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'Deliberate' manual systems at SITA prone to manipulation

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 19 Feb 2024
The turnaround times in the supply chain space at SITA have been found to be extremely slow and long.
The turnaround times in the supply chain space at SITA have been found to be extremely slow and long.

A ministerial task team (MTT) has determined the skills and systems within the State IT Agency’s (SITA’s) procurement ambit to be wanting, resulting in prolonged delays and backlogs.

This is according to SITA acting MD Simphiwe Dzengwa, presenting the MTT’s findings to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies.

The MTT was appointed in December 2023, at the behest of communications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele, to look at challenges, especially the procurement backlogs, afflicting SITA, as well as find alternative ways of enhancing how the agency performs its business.

Dzengwa told committee members that setting up the MTT came about following various engagements with stakeholders, as well as escalations from other ministries.

Among the grievances was that SITA is not adding value and is not assisting ministries to fulfil their various mandates, he noted.

Presenting the findings on behalf of the MTT, the newly-appointed acting MD said the task team observed a few challenges; namely, the turnaround times in the supply chain space at SITA are extremely slow and long, and capacity, both in terms of skills and human resources within the procurement space, is “rather wanting”.

“There are glaring vacancies and the skills of those that are there seem to be limited. SITA's management, with due respect, seems to have allowed the procurement department to operate manually.

“This absence of an electronic procurement system has affected efficiency, but also has led to unnecessary errors and mistakes, if not outright manipulation of the manual system. We found that was a bit deliberate in certain instances.

“The MTT also found that some tenders – right at an advanced stage – after a long-drawn-out process of going through various committees, are cancelled. When we inquired about the reasons, we were told that in most instances, it’s about wrong specifications: items which you would have expected to be covered and attended to right at the beginning of the process, so that after probing and all these other steps, there is a greater level of comfort that everything has been above board and attended to accordingly.”

Dzengwa further stated the MTT observed lack of accountability and proper reporting, especially to clients that submit their matters to SITA, which affects and strains the relationship.

“For example, once you submit an item to SITA, you hardly ever get a response, you hardly ever get to know where your submission is at – unless you know someone at SITA and you interact with that person accordingly – which is not a good way of doing things. Absence of consequence management seems to have favoured this kind of an environment, which is a problem for everyone.

“The lack of transparency within the procurement space in the organisation seems to have been a deliberate ploy to hide some of the irregularities committed by officials. At least for now, this has led to some suspensions and disciplinary cases that are being conducted currently.

“The absence of proactiveness in managing current contracts has led to a situation where there's unpredictability, cost overruns – where contracts are extended on a month-to-month basis because there's no long-term planning. There's no early warning system that indicates which contracts are coming to an end so that interventions are made accordingly.”

SITA acting MD Simphiwe Dzengwa.
SITA acting MD Simphiwe Dzengwa.

SITA’s procurement processes have long been criticised, with former CEO Dr Setumo Mohapi previously describing large-scale corruption uncovered in supply chain management and human capital management as destroying the soul and essence of SITA.

The manual processes have been an ongoing challenge for the government IT procurement arm. In 2021, SITA told ITWeb it would focus on its electronic document management system to improve internal controls and accountability in the implementation of procurement processes.

According to Dzengwa, the MTT made some recommendations, which are already being executed.

“Some of them were, firstly, as members would know, the chief procurement officer was suspended and there is a consequence management process being followed. To ensure things don't fall apart, an acting chief procurement officer has been appointed to better transform that space and make sure all the challenges that are there are being attended to with urgency.

“Secondly, there's been a recommendation that there has to be some skills review, to make sure people who manage procurement issues are well-equipped, well-qualified, have the technical know-how to guide the process so that there are no cancellations, delays or irregularities.”

The acting MD has been tasked with coordinating all these interventions to improve the annual performance plan, transform SITA to attend to all the procurement backlogs and set it towards better performance and improvement in how it relates to various departmental stakeholders.

“Next is the appointment of additional capacity service providers in the supply chain process, to assist in processing all the backlog items, but also to conduct probity on those items that are being processed so that there are no unmanageable backlogs within that space,” he told MPs.