'Who am I' keeps ticking

Candice Jones
By Candice Jones, ITWeb online telecoms editor
Johannesburg, 14 Jan 2009

The Department of Home Affairs' (DHA's) controversial “Who am I (I am I said)” project is on track and will be completed in time for 2010, it says.

Despite a parliamentary uproar last year, calling for the project to be suspended and the Auditor-General (AG) to once again review the status of the project, the project will move into implementation phase in April.

According to the department's spokesman, Siobhan McCarthy, the DHA received no formal communication to have the project suspended. “We were not instructed to shut down the project at all.”

The project was awarded to a consortium headed by GijimaAst, in October 2007, and officially signed in July last year.

However, the project had been plagued by various allegations of irregularities, including questions over its constantly increasing costs. It was subsequently referred for investigation to the AG by home affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, on recommendation from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Home Affairs.

At the time, home affairs DG Mavuso Msimang encouraged the AG to complete a report, and also foot the bill for it, in a bid to prove the project is clean. However, there has been as yet no report by the AG. The report was expected in November.

Business as usual

Despite the controversy, McCarthy says the companies involved in the project have been and will continue to work on it.

A spokesman for GijimaAst says the company cannot comment on the project, by special request of the DHA.

The department expects phase one of the project will begin in April, which includes a receipting system for home affairs offices nationwide, as well as the special event visas being implemented for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, among others.

The event visa system will be implemented slightly later in the first phase, since the Confederations Cup will be something of a pilot for the solution, adds McCarthy. “It is sad that this project has been clouded by unnecessary comments. More than any other project, this one will have the largest impact on SA.”

Saving DHA

The project could potentially revolutionise the DHA by providing access to two core systems to branch offices and field teams. The national population register (NPR) and the Home Affairs National Information System (Hanis) have, to date, only been accessible to officials at the DHA's Watloo, Pretoria, head office.

The lack of access to these systems has caused the issuance of urgent documentation to take up to a week. With positive biometric verification at DHA offices around the country, temporary identity documents can be issued immediately.

The NPR is a mainframe database that contains the identity records of every South African citizen, resident and deported illegal, while the Hanis automated fingerprint identification system contains their photographs and fingerprints. Hanis is used to verify identity and acts as a “guard dog” for the NPR.

“Who am I” will allow DHA officials, border guards and immigration officers countrywide to check anyone's identity against the NPR and Hanis. It will also simplify the visa application process for foreigners - which is why it is meant to be part of government's 2010 preparations.

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