Home affairs sets new deadline to deliver biometrics project

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 27 Jan 2021
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is looking to conclude its biometrics tender by the end of the year.

So says Siya Qoza, DHA ministerial spokesperson, after the department received a preliminary forensic investigation report into the awarding of the botched Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) tender.

The ABIS system was supposed to be up and running after 12 months but this hasn’t happened yet. The contract was awarded in 2015.

Implementation of the ABIS system was delayed after the missing of master files in the contract, with EOH prompting the DHA to launch a forensic audit on how the tender was awarded.

The preliminary report’s assessment of the process, according to officials, has now been presented to the DHA but the department remains mum on its findings, saying it’s waiting for the final report.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi has since last year been making amends to salvage the controversial multimillion-rand project, which saw the department slapping technology services company EOH with a R44 million penalty over delays in the implementation of the project.

In his presentation to the portfolio committee last year, Motsoaledi revealed that out of the R400 million contract, R224 million had already been spent on services, infrastructure and software. The budget still available for the project is R129 million.

Commenting on the progress of the project, Qoza says: “The project is still continuing with its implementation on the basis of the signed master services agreement between DHA and EOH. EOH has not been released from its obligations.

“The DHA intends to finalise the ABIS issues before the end of the current calendar year, to ensure phase one of the project goes live into production.”

“A preliminary report has been handed over to the department. The department awaits the final report.”

Ructions over the contract have been growing since November, when reports emerged that recommendations had been made to the department that the contract be ceded to French multinational technology company IDEMIA.

It is this recommendation that has caused controversy, with questions being asked as to why a subcontractor that was part of a consortium that failed to deliver the ABIS system on time should be the one to take over.

IDEMIA’s empowerment credentials as per the tender requirements were also flagged as a concern because it’s a French-headquartered company.

Motsoaledi, however, denied IDEMIA was the preferred company to take over the project from EOH.

He added that the DHA was considering various rescue plans, including the ceding of the contract on condition that such action doesn’t lead to excessive additional costs.

The matter was then referred to National Treasury for guidance.

“The matter is still under consideration at National Treasury, including additional information that has been requested,” Qoza tells ITWeb.