A sor­did state of Af­fairs

Depart­ment’s des­per­ate need to con­tract VFS en­sures it re­mains dys­func­tional

Cape Argus - - OPINION - GARY EISENBERG Eisenberg is a founder of Eisenberg & Associates. He ad­vised for­mer min­is­ter Buthelezi’s fi­nal draft of the Im­mi­gra­tion Act in 2003, the foun­da­tion of our cur­rent sys­tem

IN DE­CEM­BER 2018, the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs took the de­ci­sion to ex­tend its con­tract with Visa Fa­cil­i­ta­tion Ser­vices (VFS) for a fur­ther 24 months, ef­fec­tive January 1 this year.

The Home Af­fairs Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee crit­i­cised the depart­ment for fail­ing to fol­low its rec­om­men­da­tions against ex­tend­ing VFS’s con­tract and, dur­ing a meet­ing in March with the depart­ment, called on Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Siyabonga Cwele to re­view the con­tract.

The com­mit­tee be­lieved that the depart­ment de­lib­er­ately cre­ated a mo­nop­o­lised visa process.

In or­der to un­der­stand the role of for­eign-owned VFS within South Africa’s im­mi­gra­tion land­scape, it is in­struc­tive to re­call the reasons the com­pany was first con­tracted to process visa and per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions.

In May 2010, by de­cree of then in­terim Min­is­ter of Home Af­fairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, all de­ci­sions on im­mi­gra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted within South Africa were cen­tralised at a se­cu­ri­tised ad­ju­di­ca­tion hub at head of­fice in Pre­to­ria.

Un­til then, all visa ap­pli­ca­tions had been pro­cessed at re­gional and district offices.

The de­cree was made out of sheer ne­ces­sity. The depart­ment had reached a sat­u­ra­tion point with cor­rupt prac­tices. Syn­di­cates from Nige­ria, Pak­istan and China were work­ing di­rectly out of some of th­ese offices. Home Af­fairs of­fi­cials were rou­tinely bribed with Ken­tucky Fried Chicken and Co­caCola, in­flu­enc­ing the out­come of countless tem­po­rary res­i­dence, work and busi­ness visa ap­pli­ca­tions. Rather than fab­ri­cate per­mits, of­fi­cials sim­ply is­sued visas that had not gone through com­pli­ance pro­cesses. The pa­tron­age chewed away at ad­ju­di­ca­tion sys­tems, leav­ing South Africa’s pop­u­la­tion reg­is­ter adul­ter­ated and in tat­ters.

Hav­ing pre­vi­ously served as for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter, Dlamini Zuma was deeply sen­si­tised to the scourge of cor­rup­tion that had frit­tered away in­ter­na­tional con­fi­dence in South Africa’s na­tional doc­u­ments. Th­ese pass­ports had been found in the posses­sion of dead Al-Shabaab ter­ror­ists in So­ma­lia, in shoes ex­ported to Cameroon, in the posses­sion of Pak­istani trav­ellers and in other nefarious places.

The British gov­ern­ment, in par­tic­u­lar, had ex­erted on­go­ing pres­sure on the South African gov­ern­ment to have the is­suance of passport doc­u­ments se­cu­ri­tised, and im­posed strict visa re­quire­ments on South African passport hold­ers on July 1, 2009.

The 2010 World Cup was fast ap­proach­ing – Dlamini-Zuma had to strike, and she did so with one fell swoop. All visa and per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions would be ad­ju­di­cated at head of­fice in Pre­to­ria. Truck­loads of per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions be­gan ar­riv­ing at head of­fice. As a consequence, be­tween 60% and 70% of ap­pli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted from 2010 un­til early 2011 dis­ap­peared.

Mean­while, VFS had been manag­ing visa and per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion de­liv­ery in pilot schemes at South African mis­sions abroad, af­ter entering into a con­tract with Home Af­fairs in Oc­to­ber 2010.

By De­cem­ber 2013, the depart­ment’s near-paral­y­sis forced it to con­tract VFS to han­dle ap­pli­ca­tions made in South Africa too. With­out VFS, Home Af­fairs would have col­lapsed un­der the sheer weight of its in­abil­ity to man­age its front coun­ters.

VFS, though not per­fect, has saved Home Af­fairs from internal com­bus­tion. But it has also cre­ated an un­war­ranted moat be­tween mem­bers of the pub­lic and home af­fairs man­age­ment.

It has be­come al­most im­pos­si­ble for ap­pli­cants in terms of the im­mi­gra­tion act to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with the depart­ment.

VFS charges a fee of R1350 per ap­pli­ca­tion or ap­peal.

This is an un­law­ful, non-reg­u­lated fee that for­eign­ers are obliged to pay, even in or­der to gain ac­cess to ad­min­is­tra­tive jus­tice.

Yet Home Af­fairs has con­firmed that VFS’s fee was agreed be­tween the two par­ties. Then Home Af­fairs min­is­ter Gi­gaba’s spokesper­son, May­ihlome Tsh­wete, told me­dia: “The com­pany charges clients a man­age­ment fee, and also what is due to the state. Money to the state is col­lected by the com­pany elec­tron­i­cally and paid to the na­tional rev­enue ac­count. What com­pa­nies charge clients has been agreed be­tween the depart­ment and VFS.”

Chair­man of the Home Af­fairs Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee Hlo­mani Chauke re­marked dur­ing its meet­ing on March 12 that the lack of a pric­ing pol­icy had re­sulted in ex­or­bi­tant pric­ing of visas. This, and the mo­nop­o­li­sa­tion of the visa pro­cess­ing ser­vice, should be re­ferred to the Zondo Commission, he said.

In a re­cent ar­ti­cle, South African writer Jonny Stein­berg posited that, since ceas­ing to func­tion in 2010, Home Af­fairs “cyn­i­cally fights to re­main dys­func­tional”. The re­al­ity in which we find our­selves is that VFS has saved a depart­ment from im­plo­sion, and now it is reap­ing the fi­nan­cial re­wards of State fail­ure.

It has be­come al­most im­pos­si­ble for (im­mi­gra­tion) ap­pli­cants to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with Home Af­fairs.

| WALDO SWIEGERS Bloomberg

The Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs has out­sourced visa fa­cil­i­ta­tion ser­vices to a for­eign-owned com­pany, ef­fec­tively cre­at­ing a mo­nop­o­lised process to ob­tain ac­cess to the coun­try, says the writer. Above are air­craft and air­port staff at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional air­port in Jo­han­nes­burg, a pri­mary point of en­try.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.