New systems to allay passport fears

Paul Vecchiatto
By Paul Vecchiatto, ITWeb Cape Town correspondent
Cape Town, 07 Mar 2008

Government hopes that internal improvements in the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), including new IT systems, will allay Britain's concern over the illegal use of SA passports, a Cabinet spokesperson says.

At the weekly post-Cabinet briefing, in Parliament yesterday, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said: "The Department of Home Affair's new DG (Mavuso Msimang) has put in an extensive plan to ensure the security of passport handling by staff of the department. This includes new IT systems and improved security."

At yesterday's briefing, Maseko said Cabinet had been briefed on reports that Britain was considering making it compulsory for South Africans to obtain visas when visiting that country because of concerns about the illegal use of SA passports.

These reports were based on comments by British officials, saying that some 6 000 people had been found in that country using illegal or forged South African passports last year.

Maseko said that the SA government had received no indication from their British counterparts that they had the intention of imposing the visa requirements on SA travelers. He also said that SA passports are among the safest and most secure in the world and "that's the reason why they are being targeted by the criminals".


A DHA spokesman refuses to disclose exactly how many security points (verification checks) are on SA passports, however, it is known to be more than 140.

"I cannot say how many there, but I can safely say that SA passports are among the most secure in the world," he said.

However, the main concern is the corruption within the DHA itself, which has led to it being labeled as the most dysfunctional of all government departments. The most high-profile of these cases took place in 2005, when US actor Wesley Snipes was found using a South African passport illegally and has since been barred from the country.

Former State IT Agency CEO Msimang, who took over last year as director-general of Home Affairs and is leading a Turnaround Task Team, has taken strong action that includes firing and prosecuting a number of middle and lower management staff for corruption.

Msimang's changes have included the track and trace system, whereby people can keep tags on the progress of their passport, ID and marriage certificate applications and when they will be ready.

According to the DHA 20006/7 Annual Report, it issued almost half a million passports, plus a number of specialised passport and travel documents, during that financial year.