From Home Affairs to Smart Affairs �` Ramaphosa’s design headache
Source: Daily Maverick, 10/07/2018
To succeed with the massive undertaking of transforming into “a real
cornerstone of e-government”, the Department of Home Affairs should
not be saddled with the border management function. They provide the
necessary technology, yes, but definitely not the personnel at the gate.
Where inside the cutlery cabinet at Tuynhuis does the President keep
the bottle opener? That important tool of the kitchen trade which does
not quite belong in any of the compartments. One we randomly place
among the forks or spoons.
While the President is grappling with Cabinet matters of a different
variety, and Home Affairs in the polity instead of the kitchen, the
task of designing governance models presents similar, albeit far more
bewildering, challenges. Like the bottle opener, some government
functions just do not seem to belong anywhere.
For a long time one of the most awkwardly placed state entities in
South Africa was the State Information Technology Agency (Sita), a
technology implementation institution oddly placed under what is,
essentially, the government’s HR department, the Department of Public
Service and Administration.
As President Ramaphosa and his team begin to “review the
configuration, number, and size of national government departments”,
they will be pondering where best to locate entities such as Sita,
Sentech, and StatsSA.
It is a delicate undertaking, no doubt, and demands of the
practitioner a nuanced appreciation of politics, governance, delivery
models, technology, and organisational architecture.
Companies faced a similar conundrum during the nascent years of
Information Technology. The IT function was typically located under
the finance department �` simply because the first business systems
were designed for recording and managing financial transactions.
IT consulting was the sole purview of the accounting firms, and the
vestiges are still evident to this day in the older firms. This is a
far cry from today’s companies, where the free-standing IT function is
ubiquitous across the organisation.
Fortunately, the government ICT function is also coming of age.
The tiny country of Estonia and to a lesser extent Singapore are
leading the way to the once-mythical Smart Nation �` a nation “where
people are empowered by technology to lead meaningful and fulfilled
lives, through harnessing the power of networks, data, and info-comm
technologies …” according to smartnation.sg.
A smart nation framework supports the provision of a range of
government digital services, and smart contracts enabled by
distributed ledger platforms such as the block chain.
Recent pronouncements by Minister for Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba,
suggest that the department is thinking in the right direction. In May
the DHA launched the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS),
with the aim of transforming the department into “a real cornerstone
This is a solid foundation for a smart nation.
Though commendable, the department’s effort seems more like
force-fitting the new into the old �` taking a decisive leap forward,
while doubling down on the border management function.
To succeed with the massive undertaking of transforming the department
into “a real cornerstone of e-government”, the DHA should not be
saddled with the border management function. That would be akin to the
IT department of a large conglomerate being responsible for checking
in visitors at the gate. They provide the technology, yes, but
definitely not the personnel at the gate.
What the DHA needs to do is to bundle the port control function with
the mooted Border Management Authority, and ship it wholesale to the
security cluster. Police already have a crucial role at border posts,
and they’re quite adept at processing all manner of documents.
The restructured and renamed department should be the logical home for
Sita, which currently resides under the Department of
Telecommunications and Postal Services. Ditto Sentech, Usaasa, Zadna
and other ICT-related competencies within the DTPS portfolio.
The department can then focus on deploying a comprehensive suite of
services to the burgeoning smart nation, without being weighed down by
the ill-fitting border management function.
And what about big data and analytics? Isn’t it time StatsSA got a
broader mandate and a new home? Is that too much, too soon?
No doubt the administration is seized with all these trade-offs and
decisions, as they craft a new governance model for the Fourth
I wouldn’t rush to pull the SKA radio telescope project into the Smart
Affairs Ministry just yet. But who knows which intergalactic visas
we’ll be issuing 50 years from now.