The project that has profound national, civil and human security implications could potentially revolutionise the work of 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 identity and travel documentation to take weeks. With positive biometric verification at DHA offices around the country, temporary identity documents can be issued immediately.
That same verification technology will also make it much harder for corrupt officials to issue documentation irregularly, an aspect that has brought South African passports into international disrepute and cast a pall of suspicion over all who travel with them. The police regularly encounter criminals with genuine false identities and British authorities have detained several third party nationals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities: also in possession of genuine – but irregularly issued – documentation.
DHA spokeswoman Siobhan McCarthy says the project that has been making haste slowly will move into implementation phase in April.
The project was awarded to a consortium headed by GijimaAst in October 2007 and officially signed in July last year. At the time it was already at least one year behind schedule.
The programme has as a result been dogged by some controversy as well as allegations of irregularity and corruption. Parliament and the DHA have asked the Auditor-General (AG) to probe the project and confirm or dispel the charges. A report on this was expected in November. There is no news when it will be released.
McCarthy says in the meantime the project is going ahead. She adds the department has received no formal communication to stop work. “We were not instructed to shut down the project at all.”
A spokesman for GijimaAst says the company cannot comment on the project, by special request of the DHA.
The DHA expects Phase One of the project to begin in April – the start of the government financial year – that includes a receipt system for home affairs offices nationwide, as well as the special event visas being implemented for next year`s Soccer World Cup.
The event visa system will be implemented slightly later in the first phase, since the Confederations Cup in June 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.”
– 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.