The South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) broadly supports the move to underpin a proposed repositioning of the Department of Home Affairs via new anchoring legislation. The Department recently gazetted a discussion paper for public comment by 30 September 2017.
However, SAIPA Technical Executive Faith Ngwenya says that two important areas warrant closer investigation and deeper discussion.
“The Home Affairs mandate to manage and secure identity has always been vital, and is especially critical in the Digital Age, when people transact online and populations are extremely mobile. SAIPA thus supports the repositioning process, and the broad vision as sketched in the discussion paper,” Ngwenya explains. “However, we do feel that a more cautious approach is warranted when it comes to the funding strategy. We also want to express some reservations about the proposed strategy of cadre formation.”
Ngwenya says that the move to reposition the Department and enact anchoring legislation should be seen in the context of a long process to create a robust identity custodian for democratic South Africa. A turnaround programme was followed by the huge effort needed to support the World Cup in 2010. Since 2012, a modernisation programme has sought to replace legacy systems with an automated, secure environment managed by professionals. It is complemented by the Moetapele Programme, aimed at improving processes and service delivery via better training of officials.
Enable to deliver
With these fundamentals in place, the repositioning programme is envisaged as a step change to enable the Department to deliver on its mandate, and to reposition itself as a foundational building block of national economic development and security. It will provide an integrated legislative framework that governs the Department’s work, and addresses key issues like funding, security, systems and capacity.
All of this costs money, and the discussion document proposes that the Department begins to charge for providing biometric identity checks to organisations requiring them. Examples would be banks and telcos complying with FICA/RICA requirements, airlines verifying passenger identity, the social grant system verifying recipient identity, and educational institutions verifying students for registration and when accessing facilities.
“There is little doubt that these costs would be passed on to consumers, and we think that could have negative implications on the poor,” Ngwenya comments. “These services will boost the economy, and thus the tax base; they will also ensure that state services are not improperly accessed, reducing fraud. The fiscus will benefit, and we would argue the fiscus should pay for the repositioning.”
Possible threat and cadre formation
A second caveat is the proposed cadre formation to create a staff with “the same patriotic, service-oriented and security-conscious outlook in terms of their responsibilities and purpose”.
“As currently formulated, the cadre-formation process could be open to abuse, and could be used to build a Department whose primary loyalty is to the ruling party,” Ngwenya comments. “We would support the creation of a cadre that is service-oriented and professional but it is essential that it is also highly ethical as well, and this should be made clear in the document.”
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