The Committee convened on a virtual platform to be briefed by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) on the implementation plan to resolve the challenge of system downtimes at the DHA’s offices, and the implementation of the Automatic Biometric Information System (ABIS).
The DHA and SITA updated the Committee on the progress made with the plans to resolve network downtimes that they had discussed with the Committee in August. These included the increased use of mobile connectivity supported by suitable connectivity media, the revision of architecture to deal with unwanted software, closer cooperation with other state and private entities on improving access to the internet, a queue management system, and the maintenance of 196 generators in offices that had already been equipped to handle power outages.
The DHA was also implementing a branch appointment booking system (BABS) in its offices to manage long queues at health facilities. It had 160 health facilities with network connectivity, and 121 could issue a birth certificate on the spot. The 39 other health facilities faced challenges such as inadequate information technology (IT) equipment, so the DHA would be deploying additional IT equipment to them to improve the registration of births.
Good progress had been made with the build phase of the ABIS project following the cession in April of the contract to a multi-national company in the biometric industry, although the programme had still encountered serious constraints within two of its primary work streams, which had contributed to delays and not achieving the envisaged completion of the first phase by the end of October 2021. However, the testing for the second stage had been assessed to be sufficiently complete to migrate to the third state for testing, which was the final step towards pre-production sign-off, leading to the ABIS project proceeding to implementation status.
The Committee welcomed the solid plans and solutions with timelines to resolve the issues of network downtimes at the DHA, which contributed to long queues and poor quality services. Members highlighted the need for effective and speedy implementation of the plans presented. The Committee appreciated the progress so far and the tangible joint efforts between the various government stakeholders to resolve the challenges, and underscored the need to ensure adherence to timelines and a heightened focus on the implementation of targets.
Regarding power supply challenges, the Committee appreciated that 176 modernised sites with the capability to run during load-shedding had been procured, and called for this capacity to be extended to the remaining 292 sites soon. It also welcomed the progress in implementing the BABS in offices of the DHA to manage long queues, as well as the plans to pilot the system in five high-volume offices. Members advised the Department to include rural offices in the pilot phase to ensure that all challenges were resolved early.
The Committee re-emphasised its commitment to continuous monitoring of three major areas -- the reduction of queues, the eradication of downtime, and the completion of the ABIS-project. It scheduled a meeting in the next quarter to receive a further progress report from the DHA.
The Chairperson convened the virtual meeting and welcomed Members and the delegations in attendance. He extended the support of the Committee to Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), who had tested positive for COVID-19, and wished him strength and a speedy recovery. He noted an apology received from Ms Khumbudzo Ntshevheni, the Minister of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT).
The purpose of the virtual meeting was for the Committee to be briefed by the DHA and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) on the implementation plan to resolve the issue of system downtimes at the DHA’s offices and the implementation of an automated biometric information system (ABIS). He reminded Members that the briefing would encompass a progress report based on the issues raised by the Committee in previous meetings.
Deputy Minister's opening remarks
Mr Njabulo Nzuza, Deputy Minister of the DHA, introduced the Department's delegation, and said that the DHA had always indicated its commitment to improve its services that was provided to the citizens of South Africa. He agreed that an improvement in information communication technology (ICT) systems and their availability played an important role in improving the services that were offered. The issue of network and systems downtime had been a sore point for the DHA, and it was previously indicated that systems and measures were being put in place to resolve these issues. The briefing to the Committee would present on the progress that had been made, and the targets set by the DHA in ICT-related areas.
The DHA would also present on the implementation of the Branch Appointment Booking System (BABS) to deal with the long queues and congestion at the DHA’s offices. This would also reduce the amount of lost time when people visit the DHA branches and would ensure that those who made an appointment were assisted.
The DHA was aware of the issues that had been raised by the Committee in the past regarding the systems downtimes and people who visited its offices only to find that the system had been down for reasons such as a power outage. The DHA would be presenting its maintenance plan for routers and switches, and would also brief the Committee on the progress made in the implementation of the ABIS-project and the savings on the overall project, together with the consequence management that had been effected against the wrongdoers involved.
He asked the Committee to grant the DHA an opportunity to make a holistic and comprehensive briefing in the future about the benefits of the ABIS-project and the milestones that had been achieved. Its briefing would also cover the recommendations that it had implemented from the report and audit findings of the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) and the forensic reports. He noted that the ABIS-project was linked to other important targets within the DHA, some of which could not be achieved because of the DHA’s inability to complete the ABIS-project. He expressed satisfaction and appreciation with the good working relationship established between the DHA and SITA, and said the presentation to the Committee was a joint effort of the two entities on the work that had been done and the progress made, as well as the milestones ahead.
DHA briefing on system downtimes and ABIS project
Mr Tommy Makhode, Director-General, DHA, said the purpose of the briefing was to provide the Committee with a progress report on the network-related interventions by both the DHA and the SITA, including the maintenance of routers and switches, the implementation of the BABS at the offices of the DHA, the implementation plan for health facilities to reduce queues in the DHA’s offices, and the implementation of the ABIS-project.
The DHA and SITA had made a presentation to the Committee on 31 August on the plans to be implemented to resolve network downtimes. The following actions were going to be implemented, with various timelines in the current financial year and beyond:
the increased usage of mobile connectivity supported by suitable connectivity media (antennae);
the revision of architecture to deal with bloatware (software with excessive use of infrastructure facilities and components);
closer cooperation with other state and private entities on improving access to the internet;
a queue management system, and
the maintenance of 196 generators in offices that had already been equipped to handle power outages and the implementation of load-shedding by Eskom.
The following timelines, investment plan, and high-level deliverables were presented to the Committee for the DHA’s network implementation plan:
Acceptance of the DHA’s Investment Plan
This milestone was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2022, and was the responsibility of both the DHA and the SITA. The DHA’s highest technology priorities were the rollout and deployment of the uninterruptable network reference architecture. A reliable and high-capacity network was essential to continued operations. This investment was guided by three strategic goals, including to support, maintain, and secure critical infrastructure; to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the DHA’s operations; and to increase access and transparency to local government and citizens. The DHA and the SITA had made several investments in support of the implementation of the investment plan in a phased approach, but more funding was required for further implementation of the plan.
Remote Environmental Management (REM) solution
This milestone was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2022, and was the responsibility of the SITA. This entailed pro-active monitoring of the environmental systems on the SITA’s switching centres to prevent downtimes. The service provider had been contracted, the equipment ordered, and the implementation was to be completed by the end of June 2022.
Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Next Generation Network (NGN) remedial plan
This milestone was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2022, and was the responsibility of the SITA. It was reported that the SDN was modernising the ageing core network infrastructure in order to prevent the impact of switching centre outages on the DHA’s front offices. The board had approved the appointment of the service provider, and the contract was to be finalised by the end of November. The SITA would define the regional implementation, based on the approved design as per the award to the service provider, as part of the first phase. The implementation of the first phase was expected to be completed by the end of March 2022.
In addition, the SITA was responsible for the process to appoint the secondary service provider, and this had been initiated already for the high availability of the SITA’s core network. The SITA would also assist in reducing the impact of power outages on the DHA’s services that were dependent on internet services, such as card payment services and online verification. The contract with the new service provider for internet services had been concluded and migration was completed. The backup links for both Centurion and Cape Town had been completed, and the internet failover would be concluded by the end of March 2022. It was reported that a mobile truck had been fitted with a very small aperture terminal (VSAT) flat panel, and was configured to work for deep rural site testing.
Proof of concept (POC) for identified multiple access links for service level agreement (SLA) sites
This milestone was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2022, and was the responsibility of the SITA. The DHA had submitted a list of sites currently connecting with multiple access links, and had identified five sites. After dependencies have been addressed, the POC would be conducted for a period of two months, and all multiple access links at the sites must be equipped with the same bandwidth speed.
Consolidation of access links per province
This milestone was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2022, and was the responsibility of the SITA. The replacement of Diginet with Long-Term Evolution (LTE) was scheduled within two months for 133 sites. The identified sites would be implemented incrementally and concluded by March 2022. The SITA was appointing a single service provider per region. The North-West province would be used as a pilot, and the bid was being evaluated. Technical specifications for other provinces would be published before the end of December, and the appointment of service providers was expected before the end of September 2022.
The milestone of ensuring power supply continuity to the DHA’s facilities had already been completed, and 176 sites had been modernised to provide power supply continuity during load-shedding or power outages. For the 292 non-modernised sites, it was reported that the DHA must purchase and install back-up generators, and the DHA’s front office managers must ensure that there was sufficient diesel for back-up generators and ensure that the generators were regularly tested and maintained.
Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) management
This milestone was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2022, and was the responsibility of both the DHA and the SITA. The DHA was to submit the business case to SITA for the replacement of routers and switches. The DHA was considering various options, including the migration from a dedicated to a managed Virtual Private Network (VPN), and the leasing of routers and switches from the market.
Secure enterprise architecture
This milestone was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2023, and was the responsibility of both the DHA and the SITA, with the goal of achieving greater alignment between information technology (IT), information security and business strategies, and to guide the process of planning and designing the IT capabilities of the DHA to meet the desired organisational objectives and goals. The SITA had offered to provide this service free of charge, using their own personnel.
This milestone was the responsibility of the DHA. The first part was scheduled to be completed by 31 December, and involved the publishing of a request for bid (RFB) for the live capture system. The project would take approximately 12 months after the service provider was appointed. The second part was scheduled to be completed by 31 March 2024, to progressively move selected applications to a secure hosted environment.
Information Systems Security (ISS) and Security Operations Centre Capability (SOCC)
This milestone was to be completed by 31 March 2022, and was the responsibility of the SITA. SITA was currently in the process of procuring and establishing a SOCC by the end of March 2022. The SOCC would assist with the DHA’s overall enterprise operations centre roadmap, and provide the DHA with preventative measures and proactively protect against cyber-attacks. The on-boarding of clients for the SOCC services was projected to commence in the first quarter of the 2022/23 financial year.
The DHA presented the Committee with the key sites for the implementation plan for routers and switches for the 2022/23 financial year to the 2024/25 financial year. The DHA and the SITA were working on replacing, supporting and maintaining the routers and switches to ramp it up in the next financial years to reach a total of 360 routers and 300 switches. Regarding the monitoring and support for the network implementation plan, for the period from 18 October 2021 to 31 January 2022, all monitoring and support performed before 07h30 and after 16h00 on weekdays would be done remotely. The same was also true for weekends and public holidays, with the exception being the days where overtime for non-senior management service (SMS) members had been approved. The SITA monitored the DHA network on a 24/7 basis with the network monitoring system (NMS) tool.
Information systems (IS) senior management had resolved to work out an after-hours rotation schedule for its SMS members. However, a change management process would be required prior to implementation. Part of the change management process would involve developing procedures for health checks. Such procedures should be intuitive to any IS senior manager, regardless of the function or training that they may be currently capacitated for. It was reported that the engagements between the DHA and the SITA were conducted on a quarterly basis.
Implementation of BABS in DHA offices to manage long queues at health facilities:
The System Security Test milestone was achieved on 12 November, and the quality assurance sign-off was completed on 19 November. The remaining three milestones, including the user acceptance testing, the regressing testing, administrative release, and the piloting phases, were scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2022.
The implementation strategy of the DHA for health facilities in order to reduce the long queues in the DHA’s offices, was broken down in terms of the overall priorities and criteria:
The first priority sought to establish a permanent presence at health facilities where the birth rate was higher than 5 000 births per year, or 400 births per month. The type of service would be a full-time presence from 07h30 to 15h30 on weekdays. The rollout strategy target was the optimisation of 41 priority 1-type health facilities, and the timeline for completion was scheduled for the end of March 2022.
The second priority sought to establish a permanent presence at health facilities where the birth rate was between 5 000 and 2 000 actual live births per year, or between 400 and 150 live births per month. The type of service would be a full-time presence from 07h30 to 15h30. The rollout strategy target was the optimisation of 109 priority 2-type health facilities and 81 priority 3-type health facilities, and the timeline for completion was the end of March 2022.
The third priority sought to establish a part-time presence where the cut-off point was between 2 000 and 1 000 actual live births per year, or between 150 and 75 births per month. The type of service would be a part-time presence from 08h00 to 13h00, with the rollout strategy target being focused on 101 priority 3-type health facilities for completion by 31 March 2022.
The fourth priority sought to establish a roaming presence, where the live births reported were between 1 000 and 500 per year, or between 75 and 50 births per month. The type of service would be a roaming service with four to five health facilities per official. The focus was on the optimisation of 48 priority 4-type health facilities and 79 priority 5-type facilities, and was scheduled for completion by the end of March 2023.
The fifth priority sought to establish a roaming presence where the live births reported were less than 500 per year, or less than 50 births per month. The type of service would be a roaming service, with four to five health facilities per official. The focus was on the connecting of 1 067 new health facilities with uninterruptable networks in the order of priority. The focus would be on 47 priority 4-type health facilities and 1 020 priority 5-type facilities, and was scheduled for completion by the end of March 2024.
Regarding the registration of births in health facilities, the DHA had 160 health facilities with network connectivity, and 121 of these could issue a birth certificate on the spot. The 39 health facilities that could not issue on the spot was due to inadequate IT equipment, including online verification scanners and human resources. The DHA would be deploying additional IT equipment to these health facilities. A bid specification for network connectivity for additional health facilities had been finalised with the SITA, and would be advertised before 15 December. The revised bid specifications for mobile structures in health facilities that did not have space for the DHA would be presented to the bid adjudication committee (BAC) on 1 December.
Implementation of ABIS project and recommendations:
On 27 October 2020, the DHA had made a presentation to the Committee on the steps taken to rescue the ABIS project. On 25 May 2021, the Department had indicated that it had received all the necessary National Treasury approvals for the assignment and ceding of the ABIS contract to IDEMIA, and the ceding was concluded in March 2021. IDEMIA undertook to complete the first phase of the ABIS project before the end of December. The DHA had entered into an amended and restated master turnkey solutions agreement with IDEMIA, in line with all the necessary conditions and scope of the project as per the initial tender requirements, on 31 March, and the handover process between the previous contractor and IDEMIA took place during April 2021. During this period, the previous contractor handed over all of the ABIS-related documents produced during its tenure and updated IDEMIA on the technical work performed. The tasks that also commenced during April included the project scoping and planning, the establishment of project structures and work streams, and the on-boarding of governance and technical resources. The project’s execution under IDEMIA had commenced in May for completion of the first phase. The Committee was presented with a visual breakdown of the architecture of the ABIS-project.
While good progress had been made with the build phase following the cession of the contract to IDEMIA in April 2021, the programme still encountered serious constraints within two of its primary work streams, which contributed to delays and not achieving the envisaged completion of the first phase by the end of October. The work streams involved included data migration and application and interfaces. Both these work streams had now been mitigated and by 19 November, the testing for stage two was assessed to be sufficiently complete to migrate to stage three for testing -- known as a parallel run. This was the final process step towards the pre-production sign-off and completion of the first phase of the ABIS project, to proceed to an implementation status.
Stage three was required to be conducted for a period of 20 business days, and the system had to conform to stipulated performance metrics and criteria for synchronisation to the existing Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) reporting. The commencement of this run was under way, and the targeted dated for completion was 23 December. The performance of the ABIS project must be an improvement on the existing performance derived from the HANIS. The successful conclusion of phase one would be established only at the end of this period, and it was likely that given the technical complexity of the ABIS project’s build, this could overrun into early 2022, with the second and third phases of the programme to commence immediately thereafter.
It was recommended that the Committee note the progress that had been made on the completion of the first phase of the ABIS project, the progress made to resolve network connectivity and system downtimes at the DHA’s offices, and the measures to curb the long queues at the DHA’s offices.
The Chairperson expressed the Committee’s appreciation for the entities' taking ownership of the problems of system downtimes, the delays in the ABIS project, and the long queues at the offices of the DHA, and commended their commitment to implement solutions for these issues. He invited Members to ask questions, raise concerns, or make recommendations relating to the information received during the briefing.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) asked for more detailed and specific timeframes for the addressing of the system downtimes through the partnership between the DHA and the SITA. He asked about the nature of this partnership, and a breakdown of what had been achieved so far. Regarding the piloting of the BABS, he stressed the importance of increasing the number of sites participating in the pilot, with a direct focus on some of the busiest offices. The ideal situation would be to have all of the DHA’s offices become smart offices, and he asked how the DHA planned to achieve this milestone within the prescribed timelines. He also asked that the Committee be provided with a tabulated breakdown of the offices involved in the piloting of the BABS, and the progress made in transforming each of them into a smart office.
Mr A Roos (DA) commended the work that had been done, and said it was an example of what could be achieved when the Committee and the DHA work together. He referred to the DHA’s 2020/21 annual report, which stated that the DHA needed another R200 million to implement this architecture, and commented that this was not an area where it should be said that there was not enough funding. He asked for more details on what the DHA was doing to ensure that steps were being taken to get this funding, given the shortfall between the projected and actual revenue of the DHA, which stood at R251 million.
The high amount of litigation against the DHA was something that should be taken seriously as the legal claims resulted in money lost that could be used for funding projects like addressing the system downtimes at the DHA’s offices. This was a substantial amount of money that could be saved. Had the DHA managed to get an estimate of the loss to the economy resulting from the system downtimes? He directed this question to the DCDT as well.
He commented that ten years ago, the United Nations had declared access to the internet as a basic human right, and that it was essential for every person to have access to the internet to be able to express themselves and exercise their constitutional rights. However, in South Africa there did not seem to be any plan on the part of the DCDT on how to provide internet access across governmental departments to achieve economies of scale. What was the plan from the DCDT to ensure that this problem was resolved across the board for various government departments?
Regarding the ABIS project, he asked what safeguards were in place for this contract to ensure that the same problems experienced with EOH Mthombo (Pty) Ltd was not repeated, and that IDEMIA fulfilled their contractual obligations. He asked whether there were penalties in place for non-performance, and whether people could just get out of the contractual obligations scot-free.
The Chairperson commented that the question posed to the DCDT might have been presented to the Portfolio Committee on Communication during its engagements with the DCDT.
Ms M Molekwa (ANC) commended the work done to ensure that the issues of the ABIS project were attended to. She encouraged the DHA and the SITA to stick to their action and implementation plans and the timeframes given, to ensure that stability in the systems was achieved and the issues resolved effectively.
Ms L Tito (EFF) referred to the DHA’s graphic representation of the implementation of phase one that was to be completed by the end of December, and asked whether this milestone was still on track to be completed on time. How much of the R450 million that was allocated for the ABIS-project had been spent so far by the DHA towards the completion of the project?
Ms A Khanyile (DA) commented that the implementation of the BABS would assist greatly in reducing the long queues at the offices of the DHA. She asked that the offices of the DHA that had been selected for the piloting phase in Johannesburg be repeated. It was a good initiative for the Committee, while conducting its oversight visits, to keep an eye on whether the BABS was working and whether it was effective. She suggested that the DHA also roll out the piloting phase to offices in rural areas, and test whether people would be able to access online services given the network connectivity issues.
Regarding the 39 offices that did not have access to the necessary equipment for birth registrations, she asked for a timeframe on when the DHA would equip those offices with the resources promised. On the issue of the consolidation of access links per province, she noted that the DHA had indicated that the North-West province would be used as a pilot, and the bid was being evaluated for a single service provider. She asked for clarity on the progress of this, and for a timeframe by when the service provider would be appointed.
Mr M Tshwaku (EFF) said that during the previous engagements, it had been indicated that a busy area of the DHA should be identified, and then determine the interventions necessary to ensure that all of the DHA’s offices were operational, especially those that had been highlighted in the media. He asked whether the DHA had managed to identity the most critical or busiest of its offices in order to introduce the new BABS to address the issues of long queues. Had there been any improvement in the management of long queues caused by system downtimes since the last engagements with the Committee? How effective were the current interventions, if the problem of long queues still persisted? Had any analysis been conducted to determine if there had been any improvement in the system downtimes since the last meeting with the Committee?
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) referred to the implementation of the BABS and commented that it was a step in the right direction. She asked how the appointments would be made, and whether clients and citizens would have to make use of the DHA’s call centre, if online platforms such as WhatsApp be used, or whether telephonic or SMS bookings would be made. She expressed concern that the rollout of the DHA’s services to banks was slow and asked for an update in this regard.
She referred to the use of the DHA’s mobile trucks servicing rural areas, and said that it was an important mechanism in providing service delivery in areas that usually struggled to access the DHA’s services. What were the DHA’s plans for procuring the better connected VSAT mobile trucks being trialled, and for procuring more of these mobile trucks? The DHA had received approval from the National Treasury to allow the initial contractor of the ABIS project, EOH Mthombo, to cede the contract to a newly appointed service provider, namely IDEMIA. What was the penalty fee paid by EOH Mthombo for ceding the contract, and how was the penalty fee determined? Would the new service provider be able to complete the ABIS project within the initial projected time and budget, or would they require more time and money? If not, how much time would IDEMIA need to implement the ABIS project, and what was the estimated budget required to complete it? She also asked for an update from the DHA on how it had implemented the recommendations of the forensic report regarding the appointment of EOH Mthombo as the service provider.
Ms M Modise (ANC) welcomed the appointment of the DHA’s new Chief Information Officer, and expressed the hope that he would be able to carry on with the concrete foundation that had been laid. The progress report received by the Committee was exciting and encouraging -- the progress made was welcomed, since it would aid in improving the services provided to the public. She asked whether the DHA’s budget priorities were in line with the key areas that had been highlighted, and whether it included the R200 million in funding that was required for the system improvements. It was encouraging that there were firm timeframes in place, and she encouraged the DHA and the SITA to ensure that they adhered to those timelines to ensure the quick and effective implementation of the plans.
The Chairperson expressed hope that the implementation of the action plans would respond to the demands of the people on the ground, and stated that the Committee appreciated the work done and the confidence that it inspired. He commended the DHA for heeding the calls of the Committee and responding by focusing on the issues that had been raised. He asked for clarity on the security of the DHA’s systems, and how cyber risks were being mitigated.
DHA, SITA and DCDT responses
Mr Nhlanhla Mabaso, Chief Information Officer, DHA, thanked the Committee for the warm welcome and for keeping an eye on the work being done within the DHA. The Department would have to send more detailed information beyond the timelines that had been given for addressing the system downtimes through the partnership between the DHA and the SITA. He said that DHA’s relationship with the SITA was not just transactional as a service provider, but rather a sibling-like relationship, working together to achieve the goals outlined.
The DHA was focusing on the busiest offices for piloting the implementation of the BABS, and he had noted the feedback on the need to increase the number of offices and to include offices from rural areas. The DHA would respond in writing to the request for a tabulated breakdown of the offices involved in the piloting of the BABS and the progress made in transforming each of them into a smart office, to give the Committee the necessary information.
He thanked Mr Roos for expressing support for the funding requests of the DHA. It had submitted motivations through the Chief Financial Officer for additional funding, and it had been made clear that each request for additional funding would need to identify where that funding would come from. The DHA would have to report back to the Committee on this issue, and would also need support from the Committee regarding its plans for the changes in technology.
He welcomed the idea of looking at the cost estimate of the systems' downtime, and said it was important that this recommendation be implemented to ensure that the country remained competitive. Responses were coming in slowly regarding ensuring unfettered internet access, and the DHA was committed to ensuring that this process was fast-tracked. He agreed that internet access and connectivity should be added to the basket of basic rights for every person, and said that the checks and balances were in place in the master services agreement to ensure that penalties were in place if IDEMIA did not fulfil its contractual obligations regarding the ABIS project.
He expressed his commitment that the DHA would stick to its action plans to deliver within the specified timeframes. The DHA had already spent R500 million on the ABIS project. He confirmed that the DHA would prioritise the offices to which people had to travel far to reach for the piloting phase of the BABS. This would also help the DHA’s offices without ICT equipment, together with an increased rollout of mobile trucks.
He said the DHA rolled out interventions specific to the issues faced at its offices. Some network downtime at offices was a result of cable theft and fibre optic cables being cut in acts of vandalism and sabotage. He said that the network downtimes recorded the day before the meeting had affected parts of the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, and the Northern Cape, and was as a result of the SITA lines that had been cut that connected many of the SITA’s switching centres. Although there have not been any formal analysis done, the DHA had noted an improvement in the system downtimes. There had also been a more proactive use of the DHA’s mobile trucks.
The BABS would use a web-based system and SMSs for the booking of appointments, meaning that clients and citizens would not have to call the DHA’s call centre to make an appointment. There were plans to extend its footprint at the banks, but the biggest hold-up had been the systems downtime that had been experienced, and there was reluctance until there was certainty that the systems were stable and secure. The DHA was working on improving its mobile trucks to ensure that they were cheaper, which would allow the procurement of more such mobile trucks.
Regarding the ceding of the ABIS project and contract to IDEMIA, he said that the DHA was still part of the project, together with the service provider, and they had undertaken to complete it within the timeframe.
The request for more funding would be included in the budget vote, but the DHA was committed to finding places where it could save funds. For example, using the SITA’s secure and controlled cloud services to move some of the DHA’s services to, would aid in reducing costs. The DHA was fully committed to sticking to the implementation deadlines and timeframes.
Regarding the question that sought clarity on the security of the DHA’s systems and how cyber risks were mitigated, he responded that the systems were not secure enough. While the ABIS project used firewalls, even these technologies were vulnerable. The DHA was working to make the enterprise architecture more secure and was introducing more security systems to address these types of concerns.
The Chairperson said he was not sure what Mr Mabaso was trying to say to the Committee regarding the implementation phase, as it was unclear. He invited Mr Mabaso to clarify what he was trying to say so the Committee could interpret his statement, but there had been no response. He invited Mr Tommy Makhode, Director-General of the DHA, to respond.
Mr Makhode responded that he did not know what Mr Mabaso had been referring to, and Mr Mabaso would be better able to provide clarity.
The Chairperson said that the Committee’s collective view was that if there were issues that the Committee should know, it was the DHA’s responsibility to raise them. The Committee would not appreciate any attempts to raise confusing or misleading statements during these engagements. He invited the delegation from the SITA to give responses to the Committee’s questions and concerns.
Mr Luvuyo Keyise, Executive Caretaker, SITA, confirmed that the entity was working with the DHA in a collaborative matter. There were now governance structures that were working between the DHA and the SITA to ensure that direction was given on the work that needed to be done. There was a clear agreement on what needed to be implemented and by when. He confirmed that the timeframes presented to the Committee would be adhered to.
There had been practical improvements in terms of the systems' downtimes, and he reported that 133 offices had been moved to LTE and would be moved to fibre optic internet connectivity. There was also a more proactive monitoring of the systems to ensure that the systems were available, and this information had been shared with the DHA.
Regarding investment in the access to internet and internet services, he agreed that this was indeed a human rights issue that had an impact on the South African economy and the ability of citizens to receive services. He confirmed that the SITA was working together with the DHA on an overall plan to ensure stable, reliable, effective and efficient connectivity for all governmental departments. This was being done in collaboration with the DCDT to ensure that there was a revised broadband model that could be implemented across all facilities of the government. The SITA was looking at taking over, running, and managing the infrastructure for local networks inside the departments, and finding alternatives so that the SITA could take this on and be able to immediately replace infrastructure in the next financial year, instead of lengthy planning times within governmental departments. This also worked to ensure the end-to-end scalability of the services that the SITA provide, and would contribute to improved network stability and the prevention of excessive system downtimes.
Even the R200 million needed to replace and modernise the infrastructure within the DHA was only a drop in the ocean, and the SITA was looking at how to assist the DHA, besides its own financial investments into the DHA. The SITA was already busy with the implementation part and the contracts would be finalised by the end of December 2021, with implementation finalised by the end of March 2022.
Regarding the security of the systems and the core networks, he responded with a commitment that it was indeed secure, with a lot of security reviews and as many secure applications as possible had been migrated to the SITA’s secure networks and cloud infrastructure. The SITA was finalising its tender processes and contract signings within the next four weeks for a partner to implement an additional cyber security platform. This would be made available to the rest of the government to use within the next three months. The entire network of the SITA would then be additionally monitored, and additional security processes would be put in place in this way. The SITA had made a R500 million commitment in this regard. This matter would be taken to the board before the end of December for approval and finalisation, and was scheduled for implementation within the first quarter of the new year. He confirmed that the SITA had the financial and human resources required, and that there had been no security incidents on the network of the DHA that would affect its systems, or any security incidents on the SITA’s core network.
The Chairperson asked whether the SITA was holding the same view as Mr Mabaso -- that the systems of the DHA were not entirely safe and secure.
Mr Keyise responded that SITA’s view was that one could never stop investing in securing the government’s systems and networks. SITA’s view was that the systems and networks of the DHA were safe and secure, but the SITA and the DHA would keep on investing in additional security measures to be deployed. It would be reckless for him to say that the DHA’s systems and networks were not secure without any proof. He said that the systems and networks were secure, but there was a need to keep on investing in security measures such as anti-viruses, fingerprint biometrics, and other measures. This approach of continuously improving was proactive, as criminals were thinking of new ways to penetrate the systems, and the SITA's position was firm, that it would keep on investing over R100 million each year on the government’s security.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Keyise for his clear articulation and clearing up the issue of Mr Mabaso’s comments and how it was to be interpreted by the Committee. He invited Mr Makhode to respond to comments made by the Committee.
Mr Makhode agreed with Mr Keyise’s standpoint on the security of the DHA’s networks and systems, and also agreed that there was a need to keep on investing in security measures to protect its information and data.
Regarding the contractual safeguards on the ABIS project, he said that these had been provided for in the engagement model and the focus was now on the implementation of the ABIS project and the conclusion of the first phase before the end of December 2021, and this progress was on track. The DHA was engaged with the EOH Mthombo (Pty) Ltd in arbitration regarding the penalties imposed, and this was an ongoing progress, together with the outcomes of the value-for-money audit that had been conducted. There were built-in provisions in the contracts regarding penalties for non-performance.
Referring to the high number of legal claims, he observed that the Supreme Court of Appeal had recently ruled in the favour of the DHA, where the opposing party was claiming R600 million from the Department. Despite the Supreme Court of Appeal stating that there were no prospects of success, the opposing party was appealing the matter to the Constitutional Court.
Regarding the DHA’s shortfall in revenue, he stated that there was a dire need to improve the network architecture at the DHA, and that the DHA’s chief financial officer would speak on the mitigating measures that had been put in place.
He confirmed that the DHA was fully committed to sticking to the implementation deadlines and timeframes, as agreed upon with the SITA. The first phase of the ABIS project was on schedule, and during the next phase it would run in parallel with the HANIS for at least a year. He commented that the total amount for the ABIS project was R465 million, and subtracting what had been paid to EOH Mthombo (Pty) Ltd, this resulted in R200 million, contrary to what the Chief Information Officer of the DHA had communicated.
The piloting sites included Akasia, Byron and Wynberg, and he had taken note of the recommendation of the Committee to extend the sites. The DHA had made sure that the mobile trucks were piloted in deep rural areas throughout almost all of the provinces. Regarding the issue of long queues, he responded that the DHA had taken mitigating measures, such as ensuring that people had places to sit, refurbishing offices to accommodate more people inside, and so forth. He noted that the BABS would be based on WhatsApp, SMSs and also via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) codes for people who did not have access to smart phones.
Regarding partnerships with the banks, he responded that the DHA was working to strengthen this relationship, and was in engagements with the chief executive officers (CEOs) of ABSA, FNB and Standard Bank, all of which were keen to assist the DHA in this regard, to extend its footprint. The SITA had also committed to providing the DHA with the necessary support for IT skills that the DHA did not possess. He confirmed that the DHA would share the information with the Committee regarding the mobile trucks for identified areas.
Regarding the penalties related to the ABIS project, the arbitration on the forensic report was currently under way, and the DHA was working with the relevant law enforcement agencies in this regard. The matter had been registered with the Hawks.
Mr Thulani Mavuso, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Institutional Planning and Support, DHA, referred to the piloting of the BABS, and said the offices selected for the piloting phase would undergo a change of culture, practice, and operations on the side of the employees and the clients. The piloting phase would pick up on issues before the bigger rollout commenced, and that was why only a few offices had been selected. It was not to deprive other communities of the BABS, but rather to ensure that the DHA could become aware of and resolve any issues picked up during the piloting phase before formally rolling the BABS out. Regarding access to the BABS, he said the system would be accessible through laptops, smartphones and tablets, and moving forward it would also be accessible through SMS and USSD codes. This was to ensure that when the BABS was rolled out to rural communities especially, that the people would not be deprived of the services because they did not have access to technology. There would also be a dedicated machine at the offices of the DHA for those who wanted to book an appointment that way because they did not have access to other technology to book an appointment.
Regarding the plans to modernise the other offices of the DHA, he said that the DHA’s service delivery improvement model had taken into consideration the introduction of mobile offices and self-service kiosks, such as in Nigeria.
On the issue of the health facilities that were not able to issue birth certificates, he responded that the DHA was offering its services there, and that these facilities would be equipped with the necessary equipment. The biggest shortfall of this challenge was that this project was not funded from the baseline from the outset, and was being financed by the DHA itself, and this had been affected by the decrease in revenue of the DHA over the last two financial years.
Mr Gordan Hollamby, CFO, DHA, referred to the issue of non-modernised offices, and said that these offices did not physically allow for modernisation because they were too small or inappropriate. It would cost the DHA around R50 million to build a new office, and additional costs to modernise that office with generators, service booths, photo equipment, computer equipment and the security costs, in addition to the labour costs. It would take a significant amount of money to transform the 298 non-modernised offices to a state that the DHA wanted them to be in -- and this was estimated to amount to in excess of R10bn to accomplish.
The measures to address the DHA's revenue shortfall was to look at increasing the tariffs payable for passports and identity documents (IDs) in particular, and the DHA had also engaged the Government Printing Works (GPW) for a cost reduction in the price for these documents. This had been agreed to, with effect from 1 April 2022. The DHA’s revenue collection levels had decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the revenue projection for the current year was R562 million.
Regarding the questions on the mobile offices, he said that another R25 million had been made available in the current financial year for the procurement of another ten additional mobile vehicles equipped with satellite technology. The DHA was also working towards modernising its existing fleet of vehicles.
The DHA had a limited budget of R8.6bn, and after the budgets for the compensation of employees and transfers to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had been deducted, this left it with limited room to manoeuvre, with R2.8bn. The DHA essentially had to run its operations with R1.9bn, with priority given to goods and services, contractual commitments, and new projects, and then R500 million was usually left for discretionary spending, such as operational costs like fuel.
Ms Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, Acting Director-General, DCDT, echoed the commitment to ensure the effective implementation and success of these projects, which were critical to achieve the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) goals. The DHA was the custodian of the government’s data, and thus it was important to ensure that it was housed in a secure and agile data structure, together with ensuring good connectivity.
Referring to the SA Connect project, she said that the government had committed to connecting all government institutions and offices. The pilot had been conducted on 1 000 sites across the country in collaboration with the SITA, and then a feasibility study had been drawn up to put up a proposal for funding. Because of the fiscal constraints of the government, the DCDT was now looking at a public-private partnership, to ensure that the government maintained the core network. The DCDT was looking at the infrastructure of other departments and how it could be aggregated to achieve these goals, and this business plan was being finalised and costed, together with critical government departments. This was a move towards a digital society, and this connectivity could also be used to reach rural and under-served communities to expand connectivity to rural areas. This worked to ensure that there was good internet access widely available in the country. The DCDT would be finalising these plans by the end of the year, and they would be presented to the Portfolio Committee on Communications as part of the DCDT’s revised strategic plan and Annual performance plan, and would be shared with the Committee once approved.
Deputy Minister Nzuza referred to the targets, and said that the targets were consistent with what had been presented to the Committee and what had been agreed upon with the SITA. Some milestones had already been achieved, and the progress that had been made could not be ignored. He confirmed that the systems and networks of the DHA were secure, and that there had not been any major problems in terms of security. He agreed that there was always a need to consistently upgrade security measures.
Regarding legal claims against the DHA, he stressed that a no-nonsense approach had been taken in dealing with legal challenges, and winning the legal battles built confidence in the entity.
He agreed with Mr Roos that the need for self-funding was quite important for the DHA. The COVID-19 pandemic had had an adverse effect on the DHA with regard to its revenue collection. There was a need to improve efficiency in the revenue collection area, to fund additional capacity that was needed to take the DHA forward. He noted the agreement with the GPW to slash the costs of producing documents as an innovative idea to take the DHA forward.
He welcomed the Committee to conduct oversight over the BABS. This would be tested in rural offices, since that was where the majority of people who did not have easy access to the DHA’s services, were affected. He expressed the DHA’s commitments to partner with constituency offices to deliver services, especially for significant demands, such as during the recent local government elections. The DHA’s capacity was not built overnight, and there had been a long road of work that had brought the entity to where it is. He appreciated the consistent support that the DHA received from the Committee.
The Chairperson said the Committee appreciated the progress so far and the tangible joint effort between the various government stakeholders to resolve the challenges. He underscored the need to ensure adherence to timelines and maintain a heightened focus on the implementation of targets.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.