Border Management Authority Bill Becomes Law
(Part 2 of a Series of Home Affairs Focus Points and Strategies)
Last month, the new Minister of Home Affairs, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, delivered her first budget speech in this portfolio. In it, she outlined her vision and focus areas for Home Affairs. We are sharing with you the most interesting points she raised, and the developments since then.
Border Management Authority (BMA)
You may have heard about this – when he was still Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba started the process of re-shaping the way in which our borders are controlled, including all 72 land borders, airports and sea ports. Instead of a joint effort between mainly SAPS (the South African police services), SARS (the tax and customs authorities) and Home Affairs – but also a number of other departments like Health, Agriculture, Defence, State Security, Environmental Affairs etc. -, the new BMA is intended to do it ALL under one roof, controlled by Home Affairs.
According to a statement by Home Affairs, the establishment of the BMA “represents a radical shift from the colonial and apartheid systems that were informed by a desire and mission to create and sustain racism, hostilities and hatred among the people rather than dignified migration”. From all other statements and documents about the purpose of this new body, it does not seem as if it has much to do with fighting racism, promoting peace between people or making migration more dignified. On the contrary, Home Affairs also plans to change the refugee laws by forcing asylum seekers to stay in detention centres close to the borders whilst their asylum applications are being considered. Even in the best organized countries with the fastest turn-around times, such centres are problematic. But in a system such as ours, where asylum applications take many years to be finalized, locking people up in large numbers, over long periods of time, without the right to work or study, is inhumane and certainly anything but dignified.
Admittedly, the BMA could have a positive effect on things like the streamlining of processes, consistency, access to data. But there are a number of issues here:
a) The BMA Bill is very poorly drafted and contains many inconsistencies and gaps, which will cause problems once implementation begins.
b) Large sums of money will be handled by an authority outside of SARS and its very stringent legislation and processes protecting taxpayer’s money from abuse by public servants. This situation creates an environment that is open to abuse.
c) It is common knowledge that borders, in general, are sites of illegal smuggling of goods and people, and of illicit trading of all kinds. Whilst crossing the Komatiepoort border post to Mozambique in 2016, I got a first-hand taste of this. Bribes being solicited, special treatment offered against a fee, and travelers being coerced into playing along in a well-rehearsed game of corruption, favours and fear. Of South Africa’s authorities, Home Affairs is not the one best known for integrity and incorruptibility, and hence one may wonder whether it is best placed to control and reduce such illegal activities. This – at best – fickle administrative body will soon hold the combined authority of several key departments, vested in one organisation. Too much power in one hand can easily lead to abuse. The cross-control factor of separate departments will fall away and, in the wrong hands, tremendous damage can be caused.
d) Home Affairs is also a government department that has been seen to change policies and procedures at a whim and without due warning, training or the required systems in place. Although much remains unclear at this stage (e.g. the powers and procedures of the border guards which are to be appointed), government plans to have the BMA operational before the end of 2017. The concern is that pushing through a new system will lead to disruptions and delays for travelers, which may further harm the tourism sector, but also trade.
The relevant Bill was passed through parliament on 9 June and is now before the National Council of Provinces and could potentially be in force as early as August.
Julia Willand / Director