No smart card IDs

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 02 Mar 2010

While the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) will push to complete its smart card ID project, an outstanding forensic audit and funding woes are likely to delay the process further.

Last year, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) announced it was looking to award the tender for its long-awaited smart ID card project within the current financial year. This followed the cancellation of the project in August 2009 and requests by the DHA to restart the tender process.

The DHA was mandated by Cabinet to replace the national identity document with a smart ID card. The smart cards, which will have embedded chips in them, are set to be used for a number of functions, such as the payment of pensions and social grants. Other possible uses are being considered.

The project was originally supposed to be piloted at the end of 2008, using pensioners as the sample group, but this did not happen. In March last year, ITWeb reported the pilot was delayed and it would take about three months to start once the tender to manufacture the ID cards had been awarded. The project was instead cancelled.

A forensic report requested by the State IT Agency (SITA) in 2008 on the tender process has yet to be released. The agency says the report is yet to be validated by the DHA, and meetings are to be held between the DHA and the Department of Public Service and Administration.

Funding has also not been finalised. Initially, government revealed the anticipated cost of the project would reach R6 billion, but it is unclear whether this figure would be applicable to the new tender. While the budget is unknown, the department allocated R114 million to the project in June 2008 for the 2009/10 financial year.

The department was set to receive an additional R335 million for the following financial year, but it is still unclear whether this has been approved.

Long wait

Despite experiencing delays for over five years, the DHA says the smart card ID project is still one of its crucial plans. In 2001, the project was approved by Cabinet, but the DHA only received approval for the procuring of smart card IDs in 2005.

The department was then asked to resubmit a plan for the project in the same year, following concerns raised by parliamentary committee members. In 2006, the project was put on hold by former Home Affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, while an investigation of the department and all its projects was carried out.

Following the audit of the department, Mapisa-Nqakula announced the smart ID card would be piloted in 2008 and the managed roll-out of the smart ID card was planned to happen over five to eight years, beginning in 2009.

SITA was requested to administer and run the smart ID card tender process on behalf of the department and the tender was published in May 2008. The process was, however, delayed after SITA requested a forensic investigation. While the audit was scheduled to be completed in January 2009, it was not completed on time.

The DHA cancelled the tender in August 2009, saying it had run out of funding following the delays and would have to re-motivate for additional funding.

Related story:
Smart ID card is resurrected