Minister calls in auditor-general after IT project costs skyrocket.

Auditor-general Terrence Nombembe is to probe a R2.5-billion government contract won by listed information technology firm GijimaAst to modernise the identification systems of the Department of Home Affairs.

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament this week that she has asked Nombembe’s office to probe the contract following complaints by MPs.

Mapisa-Nqakula said although she did not know what the concerns of MPs on the Parliament’s portfolio committee were, she had asked the office of the A-G to investigate “all processes” related to the awarding of the contract.

Spokesman for the A-G ’s office, Africa Boso, confirmed Mapisa- Nqakula’s request. “We are considering the request, and we’ll meet with all the relevant stakeholders to determine the possible scope such an audit could cover.”

Last month the portfolio committee chairman, Patrick Chauke, wrote to National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete recommending a probe into the contract.

This came after the portfolio committee’s confrontational meeting with Home Affairs director-general Mavuso Msimang on April 29, during which Chauke questioned Msimang about alleged escalation of the contract’s costs from the original R1.6-billion when it was awarded, to R2.5-billion.

Chauke said at the time: “Now officials who worked for Sita (the State Information Technology Agency, which advises government on IT procurement) work for that company (Gijima). For the past few months we have been asking for information with regard to this project. The department has not responded.”

Chauke was referring to Gijima CEO Jonas Bogoshi, formerly an executive with Sita at the time when Msimang was CEO , and at the time when the technical evaluation of the tender was being conducted.

Bogoshi told Business Times that his position at Sita was such that he would not have been involved in the Home Affairs contract.

He said department mechanisms were critical in adjudicating tenders.

Known as the “Who am I online” project, the IT project is aimed at on- line verification of people’s identity and would replace the mainly manual and archaic system now in use at Home Affairs.

Msimang, who was head-hunted to take over the reins at Home Affairs in May last year, told the portfolio committee that the contract was awarded before he took over as the department’s head — all he did was to sign for the contracting to proceed.

“When I arrived it was awarded but there was no instruction to proceed with contracting,” he told the committee during the April 19 meeting.

He said the contract was important for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

“Home Affairs is expected to be in a position to verify people who move in and out of the country. My concern is not about people who used to work for Sita. I don’t know whether a tender that had been won should be changed because the people who used to work for Sita now work for Gijima.”

Msimang further stated that his employment at Sita would not have conflicted him.

“Normally, tenders of this kind are evaluated by the department. Sita does (technical evaluation) and then awarding is done by the (government) department concerned. I would not have been part of the evaluation either when I was at Sita or at Home Affairs.”

Gijima’s executive manager and spokesman Thoko Mnyango said Bogoshi, who joined the company as chief executive in July last year, was not a member of either Sita procurement committees or the joint committee between Sita and the department which made recommendations of the preferred bidder.

She said Bogoshi, a computer scientist, got the job because of his industry-wide experience. She said the company welcomed the pending probe by the A-G.
The government does not have any legislation which governs the movement of its officials between departments and private companies. GijimaAst was established by Robert Gumede, who is its executive chairman.