Real reason Home Affairs systems are always down — it is getting what it pays for

State Information Technology Agency (SITA) boss Luvuyo Keyise has hit back at the Minister of Home Affairs after the Minister suggested that his department’s ills can all be traced back to SITA.

In a Budget Vote debate at the National Council of Provinces, Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the IT system is the “original sin” of Home Affairs.

To resolve their problems, Home Affairs has asked National Treasury to exempt them from having to procure IT services through SITA.

“We have actually identified why [the South African Revenue Service] doesn’t have systems down,” Motsoaledi said.

“It’s because it has been exempted from getting these services through SITA and we are working with Treasury to do that.”

However, Keyise said that Home Affairs’ problems are not SITA’s fault, but due to the department’s own ineptitude and unwillingness to pay for the quality of service it actually needs.

Keyise also explained that SITA does not even directly supply many of the services Home Affairs uses.

“Home Affairs has procured companies through SITA that run and manage its systems,” he said.

It is also not the fault of these companies that Home Affairs’ systems are always offline.

Aaron Motsoaledi
Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi

The main problem, Keyise said, is that Home Affairs has decided to buy the cheapest possible IT services that come with the lowest service level agreements.

“They buy a bronze service, which offers a 16 business hours turnaround time on issues,” explained Keyise.

SITA has asked Home Affairs to consider upgrading to a platinum-tier service, which will give them all the redundancy they need and a far more stringent service level agreement.

Keyise said that with a platinum service, problems must be resolved within an hour. However, due to the redundancies the service comes with any outage is usually mitigated within minutes.

With the bronze service Home Affairs insists on buying, many of its offices still run on a single 2Mbps copper-based ADSL connection with a very basic service level agreement.

If the ADSL goes offline, there is no backup in place, and the office can’t function.

While some offices are being upgraded to fibre, they still don’t have any redundancies and a service level agreement not suitable to Home Affairs’ needs.

A platinum-tier service comes with several layers of backups, including microwave and satellite connectivity, so that if anything happens to the main broadband connection the whole Home Affairs office doesn’t grind to a halt.

Keyise said that a bronze-tier service would be fine for some government departments, such as the department of sport, arts, and culture.

For a busy services department like Home Affairs and the police, however, a much higher quality of service is required.

Keyise also said that the Minister was mistaken about the fact that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) received a special exemption from having to procure its IT services through SITA.

“There is no exemption. State-owned enterprises are not covered by the SITA Act,” stated Keyise.

Only national and provincial government departments are required to procure their service through SITA due because of the security and data privacy requirements, he said.

“I can also confirm that SARS is now partnering with SITA in the procurement of IT services,” said Keyise.

He added that SARS has, of its own free will, been buying services from SITA since 2003.

Even if Home Affairs somehow got an exemption from complying with the SITA Act, it will not fix its underlying issues.

“Being removed from SITA Act will not help Home Affairs with the fact that they are procuring a bronze service, or that they do not have capable IT management,” Keyise said.

Luvuyo Keyise, SITA executive caretaker and administrative authority

Another point of contention was the Minister’s statement that Home Affairs held meetings with the CEOs of IT service companies in South Africa at SITA’s headquarters in Centurion.

“That was a meeting we arranged!” Keyise said.

“We said, ‘You seem to not know what you’re doing. Can we help you by arranging this meeting,’” Keyise told MyBroadband.

He also stated that Home Affairs was informed by these same IT services companies that it will need to upgrade its systems.

For years, Home Affairs has not upgraded their systems and the department was advised that it will need to renew its ageing IT infrastructure if it is going to offer reliable services.

“You have what is happening at Eskom where the systems have not been properly maintained,” Keyise said.

Despite all these issues and Home Affairs’ choice to procure the cheapest possible services, Keyise said that SITA has offered to help them for free.

“Where they lack, SITA is there to help them. But it does not mean SITA will say yes to whatever they want,” he said.

According to Keyise, SITA has refused some of Home Affairs’ procurement requests to ensure they stay on the right side of the law.

Keyise said that Home Affairs blaming SITA for all of its problems feels like blackmail for not agreeing to some of the department’s procurement requests.

“The crux of the problem with Home Affairs is they want to get things for free and then blame SITA when it breaks.”

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Real reason Home Affairs systems are always down — it is getting what it pays for