Parliament’s home affairs portfolio committee has called on home affairs minister Siyabonga Cwele to review the department’s contract with VFS global.
VFS Global manages visa application centres on behalf of the department.
The appointment of VFS to act as the front-end administrative function for the department came into effect on June 20 2014. The home affairs minister at the time told the media that the appointment of VFS would help speed up functions and make the department more efficient. It also freed badly needed staff from the mundane tasks of handling forms and the collection of information.
All visa and permit applications are first processed at VFS centres. These applications are then assessed by the department of home affairs in Pretoria.
Applicants must now pay an additional fee to VFS, which costs up to R3,000 a person. This fee is applied in cases such as appeals which should be free, immigration lawyers said when it was introduced.
Immigration experts and lawyers argued then that the service fee was not provided for in law and made the acquisition of constitutional requirements such as identity books and birth certificates out of reach for most.
For example, a critical skills visa an applicant who would have normally paid the department R1,520 for the visa will also now have to pay VFS R1,350 for the front-end service.
The minister will be expected to respond to the committee within a week, to ensure that the matter is dealt with before parliament rises on March 20.
The committee criticised the department for its decision to grant VFS Global a two-year extension, saying it is in violation of the Public Finance Management Act and National Treasury regulations on procurement within competitive bidding processes.
“The extension creates a perception of another Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), which was the only service provider at the South Africa Social Security Agency said to have the capacity to render services. It is even more concerning that the department has extended the scope of work of VFS to establish services in countries it did not have previously,” said Hlomani Chauke, who chairs the home affairs committee.
He said it raises concerns about the legitimacy of the contract.
Chauke said that while the committee acknowledged that parliament had no right to inform the department on which companies to contract for services, it would be a dereliction of its duty if it did not highlight cases where the department was deliberately breaking its own rules and guidelines.
Chauke said the lack of capacity at the department to process visa applications was raised as a matter of concern as it hampers the drive to grow SA’s economy through tourism.
“It is even more concerning that capacity in key tourism markets, such as Nigeria and India, is lacking, leading to fewer processed applications and impacting on the numbers of tourists coming into the country,” he said.
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