Home Affairs will suffer irreparable harm’: Auditor-general flags number of delayed projects

The Citizen – 19 October 2022

Key targets relating to the department’s modernisation projects have not been achieved.

The Department of Home Affairs has to address a number of challenges and bolster its Information technology (IT) systems to improve service delivery.

This is according to the Auditor-General’s office.

On Tuesday, the office briefed Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs regarding the department’s audit outcomes for the 2021/2022 financial year, which ran from April 2021 to March 2022.

Annual performance report

During the briefing, Fhumulani Rabonda, deputy business executive at the Auditor-General’s office, informed the committee that Home Affairs submitted its annual performance report, but there were material misstatements that needed to be adjusted.

“We managed to correct the material misstatements that we had identified during the [audit] process,” he said.

Rabonda revealed that the department has achieved 69% of its annual targets in the 2021/2022 financial year.

However, key targets relating to the department’s modernisation projects – which includes Abis and e-Visa system – as well as the the establishment of the border management agency (BMA) have not been met.

He explained that the department had set targets that it intends to achieve by 2024 in the medium-term strategic framework, which was reviewed in 2019.

“We had looked at the current year’s performance report [and] what does it tell us in relation to these targets they have set themselves. We [have] highlighted the fact that the targets in relation to modernisation projects are behind schedule,” he said.

Rabonda pointed that while the border management agency has been formed, it is not yet fully functional due to the implementation protocols that have not been signed at this stage.

Modernisation projects

e-Visa and BMCS

Regarding the e-Visa system and Biometric Movement Control System (BMCS), Rabonda said the Auditor-General’s office has identified there were “significant control deficiencies” and warned that these needed to be given attention.

“If they are not addressed, the modernisation projects may have similar significant control deficiencies as the legacy systems. This means that what Home Affairs will have new systems with the same problems,” he continued.

Rabonda explained that these deficiencies were caused by poor project management and governance processes within Home Affairs’ IT internal department.

“Over the past few years, we have been reporting that there is leadership instability in the ICT environment in Home Affairs. So our recommendation is that action plans should be developed and implemented to address the significant control deficiencies,” he added.

Earlier this year, Home Affairs revealed it was working on the e-Visa system, which allows tourists visiting South Africa to apply for their visas online and thereafter be issued virtually.

The paperless virtual visa is intended to combat visa fraud and open South Africa as a desirable destination. 

The department had also indicated at the time that it was in the process of developing the BMCS, which will enable the capturing of fingerprint and facial biometric data of all travellers who enter or exit South Africa.

This system is expected to be rolled out at 34 ports of entry across the country – including major airports and land borders.

Abis system

Budget increase

Meanwhile, Rabonda further told the committee that phase one of the Automated Biometric Identification System (Abis), which was launched in 2018, is yet to be completed.

Home Affairs had targeted to finish the first phase by December 2021, and the department has spent at least R294 million on this phase.

Rabonda revealed that the budget of the Abis project, which is aimed at ending identity theft, has increased from R410 million to R475 million as a result of delays and “technology becoming more expensive”.

“There is a need for the department to monitor closely the remaining budget to avoid having the need to having to ask more funds for this project because if that is not done then government may find itself with a project that they need to fund more from the limited budget that is available,” he told the committee.

He said the delays were caused by IT firms, EOH and Idemia.

“You will remember that EOH decided to pull out of a number of government projects including this one and on doing so the department appointed Idemia as the service provider,” he continued.

In May 2021, the committee heard how EOH allegedly flouted tender processes to score the Abis contract, valued at more than R400 million, from the department.

Payments made to EOH regarding the Abis project amounted to R283 million.

The company was then slapped with a penalty by the department and was subjected to a Hawks investigated.

“The delays by service providers saw the department invoking penalties of R62 million in terms of EOH and R3 million regarding Idemia,” Rabonda added.

‘National adverse impact’

The Abis system was introduced to replace the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS), which was said to be manually operated and outdated.

According to the department, Abis aims to act as a fundamental baseline for the national identification system and will consolidate South African and foreign nationals’ data into a single base.

Rabonda noted that the importance of the Abis system, saying it would have a “national adverse impact” if it was not completed.

“The department will suffer irreparable harm if it’s not successfully implemented because this project is critical to resolving some of the risks faced by Home Affairs and the Security Cluster as a whole. Hence we are saying there is a need to appreciate the impact the department’s service delivery, the economy and security of the state.

“Everybody who is involved needs to jealously guard this project to make sure that all that needs to be done is done within time and effectively so,” he explained.

Later in the briefing, Rabonda said the Abis project was one of the major causes of irregular expenditure for Home Affairs (R12.8 million) in the 2021/2022 financial year.

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