SITA admits large-scale corruption, outlines harsh penalties

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 14 May 2018
SITA CEO Setumo Mohapi.
SITA CEO Setumo Mohapi.

While legacy issues played a role in the compromised position the State IT Agency (SITA) finds itself in, two pivotal areas added to its woes: supply chain management and human capital management (HCM).

This is based on information SITA's executive committee became privy to following an internal forensic investigation into the organisation's operations, revealed CEO Setumo Mohapi. The CEO addressed journalists at a media briefing in Pretoria on Friday.

Over the years, SITA gained a reputation as the embattled government IT procurement arm; the result of corruption claims and irregular procurement practices levelled against it.

The perception about SITA, Mohapi acknowledged, is created from a certain reality. When the agency's executive committee started its investigation, aimed at rooting out corruption, it found evidence that supply chain management and HCM were highly compromised.

"You have an organisation that has a number of clean and hardworking individuals but around them is a critical mass of people destroying the soul and essence of SITA. This is not the majority of people at SITA but there is enough of them to establish a certain perception of SITA from the outside and influence how SITA is perceived even from inside as well."

Procurement headache

According to Mohapi, although SITA was not created to be a public procurement agency of ICT in government, it eventually focused on the procurement business. This is where the troubles started to manifest.

He pointed out that procurement is a tricky business in that it attracts strange bed-fellows and certain behaviours in people. This, however, is not unique to SA; it's a worldwide phenomenon, he continued.

"When SITA became more focused on procurement, a new culture started brewing in certain areas around the agency through individuals, groups of individuals in SITA and in the supply market, and also in the customer side.

"It turns out that the groups were almost orchestrated, relationships were created, and people played long plans. This further exacerbates the problem. It became common knowledge in the industry that the only way to succeed in the interaction with SITA is to bribe the people within SITA's supply chain function."

Trail of greed, corruption

A procurement process that has seen SITA flung into spotlight amid allegations of corruption involves the South African Police Services (SAPS), Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) and its owner, Keith Keating.

The Daily Maverick has been unravelling how corruption was at the centre of contracts entered into by the SAPS, FDA and SITA; revelations Mohapi confirmed are not news to the agency and that the reports are mostly true.

He stated that based on the forensic investigation, it appears that every single contract that SITA entered into with FDA was done so illegally.

So far, the information in the public domain as a result of the internal probes is true, he continued. "Largely, the facts are true. Where things are missing it's just a date here and there.

"That contracts or business cases that were created by third parties were found on laptops of SITA employees are true. Monies paid to SITA employees for school fees of kids, property, livestock, are all true. And this is not just one person; it is a number of people."

When SITA began operation clean-up in 2016, Mohapi said, the organisation had already picked up issues with the contracts with FDA and began to charge the people that were implicated.

"Concerning the amounts of money paid for these contracts, our view is that we have legitimate challenges on value-for-money delivered. Our view is that there was extensive collusion of an illegal nature. We'd like to acknowledge that there are a number of court cases with FDA and related companies that have been initiated by SITA."

Staff exodus

When SITA found evidence of compromised proceedings in the HCM department, the executive committee decided to institute disciplinary proceedings. This, according to Mohapi, resulted in a large number of the management core leaving the organisation following disciplinary proceedings and others left during the hearing investigations.

If the employee relations function is corrupted, then the bad people will never leave because they will always buy themselves off during disciplinary hearings, he said.

"In the interest of this organisation and the country, we were quite ruthless last year and did not blink in disciplining people that were involved in corruption at SITA. In May last year, the people that were facing internal SITA disciplinary procedures were dismissed; some left in June, July and August. Where there was indication there was potential criminal activity, we then filed charges with SAPS and the Hawks."

The CEO said 180 individuals linked to corruption activity are no longer SITA employees.

As a result of the investigation into FDA corruption, three SITA employees have been dismissed, five resigned and five are under suspension, Mohapi revealed. "We are stabilising and cleaning the organisation because we want to build it towards a future."

Mohapi also warned that people in government departments use SITA as a scapegoat, and say the agency doesn't work.

What is clear is that corruption is not orchestrated within SITA alone but a lot of it is controlled from the outside and the SITA people are probably enablers, he said. Despite this, the agency will continue its clean-up process.

"It's a journey that has a lot of pitfalls and curveballs, whereby people will try everything to try and derail the process. We'd like to give comfort to the public as well that the systems of government are safe and operating well. That SITA is in control in terms of culture, ethos, strategic framework and vision, and in control technically," he concluded.