Call for ban on cellphone use by home affairs frontline staff

Many applicants at the Home Affairs office in Sydenham, Port Elizabeth are being turned away because the office simply cannot cope with the numbers. Picture: Joseph Chirume

The parliament portfolio committee says the ban should be enforced because of the numerous complaints it has received.

The chairperson of the parliament portfolio committee on home affairs, Hlomani Chauke, has urged the department of home affairs to consider an outright ban on cellphone usage by frontline staff during working hours at all home affairs offices.

Chauke said the ban should be enforced because of the numerous complaints the committee had received from the public about delays at home affairs offices.

“It is unacceptable that the public [spends] excessive amounts of time at home affairs offices, while officials spend a disproportionate amount of time busy with their cellphones. Officials are primarily employed to offer a service and the complaints point to dereliction of duty by some officials, yet they continue to draw a salary at the end of the month,” Chauke said.

The chairperson of the committee said it was also concerning that these practices had been witnessed at ports of entry across the country, which gave a bad impression to visitors when they arrived in the country.

“This is more concerning because the president has anchored his economic growth drive [in] tourism, which will be undermined by poor service.

“A guiding framework on the use of cellphones at front desks must be drafted and implemented across the country to ensure standardisation. The framework must also include guidelines for how officials can be contacted in cases of family emergencies,” Chauke said.

He said one of the keys to resolving the long queues at home affairs offices was to ensure officials were at their desks offering the services they were employed to do.

“We are, of course, cognisant that one of the major causes of long queues is the downtime caused by unreliable information and technology software, but professional service at the department must improve,” Chauke said.

“Public service is based on adherence to Batho Pele principles, which call for high-quality service and courtesy. As such, measures must be put in place to encourage and, where necessary, enforce adherence to these principles,” he added.

Chauke said at its first meeting of the year, the committee would invite Home Affairs Minister Siyabonga Cwele and acting director-general Thulani Mavuso to give an update on measures implemented to resolve this challenge.

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