Dodgy R1.2 billion school networks tender in the crosshairs

Communications minister Mondli Gungubele has demanded that the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) board answer for irregularities surrounding a R1.2 billion tender, City Press reports.

The Sita board will discuss the findings of a report regarding the irregularities on Tuesday, 31 October 2023, before deciding on a way forward.

The contract was awarded to an alleged undeserved bidder — Blue Network Consortium — and the portfolio committee on communications and digital technologies previously demanded that Gungubele account for the decision.

The tender related to providing local area network services to Western Cape schools, and bidder Sizwe Africa IT Group threatened legal action against Sita and the department, given the irregularities in the awarding of the tender.

In turn, the minister asked the Sita board for answers and demanded that action be taken against those involved in the decision.

However, dissatisfied with its response, Gungubele dissolved the board that oversaw the process in July 2023 before appointing an interim board a couple of days later.

The interim board commissioned a report about the tender, which allegedly recommended that Sita withdraw it.

It also allegedly recommended that two senior executives face disciplinary action over the tender irregularities.

“On 2 September, the Sita board informed the Western Cape Department of Education that it was withdrawing its initial recommendation and advised it to inform the Blue Network Consortium to disengage from the tender,” City Press quoted an anonymous source as saying.

Sita spokesperson Tlali Tlali told the paper that the report will be discussed by the board on Tuesday, 31 October 2023, after which it will decide on the way forward.

“The decision to commission the investigation into this tender will enable [Gungubele] to provide a comprehensive report to Parliament,” said Tlali.

In July 2023, the portfolio committee for communications wanted the minister to explain why Sita breached supply chain management regulations regarding publishing and awarding the tender.

This was after Sizwe Africa IT Group, which lost the bid to the Blue Network Consortium, complained of material irregularities in adjudicating and awarding the contract.

Portfolio committee spokesperson Makhosonke Maneli wrote to Gungubele regarding the irregularities.

“The Auditor-General had previously raised key control deficiencies that contributed to a qualified audit opinion on Sita in 2019/20 due to noncompliance with supply chain management prescripts and a lack of contract management controls, which had led to irregular expenditure,” Maneli wrote.

“Furthermore, the AG’s report for 2021/22 emphasised that the entity would need to strengthen its oversight of internal controls relating to credible financial reporting to curb future financial mismanagement.”

Gungubele gave Sita a one-week deadline to provide a full background on the awarding of the tender and to update him on the status of “consequence management” against those implicated in the decision to award it.

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Dodgy R1.2 billion school networks tender in the crosshairs