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Cabinet reshuffle could clear the obstacles to border agency

Categories: ALL THE NEWS , Government
Customs and excise collection at the centre of a row between home affairs and the finance ministry

The Border Management Agency could soon assume all functions of border control and customs and excise collection, courtesy of President Jacob Zuma’s recent cabinet reshuffle. The issue of customs and excise collection was the subject of a dispute between the home affairs ministry and finance ministry, with the latter wanting the function to remain under the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Hlengiwe Mkhize. Picture: SOWETAN

The Treasury imposed a staff ceiling on government departments in the medium term, hampering efforts by the Department of Home Affairs to set up the agency. When former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was at the helm of the Treasury, the department’s expenditure ceiling for employee compensation was pegged at R3.146bn in 2016-17, R3.233bn in 2017-18 and R3.328bn in 2018-19.

The cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the former home affairs minister and a key proponent of the agency, Malusi Gigaba, taking over the finance ministry. He was replaced at the Department of Home Affairs by Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize, who told Business Day on Thursday that she hoped Gigaba’s appointment would lead to a softening of the Treasury’s stance on these issues. So tense was the stand-off over the customs collection function of SARS at borders that former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas wrote a letter to Parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs, insisting that customs and revenue-collection should remain the function of SARS after the agency was established.

Mkhize told Business Day that before her first consultation with director-general Mkuseli Apleni, she met Gigaba, who stressed the importance of finalising the alignment of all functions at ports of entry to an authority under home affairs, in line with the Border Management Authority Bill.

"We must have a clear line of authority around border management as home affairs. He seemed very committed to its establishment and said we will talk in our next meeting.

"Cabinet is clear on the vision of how to strengthen this authority," said Mkhize.

Treasury spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete confirmed that the two departments were in talks over the agency and that an announcement would be made on the matter in due course.

Kathryn Hoeflich from migrant welfare organisation Scalabrini Centre said hiring more staff at home affairs to manage migration was a good way to spend some state resources. "Hiring qualified workers to resolve backlogs or address complex issues would be less costly and a better deterrent for illegal migrants than building detention centres or buying guns for border guards," said Hoeflich.

Independent analyst David Peddle said the establishment of the Border Management Agency appeared to be the result of efforts as far back as 1994 "to effectively take over the border environment and order budgets of the borderline departments".

He said the first plans to do this came from former home affairs minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi and were met with "great uproar".

Hlengiwe Mkhize. Picture: SOWETAN

Courtesy :  Business Day - 21 April 2017

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