Mystery letter halted smartcards

2010-04-20 16:25

Cape Town - An anonymous letter, received by the State Information Technology Agency (Sita), stopped the department of home affairs' so-called Smart ID Card (SIDC) project in its tracks, MPs heard on Tuesday.

The contents of the letter, and the allegations it contains, will not be known before the end of June, when a forensic audit report into the matter is finalised.

Briefing members of Parliament's home affairs portfolio committee, Sita acting chief executive officer Ramabele Magoma-Nthite said the letter, received on September 9 2008, had made allegations about "serious flaws with regards to the evaluation of the Sita tender" for the card.

"Pursuant to the anonymous letter, Sita, on September 10 2008, halted the tender process, with a view to finalise (an) Auditor General's report on compliance with agreed-upon procedures," she said.

In May 2008, home affairs asked Sita to publish a tender for the long-awaited SIDC, which was approved by Cabinet in July 2001.

Tender evaluation process

Following receipt of the AG's report, the agency then decided, in December 2008, to start a forensic investigation. This had commenced in February last year, and led to the cancellation of the tender process six months later.

Responding to questions about the contents of the anonymous letter, Sita chair Zodwa Manase said among the allegations it made were some relating to the tender evaluation process.

"On the anonymous letter... the allegations that were made are being investigated... Some of the issues that were raised there were about the evaluation process, which involved not only Sita people... (but also) home affairs people and (others).

"The evaluation committee is made up of people from various departments and hence it made allegations about certain things that happened there.

"The full report will actually bring all those details, but it was just saying that the process has not been followed properly.

"It mentioned... that in the beginning, the evaluation committee was made up of 10 people but in the end there were four people.

"There were allegations that some people did not resign, although it's alleged they resigned, so this is the investigation that is being done, to determine if some of the things that are alleged there are true," she said.

Report not available immediately

Manase later added that there were "other irregularities" mentioned in the letter, but did not explain what these were. She declined to give further details, saying these were contained in the final report, "which will be finalised by the end of June".

At least one MP expressed frustration about the final audit report not being immediately available, as well as the lack of information on the contents of the anonymous letter.

Democratic Alliance MP Masizole Mnqasela started to say that he thought there was "something big awaiting us" in the forensic report, but he was quickly shut down by committee chairperson Ben Martins, who told Mnqasela he was speculating.

Project to restart in 2011

According to a Parliament Research Unit document tabled at the briefing, and dated February 22 this year, the long delays in launching the SIDC project may result in an unexpected halving of costs.

"The costs of smartcard technology have come down quite drastically... driven by many factors, such as the proliferation of cellular phone SIM cards.

"Furthermore, the entrance of China into the production of SIM cards has had global impacts on the cost structure of the technology.

"As a result, the current ID card project is expected to cost, at most, about 50% of the original R2bn anticipated by the department of home affairs," the document states.

Earlier this month, Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told journalists at Parliament that plans to produce the smart ID - which will contain an individual's personal information on a card the size of a credit card - would start up again next year.