Home Affairs’ turnaround man

6 September 2007

The top technocrat in the Department of Home Affairs, Director-General Mavuso Msimang, has his eye on transforming the beleaguered organisation within 12 months.

Briefing the media on his first 100 days in office, Msimang said Home Affairs had the reputation of “being one of South Africa’s most dysfunctional departments”. The department has a backlog of some 600 000 identity document (ID) applications and over 144 000 refugee applications.

The former CEO of the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) said he was on record as saying the department was “sick,” and pledged that it would be carrying out its job – as the country’s custodian of citizenship – efficiently in roughly 12 months.

“The Department of Home Affairs’ objective is to transform the department into a modern, efficient, cost-effective service organisation responsive to the needs of South African citizens, residents and visitors to our country.”

In line with this vision, the director-general had visited local and provincial offices, interacted with his counterparts in other departments, embarked on a technology fact-finding mission to Japan, and met with the United Nations Children’s Fund and UN High Commission for Refugees.

“We have designed a comprehensive strategy for Home Affairs that analyses the root of our problems and identifies opportunites for immediate action,” Msimang said.

This strategy will be rolled out over the next two years, with the first phase – running until December – involving understanding the problems facing the department, designing a vision for the future and implementing “quick wins”.

These “quick wins” will include the launch of an ID track and trace system, streamlining the ID application process, dealing with refugee application backlogs, enhancing permit application processes and reviewing current IT systems and projects.

“Our first major quick win will be to provide a streamlined, efficient, customer-centred ID process through a reliable new tracking system which will enable customers to query the status of their applications without having to queue at an office,” Msimang said.

The system, launched in August, allows customers to trace the progress of their ID applications via their cellphones, laptops and PCs. Besides the obvious benefits, it cuts down on the opportunities for corruption.

The system will be bolstered with staff and management training, the addition of new fingerprint scanning machines, and better use of existing image capturing machines.

It currently takes over 100 days for an ID book to be processed, and by the time a customer receives it, it has been handled about 80 times, Msimang said. The department would be looking to remove a number of bottlenecks from this process.

The director-general noted that while “a lot of people are supervisors, they do not quite know what that means”. Management training would instil a culture of accountability among Home Affairs’ staff.

Before a recent operations management exercise, Msimang said, documents were “stored haphazardly and the environment was untidy … Today the environment has been cleaned up and basic document management processes have been put in place.”

Regarding refugees in South Africa, he said the department had launched a project to clear the backlog of over 144 000 asylum applications.

In tandem with this, the department had announced a two-month grace period for outstanding asylum applications, to run between September and October 2007.

“Absolutely fundamental to the running of any organisation” was its IT services, Msimang said, noting that R700-million had been budgeted for a complete revamp of Home Affairs’ IT services.

Source: BuaNews