SITA blames budget constraints for poor service delivery

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 13 Nov 2019
SITA acting CEO Ntutule Tshenye.
SITA acting CEO Ntutule Tshenye.

The State Information Technology Agency’s (SITA’s) future is under the spotlight following accusations of corruption and lack of service delivery, among other issues.

This after IOL reported this week that MPs were calling on SITA to be shut down.

SITA has acknowledged it is facing several challenges resulting in it failing to fix IT systems for government departments.

However, SITA’s acting CEO, Ntutule Tshenye, argues the sixth administration ushered in an era of an urgent need for increased service in a period of unprecedented budget constraints.

“The pressure and tension of aligning services within this dichotomy is real and is faced by every single state-owned enterprise and government departments throughout the public service ecosystem.

“ICT, even within the context of the emerging fourth industrial revolution, remains a niched service delivery tool, and standardisation of ICT systems has not yet been implemented into the entire government ecosystem across all public service platforms,” says Tshenye in an e-mail to ITWeb.

Discussions on the future of SITA took place at a meeting of the home affairs committee, where the department complained about IT system failures and a R200 million contract that was probed by the auditor-general, says IOL.

The Department of Home Affairs has been vocal in its criticism of SITA, regularly blaming the IT agency for the outages it frequently suffers, thereby inhibiting service delivery to citizens.

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is also not pleased with SITA’s performance.

Tshenye says Ndabeni-Abrahams met with SITA employees in December 2018, and outlined her service delivery expectations and changes that can be anticipated in the sixth administration.

Kick-starting changes

Subsequently, he says, SITA’s executive leadership and the department have had numerous iterations, meetings and strategic sessions to engage on the re-purposing and rationalisation of state-owned companies.

“The views and strategic direction are aligned and entirely consistent with the new SITA business model which locates SITA as the digital transformation partner for government,” says Tshenye.

“Furthermore, within a dynamic and fast-paced ICT sphere, it should be normal business practice in both the public and private sectors to continuously review the value and impact of organisations.

“The discussions, debates and engagements with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies will remain ongoing and feedback will be given within the new financial year when the transitioning and implementation of the changes are expected to be kick-started.”

He notes the objectives and role for a government IT agency like SITA remain pronounced and profound, and will remain critical as service delivery continues to be automated and enabled through IT.

On the challenges SITA is facing, Tshenye says legacy systems still exist in certain departments, impacting on the quality of the service rendered and the ability to absorb the increasing citizen demand.

He points out new systems require a completely new culture, new sub-sets of tools and standards and supporting legislation.

Lack of finance is another issue SITA is grappling with, he adds.

“The austere financial environment and the impact of budget cuts not only affects a department’s ability to replace legacy infrastructure with the updated version that is needed for agile ICT-driven operations, but also its ability to invest in staff with the requisite skills, processes and technological training required to remedy the known risks within the government environment.”

Identical goal

Addressing the MPs’ concerns, Tshenye says the key takeout from the conversations is that all parties are interested in the same outcome, which is improved service delivery.

The focus needs to be on how to achieve this within the current environment, he says.

“In order to find solutions, it is important to move into a space that facilitates positive and constructive debate and engagement to enhance the service delivery environment.

“The new SITA business model is to work in partnership with government, where we collaborate to digitally transform and modernise ICT services to meet citizen expectations, needs and demands. This partnership is premised on SITA’s ability to monitor, report on and evaluate the ICT value chain across the service management spectrum.

“The implementation of this kind of conceptualisation, through the SITA-departmental partnership, will enable government departments to deliver on their respective mandates and improve the lives of our end-users – public servants, departments and ultimately citizens.”

Regarding complaints from home affairs, Tshenye says: “The services the Department of Home Affairs offers to citizens are critical from cradle to grave. This important nature of their work is why we, as the State Information Technology Agency, have provided them with a customised proposal, which includes a revised approach and a solution for customers consuming services in remote locations.

“We are in an era where accountability, responsibility and taking ownership for both successes and failures must become part of the new service delivery standard. As SITA, we are fully willing to account for our role, and hold everybody within the SITA service delivery value chain to the same standard that we are willing to uphold.”

Leon Rolls, president of Progressive Blacks in ICT.
Leon Rolls, president of Progressive Blacks in ICT.

Facing reality

Meanwhile, lobby group Progressive Blacks in ICT (PBICT) has responded to calls that SITA must be shut down.

Leon Rolls, president of PBICT, says: “Our view is that the call to shut an entity just because it has corrupt people working in it is not the solution unless it is for the purpose of hiding the very corruption to protect some people implicated.”

He comments that SITA is not the most effective agency and doesn’t give work to black SMMEs.

“However, we must put all differences aside and face the reality that SITA cannot be shut down. The legislation can be amended to repurpose, re-engineer and re-invent SITA. The entire board and executive can be changed; the SITA mandate can be amended; the corrupt can be suspended with immediate effect and taken to task. These are quick wins to fix SITA.”

Rolls adds government departments should not play innocent to the inefficiencies and corruption taking place at SITA.

“There must be an independent investigation instituted on the operations of SITA, more looking at tenders awarded on behalf of departments to identify and charge those CIOs that make demands on SITA to appoint certain service providers or demand for specification to be changed just to suit their friends.”

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies had not responded to ITWeb’s requests for comment at the time of publishing.