The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs wants the renewal of a contract to outsource the processing of visas reviewed, likening it to the controversial Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) contract.
The committee recently resolved to write to Minister of Home Affairs Siyabonga Cwele to review the contract with VFS Global.
The committee heard that the contract with VFS Global was renewed for two years in December, without it going through the open tender procurement process. The department initially contracted VFS Global in 2010.
Chief director of immigration services at the department Richard Stolz said the extension of the contract “was legally provided for”. He said there would have been an “immense” reputational risk to the department if there was a discontinuity in their operating model.
But MPs are highly critical of the deal.
DA MP Haniff Hoosen said it destroyed job creation in South Africa because the deal meant that several local companies providing visa services had to close their doors.
ANC MP and chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Tourism Lusizo Sharon Makhubela-Mashele, who also attended the meeting, likened it to the South Africa Social Security Agency’s (Sassa’s) controversial dealings with CPS.
Committee chairperson Hlomani Chauke also subscribed to this idea.
“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,” Chauke said in a statement released after the meeting.
Several MPs said it seemed like the law was amended to deliberately give VFS Global a monopoly.
“Maybe, if we can’t conclude these issues, we must refer it to the Zondo commission [into state capture]. It is part of state capture,” Chauke said.
“Deliberately, you have amended legislation to create this monopoly. It killed all the small players.”
After being castigated by the committee, deputy director general of immigration services Jackie Mckay said: “We note all of the issues that are raised here.”
He acknowledged that it was not the first time that the committee had raised it.
“We take note of it.”
He said before the contract expired, they had started with an open tender process, but in April last year received a legal opinion to not follow such a process.
“That threw a spanner in the works,” Mckay said.
“We have no interest in who is delivering the service, as long as the service is delivered to us.”
Mckay said “serious, serious capacity problems” had been the bane of his existence.
“We just don’t have the staff.”
He said they had approached Treasury on several occasions, to no avail. This did little to appease the committee.
In his statement, Chauke said the committee would like to hear from Cwele about the possibility of going out on an open tender process and his plans to build capacity within the department to quickly process visa applications.
Cwele will be expected to respond to the committee within a week to ensure that the matter is dealt with before Parliament rises.
“While the committee acknowledges that Parliament has no right to inform the department on whom to contract for services, it would be a dereliction of its duty if it did not highlight cases where the department is deliberately breaking its own rules and guidelines,” read the statement.
“It is even more concerning that capacity in key tourism markets, such as Nigeria and India, is lacking, leading to few processed applications impacting on the numbers of tourists coming into the country,” Chauke said.
VFS Global describes itself as the “world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide” on its website.
“The company manages the administrative and non-judgmental tasks related to visa, passport, identity management and other citizen services for its client governments. This enables them to focus entirely on the critical task of assessment.”
The company’s headquarters are in Dubai, its parentage is Swiss and it is a portfolio company of EQT, a global private equity firm headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.
Last week, the committee also asked Cwele to investigate the department’s contract for the automated biometric identification system with technology company EOH.
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