Yesterday we released our report on corruption in the Home Affairs immigration system. Titled Project Lokisa: Asylum at a Price, the report was launched on a piece of land over the road from the Marabastad refugee reception office in Pretoria. The launch was notable for the absence of the key actor in the story – the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), which has come up with quite a few excuses to explain its no-show. Despite the DHA claiming no knowledge of the release of our report on corruption in the immigration system and affecting annoyance at what they seem to perceive as an ambush, Corruption Watch is in possession of a lengthy chain of communication with the DHA on this matter, and we find it highly implausible that none of this communication has reached any official in the department at any time. The DHA has made claims that officials waited in vain within the Marabastad building, situated across the road from the open ground where we held our launch, and we never showed up. That was never the arrangement, because all along we made it clear that the DHA was welcome to join us where we were and in fact, we would be pleased if they did. For us, it was important that all stakeholders were present and all issues were understood to the same extent by those involved. Furthermore, in terms of the permit for our gathering, we were not allowed to stray outside the area allocated to us. We were also informed by police officers who were present to monitor the event that they would not let us venture across the road to the Marabastad building.

Efforts to engage consistently rebuffed

Our efforts to involve the DHA in our Project Lokisa initiative date back to May 2015 when we approached various officials with the aim of setting up channels of communication. In February 2016 we made a presentation to the DHA executive committee on Project Lokisa, following which director-general Mkuseli Apleni wrote back to say that the DHA would not work with us. On 24 October 2016 we sent the DHA’s spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete a media query in which we explained Project Lokisa in detail, including our motivation for the project and setting out our long-standing efforts to establish a working relationship with the DHA on this matter. We asked the DHA to indicate whether they would like to co-operate with the steering group set up to oversee the implementation of our recommendations. We asked a number of questions regarding consequences against officials who had been dismissed, and the status of cases of corruption being investigated by the DHA, among others. We also drafted a memorandum of understanding which made it clear that we wanted to offer our experience in gathering corruption reports to help establish a system in which asylum seekers could report corruption without fear of victimisation or any threat to their status or applications. Importantly, in paragraph 16 of our media query we advised the DHA well in advance that we would be launching our Project Lokisa report on 22 November at a venue still to be determined, and that we would send our DHA contacts an electronic copy of the report the day before – which we did. We invited the DHA to discuss the report with us. In paragraph 17 we said: “We invite you to formally receive a copy of the report at the launch and to indicate whether you or another representative would like to address the media and general public at the launch.” The DHA did not respond to this letter. Following this non-response, we confirmed with the DHA that we would proceed to finalise our report without any input from them.

No short notice

On 21 November, the day before our launch, we sent e-mail to Mayihlome Tshwete, the Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba, director-general (DG) Mkuseli Apleni, the acting deputy DG for counter corruption and security Matome Malatsi, Mfundo Ngozwana, the head of the Pretoria refugee reception office, and Richard Stoltz, the chief director for immigration management services. We reminded the recipients that we would hold our launch event the next day, as follows: “Please note that our report on Project Lokisa will be made public at a launch on 22 November 2016 at 10h30 at the area of land diagonally opposite the Marabastad Refugee Reception Office. You are most welcome to attend. In particular, and as previously requested, kindly indicate whether a DHA official will be available to receive a copy of our report between 11h00 – 12h30 on the same day. “ We attached an embargoed copy of our report, as promised in paragraph 16 of our letter. On the evening of 21 November, Malatsi called our head of legal and investigations, Leanne Govindsamy, to ask whether our launch was still going ahead and to indicate that a response to our media query was being prepared, that this response was awaiting the signature of the director-general and that it would be hand delivered to us during our launch. “In particular, Mr Malatsi indicated that a DHA official would be attending our launch and would also receive a copy of our memorandum of demands,” Govindsamy said. “On 22 November and shortly before our launch commenced, I called Mr Malatsi to indicate that we were about to start, that we had not received a response from the DHA and that no officials were present.” Malatsi replied that the acting chief director for asylum seeker management, Mandla Madumisa, had obtained a response signed by the director-general. He also indicated that Madumisa was no doubt on his way to join us at that moment. Madumisa never arrived. The DHA has now claimed ignorance of the arrangements which were communicated with them timeously and transparently. Corruption Watch has acted in good faith towards the DHA at all times and has attempted to engage constructively with the DHA on worrying, long-standing issues for which we and our partners have offered a variety of solutions. The DHA has consistently ignored our overtures, but still claims to be willing to co-operate with us and our partners. However, the official correspondence from the DG declining our offer to work with the DHA indicates the opposite. Despite the DHA’s clear reluctance to tackle this pervasive corruption, we are still more than willing to meet and work with them on Project Lokisa, because this issue cannot be left to continue.