The Quality of Immigration and Citizenship Services in Namibia

Ndeyapo M. Nickanor, Southern African Migration Programme


The Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration (MHAI) in Namibia has sole responsibility for implementing and managing migration policy and legislation; the registration of births, deaths and marriages; and the issuing of identity documents, passports and emergency travel documents. The Ministry also manages visa and permanent and temporary residence applications and approves work permits.

In 2005, the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) was asked by the Ministry to conduct a systematic survey of the quality of services offered to citizens and non-citizens (the Services Quality Survey or SQS). The main objectives of the SQS were as follows:

  • To compare the opinions of officials about the level and quality of services with those of the clients receiving these services;
  • To identify the type of problems and delays that occur in the delivery of services in Namibia and why they occur;
  • To determine the extent to which the level and quality of services provided meet the expectations of clients;
  • To develop a set of recommendations to improve the level and quality of service delivery.

The SQS interviewed a total number of 11 3 officials and 322 clients. Separate structured questionnaires were administered to officials and clients. The interviews with the officials concentrated on their familiarity with public service regulations, job satisfaction, knowledge of grievance and disciplinary procedures, information on the MHAI and attitudes towards the reporting of misconduct. The questionnaire for the clients focused on their knowledge of the functions of the MHAI, the quality of services and their experiences accessing these services. Interview sites included regional offices, land borders and the major international airport. Four research teams covered nine of the 1 3 regions in the country.

The major findings of the SQS in relation to the job satisfaction of Ministry employees are as follows:

  • Officials are clearly better informed than clients about the role, functions and range of services offered by the Ministry. Levels of familiarity with core services were relatively high in both cases, though it is surprising that not all officials knew about the full range of responsibilities of the MHAI. Only about half of the officials and 30% of its clients seemed to know about the Ministry’s role in granting Namibian citizenship. Other responsibilities about which clients knew very little included registering marriages, deporting undocumented migrants or processing refugee applications. Less than a third of the officials knew about the Ministry’s role in the refugee protection process.
  • Ministry officials do not have sufficient knowledge of the key pieces of legislation governing their Ministry: the Public Service Act 1 3 of 1 995 (a third were unfamiliar with this legislation); the Immigration Act 7 of 1 993 (again, a third were unfamiliar) and the Refugees Act 2 of 1 999 (two-thirds unfamiliar). Although two thirds of the officials said they were acquainted with the Public Service Act, the SQS showed that they were not conversant with many of its basic service principles.
  • The SQS questioned officials about their familiarity with the MHAI’s Strategic Plan, Transformation Unit, IT Plan and Employment Equity Plan. Only two thirds (64%) were aware of the Strategic Plan. A smaller proportion was aware of the other structures. Just 36% said that the Ministry had an employment equity plan and only 30% were aware of the Transformation Unit (30%).
  • Nearly 60% of the officials had not attended any training programmes or workshops to learn about the laws and regulations governing the Public Service and/or the Ministry. Of the trained officials, 96% stated that the training was useful/very useful in helping them perform their duties.
  • Levels of job satisfaction amongst Ministry employees are relatively high. At the same time, many officials were skeptical about the fairness of decisions concerning promotions and salary increases. Nearly 60% felt that they were unfair and had nothing to do with rules and guidelines. Many officials were also skeptical about their career path in the MHIA. While 56% said that they had a strong career path, 39% disagreed.
  • Dissatisfaction with remuneration was the most cited impediment to effective job performance (mentioned by 60% of officials). Other frequently-cited complaints included work overload (49%), poor working environment (41%), not enough computers (39%), poor management (38%), not enough equipment/stationery (35%) and little or no career mobility (33%). Red tape, gender and racial discrimination were not seen as serious obstacles (4%, 6% and 9% respectively).

This report also examines client perceptions of service quality offered by the Ministry and compared these with the perceptions of officials. The major findings are as follows:

  • Overall, the Ministry is seen as being more efficient than it was during the apartheid era. Around half strongly approved of the way the MHAI had performed its mandate in the previous year but as many as a third disapproved of the performance of the Ministry.
  • Two-thirds of the clients were happy or satisfied with the level of service they received at the office on the day of the interview. More detailed analysis showed that these levels of satisfaction extended to a whole variety of factors including office infrastructure, quality and efficiency of service, and personal interactions with MHAI officials. Some elements – particularly the cost of services and the wait times for documentation – were seen as more problematic. In general, there is a relatively consistent pattern with two-thirds of clients happy and a third unhappy with MHAI performance.
  • Officials clearly have a better perception of the quality of service offered by them and their colleagues than do clients. On most measures of service quality officials gave higher scores than their clients. The difference was particularly marked with regard to the demeanor and helpfulness of officials themselves.
  • Overall, both clients and officials displayed considerable disapproval of behaviour that could be viewed as inappropriate, discriminatory or corrupt. Officials consistently ranked such behaviour as more deserving of punishment than clients, except on the issue of acceptance of a “gift” in recognition of good work for a service already rendered. The majority in both groups felt this was an acceptable response to good service.
  • While there is a widespread media and public perception that MHIA officials are corrupt, few of the clients interviewed in this study said they had first-hand experience of corruption. The overwhelming majority (90%) said they had never been put in such a position. The remaining 1 0% who had been involved in such a misdemeanor had paid a bribe to obtain a travel document, to avoid punishment for overstaying visa, to avoid deportation or repatriation, to obtain a work permit, obtain a residence permit or to attain refugee status.
  • In contrast to the clients, a majority of officials (71%) reported that they had witnessed a bribe being paid or solicited during the year prior to the survey. At the same time, most officials (81%) were adamant that they had not personally accepted a bribe. A few officials reported that they had been silenced by their superiors concerning the reporting of inappropriate or illegal activities and 5% claimed that they had been asked by their superiors to participate in illegal activities. In general, therefore, there seems to be a major gap between public perceptions and actual levels of corruption. However, it is possible that neither clients nor officials were completely honest about this highly sensitive issue.

The results of the SQS in Namibia leads SAMP to make the following recommendations:

  • On most measures, two-thirds of clients were satisfied with the level of service provided. This means that there is still room for improvement. Any government ministry, particularly one whose primary role is customer service, should strive to achieve total satisfaction. While customer dissatisfaction with services was much lower than expected, there was more general concern with certain key issues such as the physical infrastructure at some offices and the delays experienced by clients in getting documentation. These concerns require immediate attention;
  • Officials and clients have different opinions about the level and quality of service offered by the MHAI. Officials clearly have a more positive view than do clients of themselves and their Ministry. This needs to be brought to the attention of all officials. It is critical that employees of the service know that their clients do not think as highly of the MHIA as they do. Otherwise complacency is likely to set in.
  • It is encouraging that the majority of clients were relatively satisfied with the level of personal service they received from individual employees of the Ministry. This suggests that there is a good service ethic amongst employees. On the other hand, it is important to address the concerns of those clients who remain dissatisfied with the level of personal service.
  • There is clearly a major gap between public perceptions and those of these clients and officials on issues of integrity, misconduct and corruption. The reasons for this gap need to be addressed. A service ministry should not have the taint of any kind of scandal or corruption attached to it. One hypothesis from this study might be that the Ministry is being unfairly targeted by the media and perhaps blowing isolated cases of corruption out of all proportion. The only other explanation is that the media and public are correct and that these SQS informants were not entirely honest in their answers. The MHIA needs to have structures and procedures in place to transparently and effectively deal with all cases of wrong-doing; to facilitate identification by officials of corrupt practices without fear of reprisal; to encourage the public to complain and to deal effectively with such complaints.
  • Official knowledge and awareness of the legislation which governs their own Ministry and the internal roles, regulations and procedures of the Ministry is poor. There is an obvious need for more training of officials along the lines of the Programme in International Migration Law and Management International instituted by SAMP in partnership with Wits University. This course could be offered in Namibia to many officials at reasonable cost.
  • Clients are not well informed about the range of services offered by MHAI. Education could be provided in a number of ways; for example, through newspapers, radio, posters and leaflets. In addition, clients are not informed about the work of the departments within the Ministry. No annual report is published and circulated to clients to inform them how resources are used and how much services cost, or to provide information on staffing issues, equipment delivery, services and so on. The report should also include how well the departments are performing, and whether the Ministry has kept to its undertakings within established timelines. Current negative media reporting on the delivery of services may improve if the Ministry implements strategies to inform the public more vigorously of the services offered and the rights of clients to access these services. In other words, the Ministry has to be more proactive in order for it to revive its reputation in the media.