Passport woes ‘to be solved’

2009-02-18 00:00

Cape Town — The cabinet has described the United Kingdom’s decision to implement a new visa regime for South Africans visiting the UK as regrettable, but said yesterday the UK authorities have made it clear that they will review their decision if South Africa is able to address problems in its passport production procedures.

Cabinet spokesman Themba Maseko said the cabinet discussed the matter at its meeting yesterday, and that the government is confident that measures are on track to introduce strict security measures in its passport production systems.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith recently announced that South Africans will, from next month, have to apply for visas to enter Britain, making the entry process into the country more complicated for the more than 420 000 South Africans who visit the UK every year. Previously, people with South African passports were allowed to travel visa-free into Britain. UK passport holders do not require visas to visit South Africa.

The move generated strong criticism of South Africa’s Home Affairs Department for its notoriously weak control over issuing South African passports.

The British High Commissioner to South Africa, Paul Boateng, dismissed speculation that the new system has been implemented to protect the country from Muslim extremists.

Briefing the media after yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Maseko said the South African government will continue to maintain regular contact with the British government at very senior levels.

“This is obviously an unfortunate development as we have been working very closely with the British authorities in this regard. They sent a number of teams to look at our systems and to make recommendations. Unfortunately, the time frame given to us was just not sufficient to address our shortcomings. They wanted changes introduced by December.

“We consider their decision to be unfortunate, but it is a sovereign decision by a sovereign state and we respect it,” Maseko said.

He added: “We will do whatever is necessary to improve security measures around the production of documents so that this kind of problem does not arise.”

Maseko said the government has not denied the existence of problems in its passport system, but said good progress has been made in this regard. “When the department of Home Affairs’ turnaround strategy is implemented, all these problems will have been addressed. The British authorities have made it clear if and when the problems are addressed they may be able to review their position. We will keep in regular contact with them,” he said.

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