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SA embassy in Portugal - gripped by tech challenges - decided against handwritten visas

Source: News24, 14/11/2023

Department of International Relations and Cooperation head of public diplomacy Clayson Monyela said the embassy in Germany had a functional visa system, email, telephone, and printers.
• South Africa`s embassies across the world are struggling with bandwidth and other ICT challenges.
• The Department of International Relations and Cooperation has upgraded several systems, but in some cases, challenges still need to be solved.
• The department`s Clayson Monyela says visas are issued manually when systems are down.
South Africa`s diplomatic mission in Lisbon, Portugal, has laptops and computers that are not compatible with their old infrastructure, and despite the technical challenges, opted not to issue handwritten visas.
In June, the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation conducted a fact-finding oversight visit on the status of the vacant state-owned properties under the management of South Africa`s embassies in Germany and Portugal.
Last Friday, a debate on the matter was held during a mini plenary in the National Assembly.
According to a report compiled by the committee, the mission reported generally, the department`s network and ICT infrastructure were old, slow, and impacted negatively on the overall mission performance.
`There was a period when the mission went for four months without connectivity in 2020.
The report read:
It was said that the department invested a lot of money on ICT, and although the mission has recently completed the installation of new desktops and laptops and allocated all transferred officials with mobile phones, there were still challenges with the network and some of the critical applications are not fully functional.
One of the main issues was the need for better internet facilities.
`The communication of the department and that of the missions continues to be highly exposed due to the use of private wifi.
`It was argued that the tools of trade were bought before the new infrastructure could be installed.
`As a result, the challenge is the laptops and computers are not compatible with the old infrastructure system that is still on the premises.
`The problem was with the issuance of visas, so the mission decided that rather than issue handwritten visas, they kept the old infrastructure, especially as the new system does not read commands for printing,` the report read.
Last week, News24 reported diplomatic staff at South Africa`s mission in Germany were issuing handwritten visas because printers were faulty, telephone lines were not working, and officials used private routers to connect to wifi.
Germany is South Africa`s third-largest trading partner.
Department of International Relations and Cooperation head of public diplomacy Clayson Monyela said the embassy in Germany had a functional visa system, email, telephone, and printers.
`Around the world, countries who have embassies overseas experience technical challenges with their networks.
`A temporary solution is the manual issuance of visas to ensure a continuation of services and once fixed, we revert to the normal system. It is not uncommon,` he added.
Regarding the embassy in Lisbon, Monyela said the visa system, emails and telephones were also working fine.
He added the reason the committee found system failures was that South African embassies around the world have historical challenges with low bandwidth.
Monyela said these issues have since been resolved.
`System upgrades are being done, but there were delays in certain countries with the system.
`Several departments play a role at the embassies, like the DTIC [Department of Trade Industry and Competition], home affairs and defence. With visas, the authority lies with home affairs,` he added.
Meanwhile, the committee also visited a state-owned property in Funchal, Portugal.
The mission was first informed of the disposal of the property in Funchal through a memo from the acting chief financial officer dated 12 October 2021.
`It was reported that the lease evaluation of the vacant property was carried out by the H&LP Consulting [evaluators] on 24 March 2022 with a cost of 1 525 euros. The value of the property was pitched at 246 000 euros.
`The mission reported having spent 17 615.88 euros since 2020 to date for the general upkeep of the property in Funchal.
`The expenditure was on garden maintenance, municipal services, cleaning and security, property valuation, and the disposal advertisement,` the report said.
South African Ambassador to Portugal Mmamokwena Gaoretelelwe told the committee to circumvent the impact of ICT on the telephone systems, the mission acquired a satellite wifi and would look for a fibre network.
`The mission is serviced by the London ICT hub. The transition has taken long, the mission only completed the installation of tools of trade two weeks before the oversight visit, and that process affected the telephone network,` the report read.

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