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Identity crisis rocks department

Published Sep 7, 2009

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By Dasen Thathiah and Political Bureau

Two Durban teenagers, who share names and birth dates, have had to put their lives on hold because their identity documents bear the same ID number.

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The latest bungle by the Department of Home Affairs comes as the Zuma administration has conceded that urgent reforms to get government working better, and spending money more efficiently, will fail unless public servants and politicians change how they think and work.

Public sentiment on the department has arguably reached an all-time low after the death on August 28 of 22-year-old S'khumbuzo Mhlongo, an unemployed man of Hillcrest, who hanged himself after repeatedly being denied an identity document.

Officials at the Home Affairs office in Pinetown reportedly told Mhlongo he was a foreigner and some had asked him to pay a R400 bribe to sort out his ID woes.

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Durban teenager Sashen Govender, 19, yesterday aired his frustration with Home Affairs after he tried to get a driver's licence but was told he already had one.

Govender, of Shallcross, south of Durban, passed his test at Rossburgh last Saturday, but officials refused to issue the licence after it was found that one had already been issued on the same identity number.

"I was shocked; they were so rude and kept telling me I already had a licence, yet I had only just passed the test," he said.

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Govender and his frantic mother, Rajes, visited four Home Affairs offices - Umgeni Road, Commercial Road, Chatsworth and Pinetown - before they received a document confirming his details were correct.

He was told Sashen Govender of Tongaat had been granted the driver's licence.

The two teenagers made arrangements to meet at the Umgeni Road Home Affairs office on Thursday.

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At first, officials "didn't know what to do" when faced with two Sashen Govenders with identical identity numbers.

"They went into a back office for a while then came back and asked us to provide proof of our identities. They wanted maternity certificates, school registration documents, birth certificates and our identity documents," Govender said.

Until the situation is resolved, the boys' IDs - issued two years apart - are no longer valid.

Acting provincial manager for Home Affairs, Norman Ramashia, this morning promised to attend to the document mix-up, and asked for the contact details of the boys to be sent to his office.

"We will check on exactly what happened, but the information will be sent to our Pretoria offices for them to intervene," he said.

While he did not want to say how long it would take to resolve, he said depending on the supporting documents they received, it would take "not longer than a week".

At Mhlongo's funeral on Thursday, Home Affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang said: "Despite our good intentions, we have not been very successful when it comes to fighting fraud and corruption. But we hope that Mhlongo's case will be a turning point."

Government hopes a new policy document, "Improving Government Performance: Our Approach", unveiled on Friday by Minister for Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, Collins Chabane, will change the way public services are viewed.

It acknowledges that changing entrenched attitudes to performance will involve a "battle for hearts and minds" in the public service.

The plan is to get all three levels of government - national, provincial and local - working together as a "single delivery machine".

The document complements the green paper (discussion document) on the national planning commission, released by Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.

It spells out proposals on how the government will plan for the medium- to long-term.

"It should be acknowledged that the state has not always performed optimally in relation to public expectations," Chabane's document states.

"Quality and service standards have not always improved, despite massive increases in successive budgets. In some areas, service quality and standards have deteriorated."

Instead of trying to tackle all the country's problems at once, the government now intends focusing on a few key priorities: Health, education, crime-fighting, job creation and rural development. Chief among these will be education, "which has the most significant impact on our long-term development and can... (place) the country on a new development path.

"It allows us to impact on the lives of 11 million people and their families and accounts for 20 percent of the national budget," the document says. Part and parcel of the new approach is a shift in focus. Budgets, staff and equipment will still be important, but the emphasis will be on achieving outcomes - such as ensuring all Grade 3 pupils read and write properly - with stepped goals that can be measured.

The plan also involves building partnerships between government and civil society - parents who want to make sure their children's schools are functioning properly, or NGOs and institutions that can provide expertise and support.

"The delivery chain starts with the outcome we want to achieve, and then defines the output measures that must be used to check if we are on track to deliver and identifies key activities needed to do this as well as inputs crucial to success," the document says.

"Performance cannot be achieved through fiat, compulsion or coercion alone," the document says.

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