SITA apologises for home affairs system crash 'disaster'

The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) apologised to citizens for the system failure that occurred in all government departments, particularly at home affairs offices, over the last few days.

SITA and the Department of Home Affairs were in Parliament on Tuesday for a scheduled meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs.

The meeting comes after a difficult few days for SITA, which experienced intermittent system downtime at all home affairs offices from Friday.

READ: SITA to investigate system shutdowns impacting on service delivery

Certain government departments were hit again on Monday.

SITA CEO Setumo Mohapi explained that the initial crash on Friday was caused by a power outage in the City of Tshwane due to faulty cables.

It was then found that SITA's own backup generator was low on diesel fuel due to automatic monitoring. To make matters worse, the fuel pump then burnt out and a new pump had to be dispatched and was only installed around 13:00.

Improved warning system

Due to the high workload, the voltage on the backup system was at a low level, causing secondary system problems.

"It is very rare that one has such a disaster, where every backup [plan] that you have fails, and not for lack of maintenance or testing," Mohapi told the committee.

"We are still not sure what caused the fuel pump to burn, but in terms of remedial action, we are intensifying discussions with the City so we get better warnings."

Power was eventually restored on Friday at around 15:30, and all government departments were up and running again at 19:00.

When the systems went back up on Friday, another "catastrophe" occurred, he continued.

On Monday morning it was discovered that the equipment at SITA's Centurion switching centre had been running on battery power since the outage on Friday and that the batteries were depleted.

Those responsible to be held accountable

The problem went undetected because after the power was restored on Friday evening the circuit breaker on the main power grid tripped, causing the centre to default to battery power.

"We would like to sincerely apologise to the committee and to citizens," Mohapi said.

He promised the committee that SITA was at the end of its period of instability, "even though it doesn't seem that way".

The agency would be forging forward with a plan of action to solve the problem. He said those found to be responsible for the incident would be held accountable.

A long-term data centre, which was already in development, would help with warning systems. SITA will ask for input from government departments for quicker alert times.

The agency would also be revising its system recovery procedures so that the Monday incident would not reoccur.

Call for new service provider

Opposition MPs were critical of the downtime, saying it had been an occasional issue for at least four years, and that government needed to have better backup systems.

"It can't be that we rely on one diesel pump, and if one diesel pump goes down then the entire government system shuts down in one day," DA MP Haniff Hoosen said.

"To me that is massively embarrassing and I think it should be for all of us too."

Both Hoosen and EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi said government should consider separating itself from SITA and finding a new service provider.

ANC MP Maesela Kekana said the department should rather work with SITA to improve delivery.

ANC MP Donald Gumede said MPs should be reminded that the initial problem was a power failure in the "DA-run" City of Tshwane.

The ANC wasn't pointing fingers at the DA, he said jokingly, but wanted to remind MPs that power failures do occur.

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