As the United Nations gave the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) an award for the use of ICT in service delivery, the US slammed the ministry, labeling it “corrupt and poorly administered”.
At a recent Technology in Government in Africa award ceremony, held in Ethiopia, the DHA was awarded the Public Service Delivery to Citizens Award.
ITWeb reports that in a report released on the same day as the awards ceremony last week, the US State Department said that ongoing fraud within the DHA had negatively impacted the department. The report entitled “Country Reports on Terrorism 2008” states border security and rampant document fraud were spin-offs of a badly run department.
“South African identity and travel documents generally included good security measures, but because of poor administration, lack of institutional capacity, and corruption within the Department of Home Affairs – which is responsible for immigration services – thousands of bona fide South African identity cards, passports and work/residence permits were fraudulently issued.”
The DHA has a history of mismanagement, ITWeb adds. In 2006, the department received a damning report from the auditor-general, and Home Affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula requested the intervention of the National Treasury.
In 2008, the department’s integrated business system project, ‘Who Am I Online”, was referred to the auditor-general for investigation, following persistent allegations of irregularities surrounding the awarding of the deal.
Meanwhile, DHA director-general Mavuso Msimang (pictured) states that, despite international criticism of the department, the award serves as an endorsement of the ongoing transformation taking place at the department.
“It is heartening that the international community deems it fit to bestow this prestigious honour in recognition of the work that we are doing. We hope this will further motivate our hardworking staff to continue with the impressive work that they are doing,” he notes.
The DHA submitted its automated fingerprint identification system and online fingerprint verification, operations management, client service centre, and track and trace projects for adjudication.
The organisers of the awards, which are held with support from the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa, commented that the department had developed and implemented “innovative projects to improve online government service delivery”.
However, the US state report stated the management of the DHA was a cause for concern. This follows a British High Commission order, earlier this year, that South African passport-holders would require visas to visit or transit the UK.
The British government took the decision following concerns about the security of South African passports and steps taken by the country to combat crime and immigration abuse internally. The DHA promptly responded with the release of new, high-security passports, but the move came too late.
According to Birgitta Cederstrom, ICT programme manager at Frost & Sullivan, SA has not yet implemented an efficient, transparent e-government system.
“SA is a long way from being ready to deliver e-government services, but our hope is that the new government will consider e-government as a way to assist in securing a smoother transmission and delivering on their promises for transparency and increased efficiency.”
The DHA won the award for several systems, including online fingerprint verification, which is based on technology that analyses a person’s fingerprints and matches them with those stored on the database at head office.
The department’s automated fingerprint identification system – linked to online fingerprint verification – was also judged a winner. The system electronically stores all fingerprints in a central database of people who have applied for an identity document and can trace them electronically when necessary.
The department claims that, through this system, the country has the “largest civilian automated fingerprint database in the world, which is also renowned for its accuracy”.
Included in its winning systems was Track and Trace – an IT-based system, which allows for people who have applied for an ID or passport to check the status of their application by SMS, Internet or telephonically.
Also included was the Client Service Centre project, which allows call centre agents to resolve queries about IDs telephonically and trace applications by logging onto a central system and getting information instantly to assist clients calling the centre.