EXCLUSIVE: Death threats and dismissals - inside SITA’s 'clean-up' investigations

2018-07-17 07:02
SITA chief executive officer Setumo Mohapi. (Supplied)

SITA chief executive officer Setumo Mohapi. (Supplied)

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Executive members of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) have received death threats amid critical investigations into collusion and corruption - part of a strategy to turn the agency around.

Among several probes relating to the agency are two which former president Jacob Zuma previously ordered the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to undertake.

The probes involve two agreements and one of these was between SITA and a private company which involve a former top cop. This deal was recently found to be constitutionally invalid.

Previously, in an unrelated matter, SITA admitted that a tender for police forensic light sources was irregular.

READ: SITA admits there was irregularity in SAPS tender allegedly linked to Phahlane

This related to police service provider, Keith Keating, the owner of Forensic Data Analysts.

In May, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts announced that it urgently wanted lifestyle audits conducted on police officers and SITA staffers because of information it received from SITA which showed corrupt relationships between some SITA employees and service providers.

Several internal investigations into SITA have been conducted.

In Parliament in June, it emerged that a probe into its human capital department had been carried out and resulted in resignations, dismissals and the opening of two criminal cases.

READ: Bungling of contracts haunts SITA

A firm focusing on computer forensic services had also been hired to probe accounts control management, and another firm probed companies related to Forensic Data Analysts.

On Friday, SITA chief executive officer Setumo Mohapi told News24: "SITA has been working on multiple internal investigations in the last three years; and it is true that within this period the SITA leadership had experienced threats."

He said it was not yet clear who was behind the threats.

"It is not fair to link anybody to the threats as no guilt has been established," Mohapi said. 

'Turnaround strategy'

Three years ago, the agency had started a turnaround strategy.

"SITA made the strategic decision to create a new SITA that would capture the imagination of the country by taking hard decisions; confronting aberrant ways and embracing a new way of doing business," Mohapi said.

"It has [been] met with resistance but SITA's vision is compelling enough to forge ahead…

"A key factor hampering SITA's efforts in the past has been the perceptions of real and fictional views around wasted resources; collusion; corruption and little corporate will to challenge these difficulties."

In Parliament last month, it emerged that in the 2017/18 financial year, a quarter of SITA's total bids led to deviations from procurement guidelines.

Welcome to SITA | SITA

SITA was established in 1999 to consolidate and coordinate the State's information technology resources in order to achieve cost savings through scale, increase delivery capabilities and enhance interoperability.

33 resignations, 13 dismissals

In just less than three years - roughly the same time frame in which the turnaround strategy has been carried out - there were 33 resignations and 13 dismissals at SITA which related to forensic investigations. Eight criminal matters were also registered.

According to figures supplied by Mohapi, which relate to forensic investigations, there were three resignations in January during disciplinary processes and five employees were on suspension and under investigation.

In August 2017, there were two resignations during disciplinary proceedings.

There was a total of 22 resignations, 10 dismissals and six criminal matters registered between September 2016 and March 2017.

Between February 2016 and February 2017, six staffers had resigned during disciplinary processes, three were found guilty and dismissed, one was handed a final written warning and two criminal matters were registered.

During the June briefing in Parliament, SITA chair Zukile Nomvete said poor contract management was a problem at the agency.

'Deliberate' contract collusion

"At one stage, we were wondering whether it was incompetence or otherwise, but it is deliberate," he said.

There was therefore an attempt to automate all related procedures to minimise the "human element".

Nomvete said the cancellation of tenders had to be brought to the attention of SITA's board and that reasons for cancellations had to provided because in some cases, tenders were scrapped when these were not going a particular way.

"We suspected there is manipulation," he said.

Nomvete said SITA had been paying the SIU about R10m to R12m annually for about three or four years and had asked that, instead of the unit investigating a matter and providing the president with a report on this, it update SITA so that any issues picked up could be immediately addressed.

He said when people - those who were investigating human capital - were threatened, SITA had approached the National Intelligence Agency, among others.

'Under the shadow of threats'

Nomvete said SITA had taken measures to ensure the safety of staff or "nobody would want to come to work for us… for fear of their own safety or security".

During an October 2017 presentation to Parliament on SITA's annual report, Nomvete touched on the threats, saying the year under review had been stressful to its executive team because members of it had "lived under the shadow of all kinds of threats".

"There've been threats on the lives of our executive team as they continued to implement some of the recommendations that the SIU did bring to our attention," he said.

President's proclamation

A 2014 proclamation by Zuma, which was amended the following year, referred two SITA-related matters to the SIU.

The one matter related to SITA and multinational IBM SA (Pty) Ltd and was based on an agreement dated April 30, 2013. The second matter entailed agreements between SITA and private company The iFirm, dated April 4, 2014 and May 21, 2014.

The amended proclamation said the SIU investigations were to look into allegations including "serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of the SITA", unlawful conduct by SITA employees and any "irregular or unapproved acquisitive act, transaction, measure or practice".

According to the SIU's 2016/2017 annual report, under the headline "investigation outcomes” dealing with the IBM and The iFirm, it said "the value of potential loss prevented" was R83 470 380.

Whistle blowing and stolen laptops

In the IBM matter, SITA's internal audit department had launched an internal investigation in 2013 into concerns relating to whistleblowing about "specific agreements entered into between SITA and IBM", Mohapi said last week.

In the case of The iFirm, which is headed by former Western Cape and Gauteng police commissioner Mzwandile Petros, it was appointed in February 2014 on an emergency procurement basis.

Mohapi said this was "following a break-in at the SITA Centurion offices in which 10 laptops were stolen".

An SIU presentation to Parliament in October 2016 on its 2015/2016 annual report said that the SITA contract awarded to The iFirm was valued at R265m.

About two weeks ago, News24 reported that the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria had ruled in June that the May 21, 2014 agreement between SITA and The iFirm was "constitutionally invalid". It was found that SITA’s actions in entering the agreement in the first place, even though it later tried to reverse this, were "deplorable".

READ: 'Deplorable' SITA investigation deal with Gauteng's ex-top cop scrapped

Last week, despite this seemingly scathing ruling against SITA, Mohapi reacted positively to it.

"It was an absolute win for SITA specifically, and a governance win for the public sector in general," he said.

"SITA believed that this contract was against Section 217 of the Constitution and therefore it embarked on a legal process to have it set aside. The ruling is important and precedent setting."

Mohapi said it sent out a clear message to those in the information and communications technology sector about the corporate ethos with which SITA conducted business.

While some details about the probe into The iFirm were made public due to the court case, the findings relating to the IBM SA deal have not yet been handed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and have not been made public.

SIU probe finalised

SIU head of communications, Nazreen Pandor, told News24 about a week ago that the investigation into IBM had been finalised and a report on this would be handed to Ramaphosa.

No date for this was provided.

The bidding form for the tender awarded to IBM SA said it was for the "provision of a cloud computing infrastructure solution for a period of five years with an optional further two years".

In December 2017, City Press reported that it had documents which indicated that SITA officials tried to reverse Zuma's proclamation relating to the SIU investigation into the IBM SA agreement. 

READ: How do you stop a probe into a R1bn contract? Ask state tech agency SITA

It had also reported that in November 2012, IBM's bid response to a cloud computing tender was disqualified, but that, based on a July 2014 internal audit report, it got the cloud computing contract "via the back door" when it signed an integrated supply agreement.

'Committed to business ethics'

IBM issued a response to News24 queries on the matter saying: "IBM is aware of the proclamations in the Government Gazette referring certain matters for investigation by the Special Investigation Unit. 

"IBM is committed to principles of business ethics, to conducting itself ethically and lawfully in all matters, and to maintaining IBM's high standards of business integrity. We have no further comment."

Read more on:    fda  |  sita  |  corruption
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