SITA Support to Department of Home Affairs: briefing by Minister of Public Service & Administration

Home Affairs

11 June 2008
Chairperson: Mr P Chauke (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson summarised that this meeting had been called following the Committee’s concerns around various aspects of work being undertaken by the Department of Home Affairs in conjunction with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), as a result of which SITA was asked to report to the Committee. However, on the due date of the meeting SITA had not attended and the Committee was eventually told that this was at the request of the Minister of Public Services and Administration. The Minister attended to explain to the Committee why this was so. She did not want to become involved in a long constitutional and legal debate. She made the point that Government was the sole shareholder of SITA, and that that she, as Minister, bore responsibility for it, and she did not think it was correct for SITA to become engaged in a quasi-investigative process, unless the Committee had stipulated that this was the route it wished to follow and had kept her advised. She stressed that she had no intention to undermine the oversight role of the legislature. She appreciated that the investigation ordered by the Minister of Home Affairs through the Auditor General did not preclude this Committee from investigating the issues, but suggested it may be preferable to await the outcomes of the Auditor General’s investigation. Members questioned whether the relationship with SITA was now to be subject to the Minister’s approval and stressed their disappointment. They stressed that answers were being sought to the “Who Am I Online” project. The Minister stressed again that she had no intention of hindering the Committee’s processes, nor was there any suggestion that any interaction would be precluded. There was a full appreciation of the importance of the legislature, but at the same time it was fair that SITA could be given the information that they needed to prepare, as an investigation was very different from a normal briefing and would require different approaches. It was suggested that in future invitations be directed through the SITA Board, who would advise the Minister.

The State Information Technology Agency then briefed the Committee on their general level of interaction with the Department of Home Affairs. The current services with this Department, as well as other government departments, were around ICT products and services, infrastructure, consulting, transversal tenders, and application software. The services and values since the 2006 year were set out. It was noted that all internet costs were based on the SITA rates, approved by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and National Treasury. The staff hired to the Department of Home Affairs, the software packages, the applications being run on the SITA mainframe and the track and trace system were all listed. The current engagement with the Department did not differ substantially from the previous years, except that SITA had proposed that the Department should develop its infrastructure considerably, and there had been discussions and negotiations but no contract concluded yet. The procurement services were outlined, using a flowchart illustration and it was explained in depth how SITA would assist the Departments.  The roles were illustrated in a flowchart, and the example of the Smartcard process was used to indicate how the process would evolve. The general process followed for the “Who Am I Online” tenders was set out and it was indicated that as far as SITA was aware, the final contract had not been signed. It was indicated that SITA had also been involved in the Track and Trace and this would be extended to other government departments and e-Government systems.

Members asked for clarity whether the recommendations to the departments on the tenders were made public, when the tender awards would be announced, whether departments had the power to move to the second preferred supplier without reverting back to SITA if the first contract negotiations failed, whether transversal tenders were dealt with in the same way as procurement, and who had been present at the processes in relation to Who Am I Online. The Chairperson ruled that further questions around this latter project would be answered in a closed session. The Deputy Chairperson of the SITA Board conceded that there had been some criticisms about the SITA service, that it was addressing the issues and she would speak further to this at the closed session.

Meeting report

Background and opening remarks
The Chairperson reported that this meeting had resulted from an invitation to State Information Technology Agency (SITA), which worked with Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on the "Who am I Online" project to address the Committee on specific concerns around that project. Some years back the DHA had tried to find a better information technology (IT) solution on its own, but this Committee was concerned that there should be closer working with SITA because the Committee was concerned that sensitive information should not be held by consultants but the DHA’s own officials should be resourced to deal with matters. SITA had since become involved with the Department. The Committee had had several fruitful previous engagements with SITA and the current invitation to attend and speak with the Committee was sent to SITA in the normal course, and to deal with certain specific problems and allegations around the projects. SITA had confirmed that it would attend last Friday’s meeting, but failed to do so. After the Committee had spent an hour trying to find out where SITA was, it received a letter addressed to the Speaker by the Minister of Public Services and Administration (PSA) setting out that SITA should not attend, and making reference to section 56(2) (sic) of the Constitution.

The Committee had then reported to the Speaker that it seemed that perhaps the Minister had not seen the original invitation, had expressed concerns around the misquoting of this section, and wished to have a further meeting. During a subsequent telephone conversation with the Chairperson the Minister had confirmed that it was not her intention to block SITA from attendance, but that she had some concerns around the process. He therefore had asked the Minister to clarify her position. Part of the intention in engaging with SITA was in preparation for the budget vote of the DHA, and it was unfortunate that this date had now passed. The IT issues were not able to be included in the considerations of the Committee. However, he looked forward to engagement this morning.

Address by Minister of Public Service and Administration (PSA)
Hon Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Minister of Public Service and Administration, noted that she did not want to become involved in a long constitutional and legal debate. It was brought to her attention that there was communication with SITA, requesting it not only to present in broad terms on the role and scope of the IT function, but also specifically relating to areas that arguably reflected on current matters related to home affairs. The Committee had made it clear that they wished to enquire into tenders awarded over the last two to three years. She was aware of a number of issues with which the Committee was engaged. However, Government was the sole shareholder of SITA, and the Minister, in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) bore responsibility for it. It was therefore imperative that she be kept abreast on these matters. She had written that letter because she did not think it was correct for SITA to become engaged in a quasi-investigative process, unless the Committee had stipulated that that was the route it wanted to go, in relation to particular contracts.

In addition the Minister indicated that she had been concerned over the separation of powers, as set out in Section 55(2) of the Constitution. It was for these reasons that she had requested that a meeting be facilitated. She did not think this should have been regarded as a matter of a dispute. It was rather a matter where the Executive and the legislature could resolve matters that were material to the relationship to the two. She thought that everyone was clear on the Constitution and the Constitutional clauses, and there would not be any attempt to undermine the oversight role of the legislature. She was rather perturbed about the tone of the letter sent.

She also said that the Minister of Home Affairs (HA) had also indicated that there was an investigation, commissioned through the Auditor General's office, to deal with concerns in particular areas and that office would pursue areas that may be of concern. However, she appreciated that that did not preclude the Committee from investigating and requesting the Executive to report. She suggested that it may be preferable and advisable to await the outcomes of the AG investigation. However, she was happy to assist with a broad overview presentation on issues related to IT. The detail that the original e mail would not be addressed. .

The Minister assured the Committee that SITA would engage with Portfolio Committees in the future. There would be assurance that the Board, as the governing body of SITA, would ensure representation, along with the executive of SITA, when presentations took place.

The Chairperson noted that a letter had been addressed to the Speaker saying that the Committee believed that there was a need for investigation and it would be calling more people to source the information. This meeting would assist the Committee to begin to understand how SITA had been dealing with issues and the processes would then continue. There would also be some closed meetings between the Committee and SITA.

Discussion
Kgosi K Morwamoche (ANC) mentioned that he would have thought that an apology would have been in order from the Minister. There was nothing in the Constitution to state that when the Committee was doing oversight there were certain matters that should not be covered. The Committee had a good relationship with SITA, and this had never been interfered with in the past. Section 56 of the Constitution gave powers to Parliament. Section 92 noted that the Minister was accountable to Parliament. There was nothing to say that the Minister's powers could supercede the powers of Parliament. The Minister had further stated that the two Ministers felt that the Auditor General (AG) should deal with the matter in order to allay the fears of Parliament. The Constitution did not give these powers to the AG. The Minister must account, and he pleaded with her not to interfere with the Committee’s normal and good relationship with SITA.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) said that it was never the intention to investigate SITA. The intention was to get clarity from SITA on matters pertaining to DHA, over which this Committee had oversight. If there were matters on which there was uncertainty, the Committee was quite entitled to seek clarity, as SITA was involved in the matters. He did not understand the Minister's objections. He too had been very disappointed in seeing that letter from the Minister, who had been a Member of Parliament and should have known that the Committee had to conduct its oversight. He too stressed that in the past there was a history of engagement with SITA, who had previously provided the type of clarity that the Committee was seeking.

The Chairperson noted that the Minister had already stated that her intention was not to block the appearance.

Ms H Weber (DA) said that the Committee should not beat around the bush. This was all going to the point of the "Who Am I Online" project. She said that details of that tender were contained in the presentation, indicating that there were 172 days taken to do the tender. The tender and status were the crux of the matter, and that was the point that the Committee had not been able to get to. There were allegations around the amount; some claims were that it was R2.4 billion, and there were also questions around the position of the CFO, and she believed that an exact answer must be given on "Who Am I Online"

Mr M Sibande (ANC) noted that he would like to follow up on the comments by Mr Morwamoche and Mr Mathebe. There was an excellent workshop with SITA at Kempton Park and following that there was some success in speeding up the processes. He did not understand why there should be a problem with this Committee making another approach to SITA to find out how far the project was. He was disappointed at the suggestion that there should not be a direct approach.

The Chairperson said again that perhaps the Committee should clarify how and when to raise the issues around SITA.

Minister Fraser-Moleketi said that she had not made any reference to discussions between the two ministers, nor an agreement that the AG should deal with this matter. She had said merely that there was a pending investigation by the AG, which did not preclude a Parliamentary Committee from enquiring into the matter. She had also never intended to imply that there was a problematic relationship. The letter said that she would advise the CEO of SITA that he should not accede to the invitation "until there was an interaction".  There was no intention that there should not be interaction. She also felt that it would be incorrect to suggest that SITA would be blocked from meeting with Parliament. There was a need to sit down and discuss issues. There was no suggestion that any interaction would be precluded. In the telephone conversation with the Chairperson she had indicated that it was his prerogative to decide when the meeting should take place. She also had said at the outset that it was necessary either to take a narrow Constitutional and legalistic approach or look at how to go forward. She noted that Members were also saying that this was not an investigation, but was to gather information for clarity. This was precisely the type of detail that needed to be informed. The entity would prepare differently if it were to be an investigation. There was a full appreciation of the importance of the legislature, but at the same time it was fair that SITA could be given the information that they needed to prepare. An investigation would involve different preparation. She again said that the PFMA conferred responsibilities on her for the entity, and that she wanted to ensure that it was complying with and fulfilling the requirements. She had intended to give clarity on the issues.

The Chairperson said that he would not like to get into a debate about the powers. He said that the Minister had made it clear that she was not intending to block SITA from appearing. He proposed that perhaps the executive structure of SITA be clarified and it would probably be appropriate to deal with its Board. He would like to propose a strengthening of the relationship between this Committee and SITA, but he would not like to go through this process every time a question had to be asked.

The Chairperson noted that there were several issues being raised in the presentation. He proposed that the Committee should hear the presentation. Next week, because there were critical issues, he would apply for a closed meeting. It was not desirable to have certain information brought forward in public while investigations were pending. The meetings would reinforce the Committee's position in looking into "Who Am I Online". The Refugee Smartcard, which collapsed after 400 cards were issued, was initially thought to have involved SITA but in fact at that time DHA was not working directly with SITA. The reason for bringing SITA into the picture was to help both the DHA and the country.

In relation to the Auditor General, the Chairperson noted that this point was raised by the Minister of Home Affairs but no detail was given on that. The Minister of Home Affairs had decided to call for the AG investigation because she ha felt it would not be correct, given the allegations, merely to sit back. She had indicated that she would brief the Committee again on this when appropriate. In addition, he noted that the Speaker had not reverted to the Committee on the letter and issues raised, and he would like to call on the Speaker for a report next week.

Ms M Maunye (ANC) said that she had understood that this morning's meeting would be closed. However, she agreed to wait for next week to ask further questions. She would like to ask the Minister whether, if invitations were to be sent, this must be done through the office of the Minister.|

The Chairperson said that there was a body in place, and they should be taken into consideration.

The Minister confirmed that SITA had a board that governed it. They had the responsibility to keep the Minister advised. Even section 55(2) of the Constitution spoke of the Executive Authority’s accountability to Parliament. Over the past 14 years there had been direct communication with departments. The Executive was trying to ensure that there was streamlining of the accountability relationships so that the legislature was satisfied with the quality and level of input from the Executive.

The Chairperson noted that the oversight and accountability model of Parliament, which was shortly to be finalised, would give meaning to this. This should not be viewed negatively; it was all part of moving the democracy forward. He thanked the Minister for her input and engagement.

State Information Technology Agency (SITA) presentation
Mr Llewellyn Jones, CEO, SITA, said that he would present on the general level of interaction between SITA and DHA. More specific issues should be explored in the closed session.

The current services rendered by DHA could be described in terms of the IT infrastructure project that was currently the subject of negotiation. The types of services that DHA used in order to provide its ICT products and services (which were similar to other government departments) was set out. The infrastructure (computers and mainframes and networking) was primarily provided by SITA to most government departments. Most of the consulting services to DHA came directly from the industry. There were some SITA consultants assigned, and SITA would take responsibility for their services. There were also transversal tenders, which were a set of tenders that allowed government departments to engage on a generic services basis. Typically those were used to appoint consultants. The application software in almost all cases was provided by industry directly to DHA. The procurement was done by SITA.

Mr Jones set out the current services rendered by SITA and the amounts involved for the years from 2006 to 2009. Most were generic type infrastructure services. There were also internet services provided, and the growth per year was shown. All internet costs were based on the SITA rates, approved by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and National Treasury. The bandwidth used on the wide area network by DHA on the network that SITA ran was displayed. If "Who Am I Online" were to go live, this would require further increases in that bandwidth.

The staff, mostly analyst programmers, who were hired to DHA, were listed. The software packages being supplied through SITA to DHA were also tabled and Mr Jones noted that these were standard packages. SITA would also run applications on its mainframes, many of which were transversal, such as Basic Accounting System (BAS) and the personnel system PERSAL. However the track and trace system was also being hosted by SITA. This was originated by SITA as a research project, and it was now being expanded to allow it to be used by other government departments and was to be incorporated into the e-Government suite.

Mr Jones noted as a side issue that unfortunately DHA was not one of the better-paying clients, and there was a considerable amount of money owing on the accounts.

Mr Jones noted that the current state of affairs between SITA and DHA had not changed much over the past years. SITA had proposed to DHA that the latter should develop their infrastructure considerably, and there had been discussions and negotiations over the past six months. No contract had been concluded yet. There were time deadlines, because a lot of this infrastructure was necessary to make "Who Am I Online” work properly. This was necessary at the border posts, for example, as the project would use fingerprint and recognition technology that would require a large increase in bandwidth. A Virtual Private Network proposal was provided in November 2007. The proposed infrastructure roadmap was set out, showing the deliverables for 2008/9 and 2009/10. This would include greater integration between voice and network, and improvement of the foreign network. SITA was concerned that it would not be able to deliver in this financial year, and considered that it was urgent to get the final contract settled and signed.

Mr Jones then set out the procurement services to DHA and other government departments. He illustrated the roles in a flowchart. He used the example of the Smartcard. DHA had developed a specification for the Smart Card and then called in SITA to assist with procurement. SITA was involved in drawing up the final tender documents, running supplier briefing meetings and administering the tender process, with DHA. When the tenders closed, SITA would then enter into a process to form a Bid Evaluation Committee (BEC), consisting of DHA and SITA officials. This members of this committee would include technical and business experts, who would evaluate the bids on grounds that would include functional, technical and Black Economic Empowerment considerations. They would usually use a predetermined scoring system. They would then make a recommendation to the SITA Tender Evaluation Board, which would consist of SITA executive staff, excluding the CEO and with no board members, plus tender advisers from outside. Mr Jones noted that this Board had never yet rejected a recommendation but could refer back to the Bid Evaluation Committee for further details, reasoning or clarify. Once they were satisfied with the recommendation, it would be endorsed by SITA writing a letter to the DHA, recommending that a contract be placed with a particular supplier. The letter of award and negotiation of the contract would then fall to the Director General of DHA. This was a standard process, in place for many years. The names of the Committees had changed and the exact recommendation between SITA and the client department had also changed over the years, but it followed the same kind of process.

Mr Jones explained that the committee for the “Who Am I Online” tender consisted of 22 people, of whom 17 were SITA members. It had been under the chairmanship of the then-Chief Operations Officer of DHA. There were three or four months spent in the evaluations. The Committee made a recommendation. The first presentation was held in July 2006, and, as normal, there were queries. Another presentation was made in August and another in September. In October 2006 the Tender Evaluation Board (or recommendation Committee) was happy with the recommendation from the BEC, and they then sent a letter recommending the appointment of Gijima as the supplier There was a delay of about nine months before the letter of award could be sent, pending the appointment of the current Director General of DHA. As far as he was aware there had not yet been conclusion of the contract.

Mr Jones stressed that no single executive could easily change the outcome of any tender The recommendation committee included external advisers. The practice was to support the Bid Evaluation Committee. The process was designed to be transparent. The same process had been used by SITA for the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) for National Treasury, and that had been vetted by the AG.

The recent large tenders awarded to DHA fell into two groups They were both evaluated at the same time. One was for electronic documentation verification, and the decision was finally taken to award to four different companies. The “Who Am I online” was approved in October 2006 after a period of 172 days of detailed evaluation to Gijima DST. The value of that tender at that stage was R1.9 billion. The notification of the preferred supplier effectively ended SITA's direct involvement in the tender award process. The letter of award was sent in about May 2007 and he believed that contract negotiations were still ongoing. Preparatory work had apparently been done although the building of the system had not commenced.

SITA was approached six weeks ago by DHA to assist them with the Smart ID Card tender. The specification was developed by DHA. SITA and DHA were in the process of setting up a joint bid evaluation committee. Governance would be similar to what was used on the IFMS tenders and the AG was asked to check that it would be following the correct process before it happened. In this case SITA had engaged external experts of its own to assist, because this was a very specialised form of technology, in which most of the expertise was based at banks and cellphone operators. The recommendation to engage such experts came from Cabinet and was conveyed by the DG of the DHA. It was confirmed that the budget was available. There was a short adjudication period, until September 2008, and a pilot should commence before the end of the year. At the end of the day, SITA would make a recommendation based on the evaluation inputs.

Mr Jones said that SITA was also responsible for the ID Track and Trace that had been successful. It was now being turned to a live application and it would be extended to other departments. The Virtual Private Network proposals had been given. There had been a re-start to engagement with Government Printing Works (GPW) with a view to extending the SITA role.

Discussion
Mr Mathebe asked for clarity whether the recommendations to the Department were made public.

Mr Jones responded that the letter of recommendation was not made public; it was signed by the Chairperson of the Recommendation Committee and went to the DG of the Department. It would usually be made public when the letter of award was issued. Ideally no publication should take place until the contract had been signed, as if anything went wrong in that process the Department would usually revert to the second preferred supplier. Letters would be sent to all other tenderers when the contract was concluded.

Mr Mathebe asked if the DG could move to the second option without referring back to SITA in the event that contract negotiations with the preferred supplier failed.

Mr Jones said that in many cases the recommendation letter would include not just one recommendation, but an indication of the relative scoring between the top three bidders, and that letter would say that if the contract could not be concluded with company X, then company Y would be the next best solution. Aside from this it was generally accepted also that the Department could go to the next on the list without referring back to SITA. The published outcome would reflect the company with whom the contract was signed. He was not sure that in the past this might not have been done earlier, but it would be correct only to publish on conclusion of the contract. There were various leaks in the media, because companies would announce that they had been awarded a tender. However, the Gijima tender had not been published, as the contract was still under negotiation.

Mr Morwamoche asked whether transversal tenders were dealt with in the same way as procurement.

Mr Jones said that transversal tenders should also follow fair, open and transparent processes. It was possible that sometimes the process had not been perfect. The SITA and DPSA were revising the processes at the moment because they believed that these tenders could be improved.

Mr Morwamoche noted that the PFMA required that there must be representatives from Departments of Finance, Public Service and Administration and an independent accountant for the larger tenders, with specific chairmanship. He asked whether this procedure was followed between SITA and DHA.

Mr Jones said that the Chair of the evaluation committee for the Who Am I Online tender was the then-COO of DHA and he was not aware whether DPSA or DHA officials were on the bid evaluation or the recommendation committee.

The Chairperson ruled that no further discussions be held on this at the time.

Ms Michelle Williams, Deputy Chairperson, SITA Board, said that she wanted to expand on the quality of service provided to DHA. There may be some elements that were not always forthcoming. Across government there were concerns with the role that SITA played, the price at which services were rendered, and their quality of delivery. It was important that this be on the table. SITA was in the process of fixing any problems, in conjunction with client departments, and it must be noted that SITA did have many deficiencies from a client services point of view. She would be available in the closed discussions and would engage more on that issue.

The Chairperson was pleased that the issue of Government Printing Works (GPW) had been raised. He noted that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and this Committee had serious concerns whether it would be correct for the Government Printing Works to corporatise, and SITA’s involvement would be useful. He commented that it was unfortunate that this Committee had not known, prior to the budget process, that DHA still owed money to SITA. He said that many interesting issues had been raised that would help the Committee to better understand the process of “Who Am I Online” and that the Committee had the right to call in the various people involved in that if it needed to.

The Chairperson noted that 20 June would be refugee day, where this Committee and Foreign Affairs would engage with NGOs to engage around the issue of refugees. It was expected that around 1000 people would attend.

The meeting was adjourned.

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