Assistance from birth to death

BEST SHOT: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Pic. Ambrose Peters. 03/06/2009. © Sunday Times.
BEST SHOT: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Pic. Ambrose Peters. 03/06/2009. © Sunday Times.

SHE has been dubbed Doctor Fix It - a label that has probably propelled Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to work tirelessly to ensure that the challenges facing her department are fixed.

By the end of her tenure she at leastwants to see a department that provides "world-class" service to all citizens and visitors.

The 60-year-old mother of four daughters appeared very relaxed when she looked back on her first few months as head of the embattled Home Affairs.

She acknowledges that it will take years to achieve the desired results of the department's turnaround strategy. But after only five months in office she is happy with the new direction the department is taking.

The minister explains that Home Affairs is not just concerned with issuing passports and recording the personal data of citizens. She says it is responsible for the security of the state since it is at the centre of government business. She also knows that this is not going to be easy.

"It is still a very steep learning curve for me because though I have some experience in government, which is very helpful, I have to now learn the specifics of Home Affairs. What is the mandate of the department? What is the state of Home Affairs and what can be done to improve it?"

Since taking up her new portfolio in May Dlamini-Zuma has seen the implementation of several strategies to bring about a new face for Home Affairs. The changes include the introduction of an electronic live-capturing system for ID and passport applications. She is convinced the system, already rolled out at more than 40 offices countrywide, will meet all expectations.

She pauses before continuing to outline her plans for an efficient ministry. In fact, if she had her way, Home Affairs would be a "paper-less" department. Or a department where individuals are issued documents at the time they apply for them.

She says Home Affairs, as the "face of the country", has to do things differently.

"A well-functioning Home Affairs can go beyond just dealing with citizens. It can be a planning tool and it can assist government in many areas.

It can also assist in the development of our economy because if we say we are short of engineers, Home Affairs can go out and recruit and facilitate the coming of those skills for the development of our country," Dlamini-Zuma says.

In fact, things should be such that the population register is so credible that if banks wanted to verify a person they should be able to link up with the department and get the information immediately.

Dlamini-Zuma laments the rampant corruption and inefficiency of some officials at Home Affairs offices.

"We must play our role in stamping out corruption and inefficiency," she says.

But Dlamini-Zuma believes that without help from the public, a corruption-free department might be impossible to achieve.

She admits that the hotline is not receiving the required publicity to make it work. People still approach her at gatherings wanting to know how they can resolve their problems with IDs.

"I also get a lot of SMSes, so I think it's not getting enough publicity."

To try and minimise corruption, the department is rolling out a system in which staff who produce and issue passports will be finger-printed electronically after handling documents, which makes it easy to track where a document is lost or stolen.

She is also serious about ensuring that all newborn babies are registered and have birth certificates.

"Late registration is another Achilles heel. We are going to run a huge campaign to ensure that this gets into people's heads. The campaign is not only aimed at registering babies, but all children up to the age of 15," Dlamini-Zuma says.

She insists that all teenagers should have IDs at the age of 16 to eliminate pressure during elections when Home Affairs and the IEC are often required to run big ID campaigns.

For her it is quite clear that the ingredients needed to get Home Affairs running smoothly is excellent human resources, proper infrastructure and a wider footprint of offices. Not the current situation in which, in some parts of the country, the ratio of the number of offices versus the population size is abominable. For example, Soweto has only one Home Affairs office and Umlazi, on the other hand, has no office.

Besides being sympathetic to customers, officials need to possess the proper skills. And the same goes for all managers, the minister says.

She attributes poor service from some frontline staff to perhaps the fact that most simply have only a matric qualification and very low-level skills. She wants to remedy this through training for frontline staff and managers.

Dlamini Zuma has all the ingredients in place for a "world-class" department and if she gets the recipe right, then citizens will benefit at every stage from birth to death. - BuaNews