Gauteng snubs key ICT projects

Johannesburg, 02 Mar 2010

SA's economic hub, Gauteng, followed the example set by national government in paying little attention to ICT in its budget.

Gauteng MEC for finance Mandla Nkomfe this morning presented the province's budget to the legislature. The budget focused on social security, employment growth, service delivery and proper management of public finances.

However, Nkomfe did not clarify several key ICT initiatives that are meant to spur economic growth in the province, but have recently been in the spotlight due to general mismanagement.

He did not mention the intelligent number plate project, which is due to come into force later this year and is meant to cut down on crime. No rural ICT projects were spoken of either, and the health smart card, which is meant to streamline public health care, was also ignored.

Key projects?

Neither the Gauteng Shared Services Centre (GSSC), nor the Blue IQ project received a mention in the budget. Blue IQ is meant to drive economic growth through major infrastructure projects, including ICT, but has been marred recently by financial mismanagement, tender irregularities and other concerns about its viability.

The GSSC, which centralises the province's technology projects, has also been in the spotlight due to its failure to pay provincial suppliers and its troubled Gauteng Online project. It was recently incorporated into the Gauteng Department of Finance following its woes.

Last year, R100 million was set aside for provincial ICT infrastructure programmes, but funding for the province's largest ICT infrastructure project - the Gauteng Link - has not been granted during the past year.

The broadband infrastructure project was not mentioned in this year's budget, but is estimated to cost between R15 billion and R35 billion, but has so far only received R9 million in the 2008/9 financial year.

Billions to spend

Gauteng, which contributes a third to SA's economy, will spend R61.7 billion in the 2010/11 financial year.

Unemployment was again highlighted as a key concern for government, with half of the 870 000 jobs lost in SA being in the province.

As a result, Gauteng's unemployment rate for the fourth quarter of 2009 reached 25.7%, an increase of about 5%. “When families suffer such losses, or when businesses are forced to close, this affects us all,” Nkomfe said.

However, he noted, the Department of Economic Development has completed the first phase of the Gauteng Industrial Policy. Among sectors that have been identified as job growth areas include ICTE, BPOO and the knowledge economy.

Gauteng also intends to improve the skills levels of learners, and has set aside R300 million to improve mathematical, literacy and technological skills, Nkomfe said.