Corruption continued to be a serious problem at the department of home affairs, its director-general said on Tuesday.

Speaking after his first 100 days in office, Mavuso Msimang said he hoped to root this out by motivating staff, putting in place better technology and improved facilities.

He conceded that the department continued to be "sick" and that its computer servers were a "disaster waiting to happen".

At the moment it took more than 100 days on average to produce an identity document and there were more than 600 000 of them in backlog. A significant number of these were duplicate applications.

"Is home affairs so slow that if people want to get a document they try somewhere else as well?" he asked.

With about 80 people handling an ID from start to finish, Msimang said the largest bottleneck was fingerprint verification, which took about 27 days. An electronic tracking system to speed up this process and make it less vulnerable to corruption was being rolled out at present. It would also enable people to query the status of their applications via SMS or on the department's website.

Other problems that would be given urgent attention included lack of skills and oversight, poor customer satisfaction, duplication of functions and systems that were not linked to one another. The department's IT system would be upgraded and placed on a single platform, to allow systems to be linked.

The rollout would start at the end of September. Msimang said preparations were under way for the introduction of a national ID card, in line with the upgrading of the Home Affairs information system. The business case was still being finalised. Glitches like a white woman's photograph finding its way into the ID book of a black man were hardly surprising given the disorder that reigned in some offices, he said.

Msimang showed journalists photographs of a Home Affairs office where documents were piled on and under desks and on the floor. These had been placed in neatly-labelled boxes or on shelves. Msimang said he would put his neck on a block and ensure that the following year's financial statements came without a qualified audit. He could not vouch for the upcoming set of statements however. "We have become a laughing stock because for so many years our financial statements have been qualified", he said.

Turning to risks facing the department, Msimang said 10 had been identified as being either likely or almost certain. The latter included: Threat of unauthorised and/or malicious system access due to limited controls and the threat of accidental or purposeful misrepresentation of financial statements. The likely category included a bomb or other threat to a home affairs office due to terrorism or a disgruntled employee.

He said there was a clear lack of capacity at management level, which was being addressed. I am very confident that by the end of November we should have accessed some of the skills we are looking for.

On scarce skills needed in the country, Msimang said the department was streamlining the issuing of work permits. A help desk to deal with queries relating to the 35 000 available scarce skills permits would be fully operational by the end of the month, he said. Despite efforts to reduce the backlog in refugee processing, it had grown by about 30 percent. As of April 1, there were about 144 000 unprocessed applications, up from 111 000 on July 1, 2005. He said the Zimbabweans streaming into the country illegally were not clients of home affairs as they did not meet international definitions of refugees as set out in the Geneva Convention and in African Union and SADC protocols. These defined refugees as victims of political, religious and other forms of persecution. Most Zimbabweans, however, came to South Africa for economic help.

He said about 27 percent of refugee applications were rejected outright without the option of an appeal. The Democratic Alliance's spokesperson on home affairs said the real problem was the department's absentee minister. [She] has not admitted to, nor managed to address, any of the very obvious problems since her appointment to the position in 2004, said Mark Lowe. He said her turn-around strategy never bore fruit. The department had received five qualified audits in a row. An intervention task team set up to investigate the problems in Home Affairs earlier this year identified the same issues Msimang mentioned. Government and the president have known this for many years now. Why have they not acted to either force the minister to do her job, or else put someone in her place who will perform? - Sapa