Thank you for honouring this invitation. We convened this media briefing better to explain the challenges encountered and the steps we took swiftly to avert delays at OR Tambo International Airport, precisely because the Department of Home Affairs remains committed to ensuring travellers and all other clients are served diligently, efficiently, professionally, and with utmost humility and care, at all times.
A brief background should assist. Last December, we launched the enhanced Movement Control System (eMCS) Biometric pilot programme, which was rolled out at selected passenger processing counters at the four pilot airports – Lanseria, King Shaka International Airport, Cape Town International Airport and in the Transit area at OR Tambo International Airport.
We exempted travellers transiting from using transit visas, allowing for capturing of biometrics of travellers on arrival. As a benefit, this assisted greatly in improving facilitation of travellers and in easing movement, as well as in heightening security for all.
The benefits included improved capacity to capture travellers’ biometrics in addition to normal scanning of passports. Such improved record of traveller movement on our enhanced Movement Control System meant improved safety for all clients and citizens.
To this we add easing of movement for travellers, including frequent travellers and those in transit, especially when the system is now full steam.
With the biometric system in place we were also able to waive the requirement for Chinese nationals having to apply for visas in person, on condition that their biometric data is captured upon arrival. Two dedicated biometric counters were allocated in the arrivals terminal in January 2016 for this purpose.
This being a phased-in approach, from 27 June (2016), in line with the Home Affairs Modernisation Programme, we increased the roll-out of biometrics, to cover 65% of our counters, including at the terminals for arrivals and transit.
The upgrades we made in this regard impacted on the processing of travellers, particularly on 1 July (2016), but other factors contributed to the problems encountered, including:
• Higher than expected traveller volumes commensurate with school holidays and summer holidays in the northern hemisphere. On 1 July 2016, from 4pm to 9pm, there were 4 341 arrivals and 6578 departures.
•The queuing system and fast-tracking of delayed travellers, by airlines, as well as some travellers not checking-in on time, compounded the situation.
• Passengers were rerouted from Terminal A Departure to Terminal B Departure to alleviate congestion, thus exacerbating the situation at the Central Terminal Building.
• Insufficient communication to travellers on what to expect before travelling, and on the arrangement that they should immediately proceed through to immigration on arrival.
• Lack of communication at the terminals.
• Reluctance on the part of some travellers to use biometrics.
• Increased processing time, related to staff complement, also with officials posted still needing to adjust sufficiently to the changes.
We responded promptly to the challenge, by, among other interventions,
• Mobilising Senior Management from Head Office to assist.
• Reverting to manual processing in response to the volumes of travellers.
• Decommissioning biometric capability on some systems to normal eMCS, on Saturday 2 July 2016.
• Engaging the ACSA terminal management and the Airline Operation Committee, to enhance communication and guide traveller behaviour.
• Scaling up training for officials.
Further, I have directed our senior managers to step up the biometrics’ communication campaign, effectively and sufficiently to inform the public about the biometric system and its benefits. They will also engage conveyances to come on board, for instance by airing a short introductory on biometrics prior to landing in the country, and by informing travellers to proceed directly to immigration after check in. Communication, periodically, by ACSA, (on the intercom system and signage) will greatly assist in informing travellers throughout the airport.
Sincere apologies we extend to all travellers in this respect, for the inconvenience caused. On our part we commit continuously to minimise disruptions as we progressively usher in the new changes that are with no doubt fundamental to improved, efficient and secure service to clients.
As a hospitable country that is aspiring to leverage international migration and tourism in ramping up the economy thus to roll back the frontiers of poverty, unemployment and inequality, we understand it clearly to be in our best interest to excel in facilitating movement of travellers. We are building more capacity in this regard, thus over the last festive season we were able to process over five million travellers through our borders.
We sympathise with officials posted out here (at ORTIA) who found themselves helpless in the face of these challenges, unable as it were to bring smiles on the faces of their clients as we have charged them to do so, with humility, patience and respect.
Let me reiterate our earlier announced resolve in 2016 to strive for higher efficiency with regard to managing migration thus to ensure great socio-economic and cultural benefits for our country.
I thank you.