Home Affairs turnaround disputed

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 30 Nov 2009

Five years after it introduced its turnaround strategy, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is still plagued by skills shortages, financial mismanagement, funding challenges and project delays.

The department says its turnaround strategy, which was introduced in 2004, will continue indefinitely. Several aspects of the strategy - which includes counter-corruption plans, a review of business processes and IT systems, and the restructuring of the department - are yet to be implemented, while other major projects are still outstanding.

While the DHA claims improvements have been made, it notes no timeline has been set for the turnaround programme. The project would continue and additional funding would be sourced to deal with additional requirements.

In October, the DHA claimed its turnaround strategy had improved service delivery levels by 300%. The department claimed progress, saying processes, turnaround times and security processes had improved.

The department says, despite the progress achieved over the years, several projects are still outstanding. An upgrade of the Home Affairs National Identification System (Hanis) is due, while upgrading networks, widespread implementation of the immigration management formation and the electronic document management system are just some of the outstanding projects.

More challenges

The department - which previously admitted that integrating and automating its systems was one of its biggest challenges - says bandwidth is also one of its biggest restrictions.

“You don't want an electronic highway that is less fast. If you look at all those initiatives that we are looking at, it's quite a very comprehensive strategy that is being addressed to improve our IT systems,” notes Home Affairs.

The department says that, while turnaround times had improved, different areas of IT infrastructure need to be addressed. While the department says it has not set a budget for some of these processes, it says it still needed to increase the size of its bandwidth to quicken the transmission of information.

The availability of systems needs to be improved and the transmission of information from local offices to printing and central processing facilities will only be improved with bandwidth increases, says the department.

More improvements

Earlier this year, the auditor-general said that, while the department's turnaround strategy has improved systems, the sustainability of the project, along with financial management and internal controls, still needed to improve.

Financial statements in the department's 2008/9 annual report reveal that irregular expenditure, totalling R198.2 million, was incurred. Of this, R130.6 million was incurred due to non-compliance of procurement processes by the State IT Agency (SITA).

Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced her department had cancelled a tender to install a virtual private network for its offices, saying SITA failed to deliver on the project - the second project cancelled with SITA in a year.

Staffing up

The department admits it didn't have sufficient skills to handle increasing technological developments.

“We do need highly skilled people who constantly keep abreast with developments both within the organisation, but also in terms of the trends around people management, around operations management, [and] of cause within the technological advancements, because the department is getting more sophisticated in terms of its strategies,” says the department.

The DHA has a total of 12 000 posts available, but only 7 500 posts had been filled by September. The department estimates that 20% of its workforce is not skilled and 80% is, but says these figures are not accurate as it is “in transformation mode”.

More than 60% of the workforce needs further training on new processes and technical competences. Despite saying newly implemented systems, such as the online verification solution and electronic track and trace systems, improved efficiency - the department noted that its staff still had to learn to use the systems effectively.