Home Af­fairs bat­tles to cope

VFS was a nec­es­sary in­ter­ven­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - METRO - GARY EISENBERG

IN DE­CEM­BER, the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs ex­tended its con­tract with Visa Fa­cil­i­ta­tion Ser­vices (VFS) for a fur­ther 24 months, ef­fec­tive Jan­uary 1.

The par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on home af­fairs crit­i­cised the depart­ment for fail­ing to fol­low its rec­om­men­da­tions against ex­tend­ing VFS’s con­tract and dur­ing a March 12 meet­ing called on Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Siyabonga Cwele to re­view it.

The com­mit­tee be­lieves the depart­ment de­lib­er­ately cre­ated a mo­nop­o­lised visa process.

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

In May 2010, by de­cree of the then-in­terim min­is­ter of home af­fairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, all de­ci­sions on im­mi­gra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions within South Africa were cen­tralised at a se­cu­ri­tised ad­ju­di­ca­tion hub at the depart­ment’s head of­fice in Pre­to­ria.

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

The change was made out of sheer ne­ces­sity. Home Af­fairs had be­come be­set by cor­rup­tion which un­der­mined the integrity of the bu­reau­cratic de­ter­mi­na­tion process.

Syn­di­cates from Nige­ria, Pak­istan and China were work­ing di­rectly out of cer­tain re­gional and district of­fices.

Of­fi­cials is­sued visas that had not gone through com­pli­ant pro­cesses, un­til the mar­ket was flooded. This years-old sys­tem of pa­tron­age eroded ad­ju­di­ca­tion sys­tems, leav­ing South Africa’s pop­u­la­tion reg­is­ter in tat­ters.

Home Af­fairs of­fices in lo­ca­tions such as Springs and Ger­mis­ton were in­fested with rogue of­fi­cials and be­came un­sal­vage­able.

Hav­ing served as for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter, Dlamini Zuma was sen­si­tised to the cor­rup­tion that had eroded 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 across the globe.

This was il­lus­tra­tive of a state of af­fairs that had spread in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Af­ter ex­ert­ing on­go­ing pres­sure on the South African gov­ern­ment to have the is­suance of passport doc­u­ments se­cu­ri­tised, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment im­posed strict visa re­quire­ments on South African passport hold­ers on July 1, 2009.

The 2010 Fifa World Cup was ap­proach­ing, putting South Africa in the in­ter­na­tional spot­light. Dlamini Zuma had to act.

All visa and per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions would be ad­ju­di­cated at the head of­fice, re­mov­ing chances for im­proper de­ci­sion-mak­ing at district and re­gional of­fices.

Truck­loads of ap­pli­ca­tions be­gan ar­riv­ing at head of­fice from across South Africa. Con­se­quently, be­tween 60% and 70% of ap­pli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted in South Africa from early 2010 un­til early 2011 sim­ply dis­ap­peared.

Un­prece­dented lit­i­ga­tion com­menced, forc­ing the depart­ment to lo­cate miss­ing ap­pli­ca­tions.

Thou­sands of for­eign­ers were stranded without visas, cre­at­ing chaos in the ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­nity and the cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment. Lit­i­ga­tion demon­strated that cor­rup­tion within the depart­ment could be ex­or­cised only by sac­ri­fic­ing bu­reau­cratic ef­fi­ciency.

The de­liv­ery sup­ply chain from front coun­ters to head of­fice had been oblit­er­ated.

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 on Oc­to­ber 27, 2010. By De­cem­ber 2013, the depart­ment’s near paral­y­sis forced it to con­tract VFS to han­dle ap­pli­ca­tions made in South Africa.

Without VFS, Home Af­fairs would have col­lapsed un­der the weight of its in­abil­ity to man­age its front coun­ters and the con­veyance of ap­pli­ca­tions to head of­fice for ad­ju­di­ca­tion. It sought a ser­vice provider out of ne­ces­sity.

But VFS has cre­ated an un­war­ranted moat, mak­ing it is near im­pos­si­ble for mem­bers of the pub­lic to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with Home Af­fairs.

VFS has prof­ited by charg­ing a ser­vice fee of R1 350 to ac­cept and de­liver ad­min­is­tra­tive ap­peals.

This is an unlawful non-reg­u­lated fee that for­eign­ers are obliged to pay, even to gain ac­cess to ad­min­is­tra­tive jus­tice. It in­fringes on the pub­lic’s right to ad­min­is­tra­tive jus­tice.

For those with lim­ited fi­nan­cial re­sources, it keeps jus­tice be­yond reach. In ef­fect, this fee is the price for­eign­ers have to pay for a mea­sure of gov­ern­ment in­ef­fi­ciency.


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