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South Africa to expand biometric border control system

MPs fault ABIS project delay
South Africa to expand biometric border control system

Plans to upgrade and expand infrastructure providing biometric passenger checks at some of South Africa’s ports of entry by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) have been earmarked in the country’s 2023/2024 budget.

This disclosure was made recently by Thulani Mavuso, deputy director-general for institutional planning and support at the DHA as he updated members of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs on the project labelled Biometric Movement Control System (BMCS).

Tech publication ITWeb reports that during the committee meeting, the lawmakers also raised critical questions about what has become of the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) which is implemented by Idemia. The project has been a subject of lingering controversy since it was announced in 2017.

Biometrics to be deployed at 38 more ports of entry

Speaking during the briefing, Mavuso said the government plans to take the number of ports of entry covered by the BMCS to 72, up from the current 34. This, the deputy director said, will happen by March 31 next year.

The official added that connectivity will also be upgraded at the ports already linked to the BMCS.

Mavuso said although the project has largely been successful since it started in 2021, they have faced a number of problems such as connectivity and power issues as well as lack of staff.

While they are looking forward to improving on the internet connectivity bandwidth at some of those ports, alternative power sources will equally be installed at others given the biting load-shedding problem in the country.

The intention is to complete all the upgrade in the first two quarters of the 2023/2024 budget.

MPs unhappy with ABIS failures

About the ABIS, DHA officials, in different interventions during the meeting, admitted that there have been challenges both at the level of the department and the contractor. There has long been bickering over the project.

There are said to be issues with the first phase of the project including reported problems with data migration and synchronization from the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) to the ABIS which will replace it, notes ITWeb in another report. Fingerprint biometrics registered with HANIS are also not currently compatible with the ABIS.

Mavuso told the legislators that Idemia has admitted responsibility for the failures and has promised to look into the issues as phase II of the ABIS project is set to begin this month.

The MPs say the snail pace of the project is worrying given the huge amount of money already gulped.

They remain pessimistic about its success despite assurances from DHA director general Tommy Makhode and DHA deputy minister Njabulo Nzuza, who also spoke during the committee briefing.

The ABIS project is part of South Africa’s plans to put in place a reliable ID database that will digitize processes and tackle fraud in the issuance of ID documents like national ID cards and passports.

It is also part of a wider integrated digital ID project which got cabinet approval in February.

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