Home Affairs embraces technological revolution

By on May 6, 2015
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The Department of Home Affairs is introducing cutting-edge technology to modernise its operations, including paperless services. This is the kind of department South Africans can look forward to, says Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.

In an interview with PSM, he said the department’s plan to modernise – which includes moving from paper to offering services digitally – was at an advanced stage.

Minister Gigaba is passionate about the plan, which is part of the department’s turnaround strategy to improve service delivery and reduce long queues and slow processes. The Minister said once the migration from a paper-based database to a mostly digital system was complete, members of the public would enjoy improved services and that the department’s 403 offices nationwide would operate optimally and efficiently.

“The department launched a modernisation programme in terms of which we want to move towards being completely paperless. “In that regard, there is a number of service innovations that we have introduced, the most critical one being the live capture system when you apply for the smart ID card and passport.

“But that programme focuses both on the core infrastructure and core technology infrastructure of the department as well as the front end where the services take place,” he explained.

During his State of the Nation Address, President Jacob Zuma announced that citizens would soon be able to apply for their smart ID cards at some banks – a move that would bring services closer to the people.

Minister Gigaba said the initiative would be a pilot project. “We should soon start with the process of cleaning up the National Population Register (NPR), doing an audit, removing those people and names that ought not to be there and restoring the integrity of the NPR.”

He said the department would like all children to be registered for their birth certificates at the hospitals where they were born or within the first 30 days. “So, over the next 12 months, we are going to be winding up the late registration of births process after more than seven years of running it so that we focus on registering births early.

“We have signed a memorandum of understanding with FNB, Standard Bank and the Director-General [Mkuseli Apleni] will soon sign another agreement with Nedbank, in terms of which a person will be able to go to the bank they bank with to apply for a smart ID card there,” he said.

The Minister added that the smart ID card pilot project would still, at this stage, apply only to senior citizens older than 60 years or 16-year-old first-time applicants. This is the category of citizens that the department said were eligible to apply for the smart ID card at this stage and soon an invitation would be sent out to the other categories of citizens.

How the pilot project will work 

The new system will see banks setting up Home Affairs desks or kiosks at their respective branches nationwide. Upon arrival, a bank will capture biometric details from applicants – from a person’s photograph being captured to automated fingerprints being scanned – with people also being expected to make an electronic signature.

Minister Gigaba explained the bank would then be able to package the digital application and deposit it electronically at Government Printing Works. “We will apply the live capture system at our banks like it happens at our offices, which should then mean that your collection point for your ID will be your bank instead of Home Affairs.”

The Minister said to date two banks – FNB and Standard Bank – have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Home Affairs for the pilot project. Nedbank has indicated its willingness to participate and Minister Gigaba expects Absa to also join the partnership.

He said his department had also approached the South African Post Office to negotiate the use of some of its infrastructure. “The South Africa Post Office has got the largest footprint in the country and with that footprint, there is no limit to what Home Affairs can achieve.

“I think the critical concern on our part is the security and the efficiencies that I think are among the current challenges that the Post Office is facing. Once those are resolved, we should be in a much better position to run this programme on a very massive scale.”

The department is expected to introduce several new innovations to assist South Africans in applying for their smart ID cards and passports in a convenient way. These innovations are expected to help ease the queues at the Home Affairs offices nationwide, while delivering a crucial service to citizens quicker, efficiently and professionally.

Government has a massive task to ensure that over 38 million citizens with the green bar-coded ID books are issued smart ID cards.

To date, the department has issued over one million smart ID cards in less than a year. The Minister said he was confident that the department would reach a target of 1.6 million cards by the end of the 2014/15 financial year.

Brace yourself for eChannel

Minister Gigaba added that in April this year his department would introduce a new electronic payment system for consumers to use when applying for their IDs or passports. He said eChannel would enable a user to use their smart mobile devices or computer to apply for an ID or passport from the comfort of their homes.

The system, which would be piloted first, would also allow applicants to make an online payment like an electronic funds transfer, to accompany their application. “eChannel will enable a person to file an application at home and go to Home Affairs or to a bank to get biometric details – automated autograph, photograph and electronic fingerprints – captured. “We will then process your application and send the ID back to the point where the biometric was done,” he explained

The Minister said while the pilot was taking place, officials from his department and the banks would work towards ensuring that security systems are not breached. He said the new system would also help to address the infrastructure challenges that the department has in some of its offices, especially with regards to broadband connectivity.

“Not all our offices have broadband connectivity, but most banks do. So it will help to disperse the clients seeking services at our offices by enabling them to also go to their banks. Currently, applicants of the new high-tech smart ID cards only have to wait for three to four days to get their cards from the day they submit their applications.

The department currently has 140 offices with a live capture capability, and once banks come on board, applicants might end up getting their cards quicker than the anticipated times.

The Minister added the department would expand the live capture system to another 28 offices during the new financial year.

While only senior citizens older than 60 years or 16-year-old first-time applicants are eligible for smart ID cards, those who approach the department to replace their stolen or lost documentation will be issued with the new smart ID card.

Establishing a Modernisation Task Team

Minister Gigaba said modernisation is key to his department’s Turn-around strategy as it plays a role in integrating all crucial services for efficient service delivery.

Currently, the department’s co-network is not integrated, and this means components like the NPR are separated from the national immigration identification system and the Home Affairs national identification system.

“We need to integrate those into one system – the national identification system – for both South African citizens as well as foreign nationals that are in our country.” He said the second anchor to the turnaround strategy is to provide an uninterrupted network supply.

The third anchor, the Minister added, is eChannel, which would go a long way in ensuring that citizens are served conveniently and efficiently.

“So, the modernisation programme is not complete. It is actually far from being complete, although it is already giving us hope, exciting us and showing us of how things could be. “Part of what we are trying to do is to establish a Modernisation Task Team, which is going to bring together all the relevant role players – from Public Works, Sector Education and Training Authorities, National Treasury as well as us and Government Printing Works,” he said.

The task team would look at long-term plans for eGovernance in terms of Home Affairs and replace ageing infrastructure to ensure that the department keeps up with new technologies, Minister Gigaba added.

Deadline for late registration of births

The Minister said government would continue with its campaign to register children within 30 days of birth, as part of maintaining the integrity of the NPR.

“To this end, we have announced that we will cease the process of the late registration of births by 31 December 2015.

“This critical milestone will ensure that we safeguard our identity, citizenship and secure our population register,” he said.

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