25 Aug 2020 Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) progress; with Minister & Deputy Minister
02 Jun 2020 Allegations of corruption against GPW Acting CEO; with Ministry and Update on EOH, ABIS & VFS contracts
05 Nov 2019 Resolving DHA offices’ network downtime & ABIS Procurement process: DHA & SITA briefing; DHA on litigation case management system and categorizing of the cases; with Minister and Deputy Minister
The purpose of this virtual meeting was for the Ministers of Communication and Digital Technology and Home Affairs to brief the Committee on the consequence management applied to the staff of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) who had been involved in misdemeanours surrounding the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) tender, and the rescue plan for the project.
Following the DHA Minister’s letter to the Committee regarding the report on the forensic investigation into the appointment of EON Mthombo (Pty) Ltd for the ABIS project, the Committee had granted an extension to the deadline until the end of November.
SITA provided an overview of the DHA’s ABIS tender, feedback on the missing tender Masterfile, updates on the measures of consequence management relating to irregularities in the ABIS tender, as well as a status update on the ABIS development project. Its Executive Caretaker had received a call from a former SITA employee with information as to where the missing tender Masterfile was. This meant that the tender files had been available for the two-year period during which the Committee had been under the impression that it was no longer in existence. The DHA and SITA officials should have been made aware of the whereabouts of the tender files. SITA was currently investigating this matter and would apply consequence management to those involved. It had reviewed the request by EOH Mthombo to cede the ABIS contract to its sub-contractor, but had received conflicting opinions on the legality of such a move. SITA claimed that it had nothing to do with the irregularities of the ABIS project.
The DHA briefing included an overview of the intended upgrade to the DHA’s biometric system, the reasons for the upgrade, and the role of SITA in the procurement process to appoint the service provider. It reported that of the R409 million tender award, R280.87 million had already been spent. The DHA had levied a R43.97 million penalty against the service provider because the project had already been delayed by two years, but this was being contested. The DHA was now exploring two options as part of its rescue plan for the ABIS project -- ceding the contract to one of the sub-contractors, or ceding it to a different alternative company. The choice of option would be based on there being no excessive additional financial implications, no fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and no uncertainty about the success of the project.
The Committee expressed its severe dissatisfaction that the missing tender files had been in existence for two years, despite it having been informed that they were lost. It was shocking that the officials from the DHA and SITA were not aware that the documents had been handed over to law firms and state legal advisors. Members enquired whether the R129 million remaining in the budget would be enough to ensure the successful completion of the ABIS project. Should the Committee now just sit and wait for the DHA’s response should the National Treasury not approve its proposal to cede the contract to another subcontractor? The Committee requested the Minister of the DHA to provide a timeframe for the letter outlining the action that would be taken on the ABIS project, and to inform the Committee as to the progress of its negotiations with the National Treasury in this regard.
The DHA said it would depend on the subcontractor who was appointed to determine whether the remaining budget of R129 million would be sufficient to successfully complete the ABIS project. The forensic report into these irregularities would shed light on whether any public funds had been misused and who the perpetrators were. After the report was tabled to the Committee, the appropriate criminal charges could be laid, and civil cases initiated to recover any misappropriate funds.
The Minister of the DHA expressed the DHA’s commitment to ensure that the Committee was promptly informed of developments relating to the negotiations and further action taken in the attempt to salvage the ABIS project.
ABIS tender: Consequence management
The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting and welcomed the delegation from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the Department of Communications and Digital Technology (DCDT), and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). The delegation consisted of Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Home Affairs, Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Communications and Digital Technology, and Mr Luvuyo Keyise, Executive Caretaker of SITA.
The purpose of this meeting was for the Minister of Communications to brief the Committee on the consequence management applied to SITA staff involved in the wrongdoing in the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) tender and the rescue plan for the project. The other item on the agenda was for the Minister of the DHA to brief the Committee on the consequence management applied to DHA staff involved in the ABIS project.
Minister of DHA’s letter
Dr Motsoaledi referred to the letter he wrote to the Committee on 21 October, asking it for an extension to the due date for the report on the forensic investigation into the appointment of EOH Mthombo (Pty) Ltd for the ABIS project. It would take the investigators an additional 600 hours to complete the interviews of individuals from various governmental entities and private businesses. He estimated that the report would be completed by the end of November 2020. The Committee had originally resolved that the Minister of the DHA must complete the investigation and present the report during the first week of October 2020. The investigators had averred that if the Committee and the DHA insisted that the report be completed by the original due date, it would constitute a serious risk to the state and reputational damage to the investigators. It was likely that the report would result in civil and criminal court cases, and as such it was important that the findings of the report were sound and watertight.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) thanked the Minister for tabling the letter. She was concerned that if the report was tabled only in November, the Committee would be able to engage with the work that had been done only in February next year. The Minister had to ensure that the Committee was made aware of any new developments regarding the report. There were 200 people who needed to be interviewed by a team of 15 specialist investigators. What were the costs associated with the finalisation of the report to date? What would the added work and delays mean for the expenditure relating to this report? She said that the Committee would have to agree to the extension, as there was no other way of expediting the process without compromising the investigation.
The Chairperson emphasised that the DHA would not have been in need for an extension if had not been for the conduct of SITA. As a result, SITA must be the entity that pays for the costs associated with the finalisation of the report, as the DHA was not at fault. He echoed the need for an indication on the costs relating to the additional work that needed to be done, as it was taxpayers’ money that was being spent.
Mr A Roos (DA) agreed with Ms Van der Merwe in emphasising the need for a cost breakdown of the report. It was paramount that the report was properly completed. However, the need for an extension for the submission of the reports pointed to an issue of contract management at the DHA. It seemed as if there were frequent situations where something goes wrong with the service provider, and the costs could not necessarily be recovered. The DHA needed to review its contract management mechanisms and ensure that it could levy penalties on service providers which did not deliver on time. Was it not possible to deliver the report before the end of November, so that the Committee could engage with it this year?
Mr M Chabane (ANC) agreed to the request of the Minister of the DHA to extend the due date for the report. The irregularities at SITA had contributed negatively to the service work done by the DHA -- at the latter’s expense. The end of November was a sufficient deadline for the submission of the report for the Committee to be convinced that a proper investigation had been conducted. He suggested that the Committee postpone its engagement on the report to February 2021. He advocated the granting of the extension for the submission of the report, as requested by the DHA Minister.
Mr J McGluwa (DA) said that the Minister had made a fair and genuine request. He agreed with Mr Chabane’s proposal for the Committee to postpone its engagement on the report to February. Why had a cost analysis not been done on the finalisation of the report? In an earlier meeting, the Committee had requested details of the reported suspension of the 183 people at SITA. The number of people who must be interviewed in this regard did not match the numbers listed in the letter tabled to the Committee by the Minister.
The Chairperson said that the Committee agrees to the extension of the deadline for the Report on the forensic investigation into the ABIS project until the end of November.
DCDT/SITA on consequence management to SITA staff
Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present a briefing on the on the consequence management to SITA staff involved in the wrongdoing on the ABIS tender, and the rescue plan for the project. She asked that the delegation from SITA take the Committee through the facts of how the ABIS tender irregularities had arisen.
Mr Keyise presented the briefing to the Committee, which included an overview of the DHA’s ABIS tender, feedback on the missing tender Masterfile, updates on the measures of consequence management relating to irregularities in the ABIS tender, as well as a status update on the ABIS development project.
Overview of ABIS tender:
SITA had assisted the DHA with the procurement of the ABIS tender in 2017 as part of its agency transaction procurement process. The process had consisted of two phases -- the request for accreditation process that was concluded in September 2016, and the request for proposal at the tender award stage that was concluded in July 2017. The company trading as EOH Mthombo had been awarded the tender as the preferred bidder in July 2017, for R 409 million.
The missing tender Masterfile
During the 2017/18 financial year, the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) had raised a finding on non-compliance with the prescripts of the Public Finance Management (PMFA) Act 1 of 1999, because the tender Masterfile was missing. The Masterfile had been reconstructed for the purposes of document management and auditing, but certain findings had remained in the AGSA’s management report.
After the Committee made the recommendation in August 2020 that SITA hold its former chief procurement officer (CPO) and senior manager of supply chain management accountable for the loss of the tender Masterfile, the Executive Caretaker had received a call from a former SITA employee with information as to where the tender files were. After unsuccessfully bidding for the tender, NEC Africa (Pty) Ltd had instituted litigation against the DHA and SITA, claiming that the tender process had been unfair. In its defence of the litigation proceedings, the DHA and SITA had handed over the tender Masterfile to the state’s legal advisors and SITA’s attorneys. A third copy of the tender Masterfile was provided to NEC Africa (Pty) Ltd. This meant that the tender files had been available during the two-year period that the Committee had been under the impression that it was no longer in existence. The DHA and SITA officials should have been made aware of the whereabouts of the tender files.
SITA was currently investigating this matter, and would apply consequence management measures for current SITA officials that should have informed the organisation about this matter, especially those in the legal department. The DHA was also urged to follow the same principle for its implicated officials. SITA had lodged criminal charges against its former CPO and senior manager for the costs of reconstructing the Masterfile, and would now include other current employees who had been implicated, as discussed. The tender Masterfile had now been provided to the investigators of the DHA as well as the office of the AGSA for further review and detection of any irregularities in this tender process. SITA had contacted its former officials who had agreed to be interviewed, and urged them to avail themselves to the investigators of the DHA,
SITA noted that the DHA had appointed SAB&T to conduct the investigation into the irregularities of the ABIS project, as it involved EOH Mthombo. No report had been received by SITA. Upon receipt of the report, SITA would pursue charges based on the recommendations. These charges would be laid against any SITA employee who was found to be at fault, regardless of whether it involved current or former employees. SITA would endeavour to recover any funds that were considered recoverable by the investigators of the DHA. The entity would institute consequence management against its legal team for not notifying management that the original copy of Masterfile had been handed to its legal representatives.
Update on ABIS development project:
Mr Keyise said the DHA would brief the Committee further on the progress of the investigation into the irregularities of the ABIS development project. SITA was not involved in the implementation of the project, but would assist the DHA if required to do so. It had reviewed the request by EOH Mthombo to cede the ABIS contract to its sub-contractor, and noted that this was what the service provider wished to do for all its current government contracts. It was part of its strategy to move out of doing business with the government, as SITA had received similar request from the Department of Water and Sanitation. The internal procurement and legal teams had advised SITA that the ceding of these contracts would be in contravention of various pieces of legislation, including the PMFA, the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act 5 of 2000, and the State Information Technology Agency Act 88 of 1998. Consequently, SITA did not support the ceding of these contracts, but had elected to rather assist the DHA to ensure that EOH Mthombo delivered on its contractual commitments and face financial penalties for the delays on this project. If required, SITA would support the DHA in appointing an alternative company in a fast-tracked open tender process.
The Chairperson acknowledged the statement from SITA that it had nothing to do with the irregularities of the ABIS project. SITA was not prepared to assist in mitigating the risk of a situation involving the DHA.
DHA on consequence management to DHA staff
Minister Motsoaledi said that in its modernisation programme, the DHA wished to upgrade its biometric system called the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) to the ABIS system. The main reason for the upgrade was that the ABIS could manage more than two biometrics, while the HANIS could manage only fingerprints and photographs.
In line with government policy, the DHA had requested SITA to conduct the procurement process to appoint the service provider for the upgrade to the ABIS. SITA had consequently contracted EOH Mthombo for an amount of R409 million. During the annual audit of SITA, the AGSA had flagged the contract which SITA had acquired for the DHA as potentially irregular because of suspected collusion in the bidding process, and the fact that the tender Masterfile could not be found. Because SITA had acquired the contract for the DHA, the AGSA had declared that the irregular audit be reflected in the DHA’s annual audit until the matter was resolved. The DHA had started an independent forensic audit, which was currently being conducted by SAB&T.
Current project expenditure
Out of the tender award of R409 million, R280.87 million had already been spent (68.5% of the funds), with R113.38 million for the purchase of hardware, and R224.355 million on the purchase of software. EOH Mthombo had been paid R56.52 million for their services, and the invoices were available to the Committee on request. The remaining budget for the project had been R129 million.
In terms of the contract with EOH Mthombo, if there were any delays in the implementation of the project, the DHA reserved the right to levy a penalty for every month of delay. In invoking this penalty clause, the DHA had levied a penalty of R43.97 million against the service provider because the project had already been delayed by two years. EOH Mthombo was contesting this penalty, and hence the amount was under dispute. The contract stipulated that such disputes were to be mediated by a senior counsel appointed jointly by the DHA and EOH Mthombo. The joint appointment had already been made, and the mediation process was scheduled to start during the first week of November.
Ceding of contract and exiting of service provider:
EOH Mthombo had taken a decision to exit all government contracts. The service provider had contracts with government departments other than the DHA, and they wanted to exit all these contracts. As part of its exit plan from the contract with the DHA, it was proposing to cede the work to a sub-contractor called IDEMIA. In case of EOH Mthombo exiting, the contract still needed to be salvaged because most plans for the modernisation of the DHA’s services revolved around the implementation of the ABIS, including aspects of the DHA’s annual performance plan (APP) and its medium-term strategic framework (MTSF).
In taking forward the exit plan, both the DHA and SITA had obtained legal opinions from two different legal firms, respectively. However, the legal opinions were diametrically opposed to each other, in that the first opinion obtained by SITA stated that ceding the contract to a sub-contractor would be illegal. The second legal opinion obtained by the DHA suggested that the ceding of the contract was permissible, subject to certain requirements being met.
Subsequently, the DHA had explored two options as part of its rescue plan for the ABIS project. The first option entailed the ceding of the contract to one of the sub-contractors, while the second option involved the ceding of the contract to a different alternative company. The Minister had emphasised that the choice of option would be based on the adherence to three requirements -- that there would be no excessive additional financial implications, no fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and no uncertainty about the success of the project.
A meeting between the DHA, SITA and the DCDT had taken place in the last week of October, where it was decided that the DHA would proceed to cede the contract, provided it was approved by the National Treasury. In September, when the differences between SITA and the DHA became clear, the DHA had approached the CPO of the National Treasury to sensitise them about the possibility of being approached in this matter, and had then approached it for guidance.
The DHA recommended that the Committee note the decision to cede the ABIS contract to a suitable sub-contractor, subject to the finalisation of the negotiations and approval by National Treasury. The Minister of the DHA would send correspondence to the Committee to notify it about the decision taken, once the ceding was finalised and signed.
Ms M Modise (ANC) said that this meeting was not meant to point fingers at either SITA or the DHA, but rather for the Committee and the entities involved in the matter to be able to resolve the challenge. It was unfortunate that SITA had shifted the blame on who was responsible for the irregularities in the ABIS project. The Committee was not interested in who carried the blame, but on ensuring that further government resources were not wasted. She reminded SITA that it may now confidently speak about the tender Masterfile being submitted, after a lengthy period of it being missing. The submission of the tender files had taken so long because of a lack of proper cooperation from SITA.
The focus must now be on the salvaging of the ABIS project, because the bulk of the services and functions of the DHA was dependent on the success of the project. It was important that the entities agreed that the goal was to salvage the ABIS project. Would the R129 million in the remaining budget be enough to ensure the successful completion of the project? Were there any additional costs being projected for the finalisation of the project? She agreed with the choice of ceding the contract to a sub-contractor with a background in similar projects, instead of starting a new tender process. Was SITA aware that EOH Mthombo was contracted to other government departments? If it was aware, SITA must have realised that it would be a poor decision to contract them, as they would have been overwhelmed with work and be unable to continue with or fulfil the contract regarding the ABIS project. What were the legal requirements of ceding the contract, as the second legal opinion the DHA obtained had outlined?
Ms Van der Merwe expressed severe dissatisfaction with the missing tender files that had been in existence for two years, despite the Committee having been informed that it was lost. It was shocking that the officials from the DHA and SITA were not aware that the documents had been handed over to law firms and state legal advisors. She asked the DHA and SITA who the employees were who knew that the tender Masterfile was still in existence. Had these employees been suspended or subjected to criminal charges?
While it was commendable that SITA had reported that it had laid criminal charges against various implicated employees, the Committee noted that the AGSA had made findings against officials from the DHA as well, but the Minister of the DHA had not reported on this matter. Had the DHA held anybody accountable and had any sanctions been undertaken against staff from the DHA relating to the irregularities as identified by the AGSA concerning the contract with EOH Mthombo?
Was there any reason that EOH Mthombo now wanted to exit all government contracts? Was the reason that something had gone wrong caused them no longer to be able to honour the rest of the contracts it had entered into with the government? Why did the levying of the penalties because of delays involve mediation? Why did the DHA not simply demand the payment of the penalties instead of negotiating with a business which was in breach of its contract? She expressed concern that EOH Mthombo would be exiting the contract without paying the penalties imposed by the DHA.
How long would the mediation process take, and was there any indication as to how the DHA had arrived at the penalty amount of R 43.97 million? What were the costs associated with the finalisation of the project? What would the added work and delays mean for the expenditure relating to the completion of the ABIS project?
While noting that it was not pertaining to the issues of the current meeting, she requested the Minister of the DHA to engage with the Committee in another meeting on the illegal presence of Shepherd Bushiri in South Africa. She also flagged the issue of the refugees and their interaction with officials from the DHA. She proposed that there should be a standing item every time the Committee met with the Minister of the DHA to engage with these issues.
Ms M Molekwa (ANC) enquired as to how far the investigations into the irregularities had progressed. When could the report into the irregularities of the ABIS project be finalised and presented to the Committee?
Mr Roos echoed the comments of Ms Modise, stating that there seemed to be a recurring theme where the entities continuously tried to blame someone else. A solution needed to be found, as expenses continued to be incurred, and for this it was crucial that SITA and the DHA come together and resolve the matter. He appealed to the Minister of the DHA to resolve this matter in a way that SITA and the DHA stopped blaming one another. What were the costs associated for the continued use of the HANIS system while the DHA waited for the ABIS-upgraded project to be completed?
Ms L Tito (EFF) concurred with Ms Van der Merwe’s dissatisfaction with the sudden reappearance of the missing tender Masterfile. What was issue of downtime, where there was no network at the DHA?
Mr McGluwa requested that the Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams apologise for not attending an important meeting of the Committee where she was supposed to have been present. He suggested that the Minister might have been absent from the meeting in order to attend court proceedings in which she had an interest.
Government had identified the ABIS project as a key upgrade to the services of the DHA, to improve the lives of South Africans. The Committee was not interested in the ‘name and blame game’ between the DHA and SITA, but it wanted solutions to the issue at hand. Nothing had been said about the prioritisation of North-West, the Free State and the Northern Cape when it came to the services of the DHA. It was safe to say that the DCDT Minister and the Executive Caretaker of SITA were also implicated in the problems of the ABIS project, and there were reports of close ties between the Minister and the interference in the EOH Mthombo tender. He urged that the Minister to inform the Committee of her interest in who got the tender for the ABIS project. It had also been reported that the Minister had worked closely behind the scenes with SITA to identify companies to qualify for government contracts. The DCDT must not come before the Committee and suddenly shift the blame to the DHA.
Regarding the AGSA’s findings of irregular spending, the Committee had been told that the migration of the ABIS project had been scheduled since 2015. Now the funds of EOH Mthombo were exhausted and they could not complete the project -- and even worse, the levied penalties were under dispute. This was severely problematic. He took it for granted that the Ministers of the DHA and the DCDT would have been in discussion regarding the salvaging of the ABIS project, but the Committee was now informed that it would find out whether National Treasury approved the options available to the DHA. The situation now was that the entities were blaming each other and losing focus of the goal to salvage the contract.
Ms T Legwase (ANC) said there were ongoing negotiations between the National Treasury and the DHA. One of the recommendations made was that the Committee must note the decision to cede the contract to a suitable sub-contractor. What was the likelihood that the National Treasury would not approve the options put forward by the DHA? The Minister of the DHA had stated that he would send correspondence to the Committee to notify it about the decision taken, once the ceding was finalised and signed. Should the Committee now just sit and wait for the correspondence -- what response would there be from the DHA should the National Treasury not approve its proposal of ceding the contract to another sub-contractor? She asked for the Minister to provide the Committee with a timeframe in which to expect the arrival of the letter outlining the action that would be taken on the ABIS project. She also asked the DHA to inform the Committee as to the progress of its negotiations with the National Treasury in this regard.
Mr D Moela (ANC) expressed concern that the issues being raised by Members on the problems of the ABIS project had been raised in previous engagements with the DHA and SITA. He agreed with Ms Legwase that it was unacceptable to suggest that the Committee should merely wait for the outcome from the National Treasury. What would the process of identifying the most suitable subcontractor be, so that this matter could be finalised? What was the likelihood that the National Treasury would not approve the ceding of the contract to a sub-contractor, as proposed by the DHA? He stressed the importance of both Ministers to inform the Committee promptly of issues so that problems were not brought to the attention of Members through the media. He also pointed out that Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams had already apologised to the Committee for not being present at the meeting to which Mr McGluwa had referred.
Mr M Lekota (COPE) emphasised that the Committee’s task was to monitor the spending of public funds that had been set aside for the work of the DHA. He expressed astonishment that SITA had shifted the blame entirely to the DHA, even after revealing information that SITA employees were aware of the whereabouts of the missing tender Masterfile. Who had taken the decision that the matter must pass the Committee stage and depend on the approval of National Treasury? Why did SITA not inform the Committee that EOH Mthombo had multiple government contracts across departments? It was a very serious violation of the rules of fiscal management. This issue had been exacerbated by the service provider’s exiting of the government contracts, because the Committee and the DHA were now left with the burden of finishing the ABIS project.
He recommended that the Committee require a report from SITA that could be taken to Parliament when the Committee was required to report on this matter. Who was going to carry the burden of repaying the funds that were missing or had not been used as they should have been? The Committee’s task was to determine whether public funds had been used properly, and it had a duty to establish who had misused the money and hold them accountable by imposing consequences which included the repayment of the misappropriated funds.
Mr Chabane appreciated the efforts of the DHA and the DCDT to assist the Committee in understanding the challenges faced by SITA as an institution. He appreciated the presence of Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams and echoed Mr Moela’s statements that she had already apologised for missing a previous meeting.
The Committee had previously taken the decision that there must be a rescue plan for the ABIS project, given the challenges of EOH Mthombo, and that the DHA must assist in the process. The Committee had agreed on two principles in this matter -- that the DHA must account for the financial matters to the Committee, and that the DHA’s services were useful and accessible. This was paramount, because it would enable and mobilise the people of South Africa to participate in the democratic local government elections next year. Delays in the ABIS project hampered the efficiency of the DHA in this regard. The Committee needed to be able to go report to Parliament with clear authority on these issues.
President Ramaphosa had stated in his speech outlining South Africa’s economic recovery plan after the COVID-19 pandemic, that the weakness of Parliamentary committees was passive implementation. The people of South Africa were looking for services from the DHA, and it was crucial that the Committee complete its task of monitoring and holding the Department accountable. He agreed with Ms van der Merwe that there must be sufficient opportunity for the Minister of the DHA to take the Committee into its confidence and present the issues that the DHA was facing to the Members of this Committee. This would ensure that the Committee had clarity on the issues in order to exercise its oversight duties.
SITA and the DCDT response
Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams thanked the Members for their input. She responded to the concerns relating to the tender Masterfile by stating that all these irregularities had arisen while the tender files were missing.
She noted the concerns that the information being provided to the Committee had been inconsistent. She stated that when there was a dispute challenging the contract with EOH Mthombo, it had been stated that both SITA and the DHA had awarded the contract wrongfully or with irregularities. When the dispute challenging the contract with EOH Mthombo was instituted by NEC Africa, the DHA contracted its own legal advisors to deal with the matter. What then transpired was that SITA and the DHA were sued together and had won the case on the basis that the contract had not been awarded irregularly, and no corruption was involved. When SITA and the DHA briefed their lawyers and handed over the relevant files, those files were not collected again. No-one had followed up on where these files were until it was raised by this Committee in its engagements with the DHA and SITA. When the DCDT and the DHA followed up with the individuals in charge of the contract, the issue arose of the official who had passed away and seemed to have had the documents in his possession. The officials who were implicated in this matter were those who were aware of the existence of the missing tender Masterfile, and could have alerted the DHA and SITA of its existence.
The AGSA’s findings of irregularity were based on the unavailability of these documents and its consequent inability to find the information it needed for its auditing processes. On the issue of the role played by SITA in the procurement processes of finding a service provider, she said that SITA played a role in the process of awarding the tender. After the tender was awarded, the next phase was for the DHA to manage the services that had to be rendered. SITA was not attempting to shift blame in this matter, but to provide the Committee with clarity on what the responsibilities of SITA were.
She responded to Mr McGluwa’s concerns of her involvement in the ABIS project and procurement processes by stating that she had not been a Minister three years ago. The ABIS project and the quest for its salvation was something that everyone here had inherited as a problem. She was reliant on information provided to her and the information at her disposal, just like Members of the Committee were. Therefore, SITA had previously advocated extensively for the need to conduct a detailed investigation into the matter of the missing tender files. SITA’s role was simply to advise when a recommendation was made or proposed to National Treasury, which included advising on the potential risks and threats associated with the recommendations made. If National Treasury approved the proposal from the DHA, then SITA could assist in its implementation.
SITA could conduct investigations only in the areas it had authority and could not control what consequence management measures were implemented by the DHA. SITA could only offer its collaborative assistance to the DHA in this regard.
She said that her apology for missing a previous Committee meeting was contained in her letter of apology dated 26 August 2020. Her absence had resulted from a previous Cabinet commitment, where she had presentations to make. She had stated her apology, and that her absence was not to undermine the Committee.
Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams said the Committee could write to SITA about any occasion where it wanted the entity to appear before it to make presentations, or to report on any issue.
She further responded to Mr McGluwa’s assertions by stating that he chose what he wanted to take from media articles that attempted to tarnish her name. The DCDT and the Cabinet had responded to all the media articles, but it did not appear to interest him to look into the official responses from the Ministry of the DCDT. She invited Mr McGluwa not to play politics around these issues, and to present concrete evidence regarding his allegations or to contact law enforcement.
Minister Motsoaledi expressed the DHA’s commitment to ensure that the Committee was promptly informed of developments related to the issues of immigration, as requested by Ms Van der Merwe. He said there was an ongoing court case relating to the illegal presence of Shepherd Bushiri in South Africa. The DHA had followed, and continued to adhere to, the proper processes in this regard.
Regarding the question of whether the remaining budget of R129 million would be enough to successfully complete the ABIS project, he said it would depend on the action taken forward. It would depend on the sub-contractor who had been appointed to determine whether the remaining budget would be sufficient.
The DHA did not intend to point fingers or shift the blame to SITA, but to carefully outline where the irregularities in the ABIS project had arisen. This was to ensure that implicated officials and employees were held accountable for not carrying out their responsibilities. It was government policy to shift the procurement processes to SITA when a department wanted to procure technologies. The forensic report into these irregularities would shed light on whether any public funds had been misused, and who the perpetrators were. After the report was tabled to the Committee, the appropriate criminal charges could be laid, and civil cases initiated to recover any misappropriate funds.
The Chairperson thanked the delegations for the presentations. He emphasised that the Committee was not able to conduct its oversight duties properly if proper processes were not followed. SITA was, at least partly, responsible for the problems in the ABIS project, and it was unacceptable for documents to suddenly appear after the Committee was led to believe for a two-year period that the missing tender files no longer existed. The DHA and SITA must be able to account for every course of action it followed in the salvaging of the ABIS project.
He echoed the call from Members that SITA must begin to minimise its involvement with issues related to the DHA. It was unfortunate that SITA had involved itself in the matter as it did, which had caused the situation that existed today. He reiterated that the Committee had agreed to the extension of the deadline for the report on the forensic investigation into the ABIS project until the end of November 2020.
The meeting was adjourned.
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