Sita looking at laying criminal charges in smart card tender

Friday, June 29, 2012

Cape Town - Auditors are continuing to track down and interview those involved in the State IT Agency (Sita) smart card tender valued at over R5 billion, and Sita is considering laying criminal charges against those found to have been implicated in alleged tender malpractices.

The tender was cancelled in August 2009 after accusations of procedural irregularities in the tender process surfaced the previous year when the contract was awarded.

Febe Potgieter-Qgubule, deputy-chairperson of the Sita board, told the National Assembly's portfolio committee meeting on home affairs that the auditing firm, SizweNtsaluba VSP, was still seeking to interview a number of officials involved in the smart identification document (ID) card tender.

Potgieter-Qgubule pointed out that the interviewing process was taking longer because many of the individuals were no longer with Sita.

She said Sita planned to take action against officials that were still at the organisation and who were found to be responsible.

The board is also looking at taking criminal action against those no longer with the organisation by laying charges with the police or Special Investigating Unit (SIU) or to seek the blacklisting of their firms with the National Treasury, she said.

An earlier report by the Auditor-General, following the cancellation of the tender, found there had been procedural violations in terms of the Sita Act.

This, while a 2009 forensic report found there to have been inappropriate behaviour between the then Sita chief of procurement and the chief executive of the winning bidder's company and that the winning company had failed to compile a business case to winning the bid.

Potgieter-Qgubule explained that it then became necessary to carry out a second forensic report - which SizweNtsaluba VSP had been tasked with - specifically because of the first forensic report's finding that no official could be held accountable.

She said the draft of the second forensic report by SizweNtsaluba, which was completed this month and handed to committee members, had confirmed many of the findings of the first report.

The report had also revealed Sita's problematic procurement procedures, including a culture of non-compliance and no consequences for lack of action by officials, governance and leadership problems at the time, she said.

She said Sita had tightened governance procedures, which included the board having to approve all tenders above R10 million.

Added to this, the entire top executive structure had been replaced since the cancellation of the tender.

Not withstanding the procedural problems, the Department of Home Affairs Director-General
Mkuseli Apleni said the decision to cancel the tender was the right one, because the card would've come out at over R356 a card - over seven times the department's targeted cost of R50.

Apleni said the idea to produce the smart card had not disappeared and that the department would be piloting a card in the current financial year (2011/2012).

The department had budgeted R2.5 billion for the smart card, but had the tender gone ahead, it would have cost taxpayers R17 billion.

The committee chairperson said committee members had by now expected a full forensic report and not a draft report.

Committee members said they still had not been allowed to see the AG's report on the Sita tender and needed to view this before they could make appropriate recommendations.

They also pointed out that the smart card system - which was approved by Cabinet in 2001 - was long overdue.

A smart card system would help to clamp down on passport and ID fraud.

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