If officials behave like Indian dabbawalas, SA will have the world’s most efficient immigration system, says Gary Eisenberg.

 Cape Town – Passion, intellectual capital, and will are the driving forces behind efficiency. The combination of these elements ensures the optimisation of simple processes.

The efficiency of India’s ingenious tiffin meal-distribution system is a direct result of this. Daily, approximately 4 000 dabbawalas – persons transporting home cooked lunches – deliver 160 000 tiffins (lunch boxes) to workers across Mumbai. Despite the lack of modern technology – tiffins are colour coded, abbreviated and numbered – only a single tiffin goes astray once every two months, resulting in an efficiency success rate of 99.9 percent. For this reason excellence ratings have been rewarded to the tiffin system by the Harvard Business School and by Forbes.

In strong contradiction to the tiffin distribution system stands South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA) which receives a flow of immigration applications constituting a tiny fraction of the number of tiffin boxes distributed daily in Mumbai. Yet the DHA is unable to meet basic tests of administrative efficiency, or justice in its processing and adjudication of those applications.

In 2011, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the DHA was not allowed to take longer than 30 days to process and adjudicate temporary residence permits. A year later, in another Western Cape High Court case, the director-general himself swore under oath that permanent residence permit applications would not take the DHA longer than eight months to process and adjudicate. Following both rulings, the DHA’s annual report 2012-2013 painted a different picture. More specifically, in the category Outcome 2, Programme 3: Immigration managed efficiently and securely in the national interest including economic, social and cultural development. Ten targets were set, two were fully achieved, one partially achieved and seven not achieved. Permits are commonly incorrectly issued, refusals are invariably unlawful, constant delays plague processing, and robust administrative appeal procedures are stymied in a never-ending flow of bungling.

Having spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ rands over the past decade attempting to improve IT systems and infrastructure, why is ineffectiveness still so rampant and so easily tolerated?

On May 26, 2014, former home affairs minister Naledi Pandor implemented the Immigration Amendment Act and Immigration Regulations mere days before vacating her position and handing over the reins to Malusi Gigaba.

Basic process inefficiencies are reflected by the gross omission of essential regulations regarding application fees, critical skills, the amount of income retirees need to demonstrate in applying for temporary and permanent residence permit applications, and the minimum amount of foreign capital foreigners require to invest in South African enterprises to secure business permits. Foreigners who depart South Africa after overstaying their permits for a single day are automatically blacklisted for a year, ruining families, businesses and hope.

The DHA’s procedural inconsistencies also hint at bias. When a South African citizen wishes to apply for a renewal of a passport, the process is perhaps one of the most efficient on the planet. However, when it comes to immigration applications by foreigners, there is simply an existential failure of service delivery.

Does this mean that neither passion, intellectual capital nor will on the part of DHA bureaucrats is the cause of such failure? Is there perhaps xenophobia in the DHA’s stratagem? How can uneducated dabbawalas lose a single tiffin out of 9.6 million distributed, while almost every temporary and permanent residence permit application processed by the DHA fails to meet basic tenets of court sanctioned efficiency parameters?

The DHA has in terms of its new filing protocols outsourced its open “front of house” to an international visa service. This is tantamount to an admission the DHA administration is defunct and has passed the financial burden on to foreigners who are forced to pay administrative fees for service improvement, notwithstanding the fact that these fees are not prescribed in the new regulations. For this and other reasons, at the time of writing no foreigner has been able to apply for any type of temporary or permanent residence permit since May 26, bringing the immigration regime to a standstill.

Ministers and bureaucrats must realise that jungle politics no longer rules. South Africa has a constitution in which the right to administrative justice and the values of the public administration are enshrined. Once every cabinet minister and every government official behaves and thinks like an Indian dabbawala, South Africa will have the most efficient immigration system in the world.

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