The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is close to reaching an out-of-court settlement with IT company Gijima over the cancellation, last year, of it its controversial multibillion-rand “Who Am I Online” IT project. Gijima’s subcontractors include IBM, Siemens and identity management specialist Daon.
The South African Press Association reports home minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is hopeful of an early settlement. “It means if this matter is not settled it means we can’t move because if we move then they can claim that it is still under this contract,” she told a media briefing in Cape Town last week. “But we are almost at the end now and in the next couple of days, we’ll be able to report it properly but is not true that there is a settlement that is giving Gijima R2 billion. Absolutely not.”
She added: “For us what is important is that this matter should be behind us because we have to implement what was meant and if this matter is not gone through we are stuck, we are held to ransom, so it is very important for us to conclude and then move ahead.” The minister also said her department, the National Treasury and the SA Revenue Service (SARS) had been involved in the discussions that ensued after the department cancelled its contract with Gijima in April last year.
As advertised, Who am I?”, could potentially have revolutionised the department’s business by providing DHA branch offices and field teams fool-proof and crook-proof access to two core systems to, the national population register (NPR) and the Home Affairs National Information System (HANIS). These have, to date, only been accessible to officials at the DHA`s Waltloo head office, resulting in the issuance of urgent documentation taking at least a week.
The NPR is a mainframe database containing the identity records of every living South African citizen, resident and deported illegal – some 50 million, while the HANIS automated fingerprint identification system contains their photographs and fingerprints. HANIS is used to verify identity and acts as a “guard dog” for the national population register. The system could also be rolled out to the SA Police Service and the courts as part of the Integrated Criminal Justice System, allowing detectives and prosecutors to verify people’s identity against the complete national database, rather than the more limited police fingerprint databank that only contains the prints of those who have fallen foul of the law.
“Who am I” attracted controversy from the start. The State IT Agency (SITA) started the “Who am I” tender process in March 2006. In September 2006, after a tender evaluation process and oral presentations by the shortlisted companies, Gijima was recommended as the successful bidder. But the company was not awarded the tender as the process was delayed when the then-Home Affairs minister appointed a task team to review the department’s IT projects, operations and find a new director general as part of a “turnaround strategy”. Following a recommendation by the team, ex-SITA CE Mavuso Msimang was selected as the Home Affairs director-general in May 2007. Gijima was then awarded the tender, sparking rumours in many quarters. Another controversy was the cost of the project. Costs reportedly spiralled from an initial R1.9 billion to an alleged R4 billion by 2009.
Gijima has maintained it has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, saying it had no role in the adjudication process and the reported escalation of costs. It this week insisted it has “fulfilled its obligations and continues to perform in terms of the contract with an extensive and experienced team dedicated full-time to the project”. The black-owned company last year said it can approach the High Court for a declaratory order to confirm the validity of the contract. Gijima has said it will consider all available options to keep the contract alive. It maintained that the contract is valid while the DHA has never said why the contract was declared invalid in April last year, just before the soccer World Cup.
The DHA then asked the SARS for help. The DHA in December 2008 also separately contracted the European-based Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA) – not to be confused with the South African SITA – to install its I Borders Advance Passenger Processing (APP) border management solution. This successfully processed more than 1.5 million passengers in June and July last year. 350 were subjected to extra examination while more than 60 people were stopped from entering because their names appeared on South Africa’s Visa and Entry Stop List or watch lists provided by Interpol and soccer’s governing body FIFA.