R140 million website: more startling revelations

The Sowetan newspaper revealed on Monday (4 March 2013) that The Free State provincial government spent R140 million on its website.

According to the report the website development agreement was signed with businessman Tumi Ntsele, who reportedly holds tenders with several other provincial departments.

“According to the contract, Cherry Online, Juggernaut, and Ikamva Joint Venture, in which Ntsele has a 74% stake, won the tender despite two companies in the final round of bidding submitting applications with significantly lower prices,” the Sowetan reported.

Free State director general Elzabe Rockman signed a three-year contract to redesign the website in 2011, the Sowetan newspaper reported.

She had reportedly disputed the amount, claiming it was actually R40m.

Cherry Online Design

MyBroadband contacted Cherry Online Design, the company which designed the Free State online website, to learn more about the website design and the costs associated with the project.

The Cherry Online Design receptionist confirmed that they designed the website, but said that all questions about the website should be directed to the Free State provincial government.

The receptionist said that ‘her boss’ told her that she may not give out any information about the company or the website. She would also not say who ‘her boss’ is, or who owned the company.

The Cipro website shows that Cherry Online Design was registered in January 2007, but no owner details are listed.

Curiously the online design company does not have a website. It does, however, have a Facebook page founded on 12 August 2011 which states “We do webdesign,Graphic Design and software development”.

Cherry Online Design Facebook Page
Cherry Online Design Facebook Page

The Facebook page was littered with negative comments after the Sowetan article was published.

“How you people sleep at night is amazing. I hope you know that the tax payer money you stole could have helped so many people if you weren’t busy stealing it. Disgusting to say the least,” said Bloemfontein resident Richard Andrew Marsh.

Other comments include “Corrupt thieves”, “Bloody thieves, you lot” and “Thieving gits! Have you no shame”.

Cherryonline.co details

The Cherryonline domain (http://www.cherryonline.co/), which is listed on the Free State Online website, is hosted by Afrihost on behalf of Neil Sonnekus from SSN Investments.

SSN Investments changed its name to Cherry-Online Designs 11 January 2012, the CIPC website shows.

The ‘.co’ domain name is a top-level domain originally assigned to Colombia, but is widely used as an alternative to .com domains.

Cherry Online website
Cherry Online website

Simple WordPress design

Consumers were quick to highlight that the Free State Online website uses a WordPress theme (London Live), priced at $40.

While there were some changes to the theme, it would not take an experienced web designer more than a few days to complete such a redesign from a WordPress theme.

Free State Online website home page
Free State Online website home page
London Live WordPress theme
London Live WordPress theme

Website maintenance questions

The Free State Online website is not updated particularly often. According to the website’s ‘recent additions’ list there were only 5 new articles over the last 3 months.

The website’s comment system contains spam comments, which raises questions about the level of maintenance on the website.

Free State Online spam comments
Free State Online spam comments

Another problem is that the website is poorly indexed in Google. Not even the prominent sections of the website are listed in the world’s most popular search engine.

Free State Online Google search
Free State Online Google search

The website’s source code further revealed that the site is running an old version of WordPress (3.4.1), which may point to the fact that the CMS is not updated regularly and which may pose security risks.

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R140 million website: more startling revelations