, the agency has earmarked R400 million to modernise the entire network in a bid to reduce long queues caused by system downtime.

This comes as the DHA has been making extensive moves to improve and enhance operational efficiencies.

The snaking queues have been a problem at the DHA over the years, and the minister said the department is making significant progress towards making front offices work properly.

Motsoaledi said while there were various causes of the extensive queues, “the main one that sticks out like a sore thumb among the rest is the issue of system downtime”.

“It is painful and generates a lot of anger to visit a home affairs office very early in the morning, and just stand there and wait for hours on end because all systems are down. It is very frustrating, to say the least.

“Many members of the public simply believe [the DHA] computers don’t work, and they keep asking us why we don’t just fix our computers or even buy new ones? We can’t blame them. They don’t know that the problem of systems that are continuously down go beyond just fixing a computer.”

As a result, the minister said, the modernisation of the DHA network will be concluded in the third quarter of this financial year. SITA has already concluded the implementation of the software-defined network, which is expected to help increase the department’s bandwidth. This, the minister noted, will increase the department’s connectivity.

Motsoaledi said SITA has now doubled its “internet capacity and introduced three failovers located in three cities: Tshwane, Cape Town and eThekwini. This will ensure that if any of the network is down, there will be two to support services.”

The minister also told parliamentarians that SITA has finalised its procurement plan to address cyber security for the department’s IT infrastructure.