SITA CEO struggles to fill key C-suite roles

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 19 Sept 2023
State IT Agency CEO Dr Bongani Mabaso. (Photograph by Karolina Komendera)
State IT Agency CEO Dr Bongani Mabaso. (Photograph by Karolina Komendera)

While it has proven difficult to fill vacant top management positions at the State IT Agency (SITA), CEO Dr Bongani Mabaso says it is not stepping off the gas in making sure this is realised.

Mabaso was speaking to ITWeb on the sidelines of last week’s GovTech 2023 conference, providing an update on his first six months as CEO of the embattled SITA.

Shortly after taking the position, Mabaso told ITWeb about the vacant positions within SITA’s structure, describing these as fundamental for any organisation.

At the time, he noted SITA does not have a chief information security officer, chief information officer and chief operations officer. He said efforts were under way to fill the latter role urgently.

However, filling these positions has “proven more challenging” than anticipated. “We’ve had a couple of interviews, for example, for my executive infrastructure. We had two rounds of interviews and couldn’t find anyone. In another round, some people pulled away at the interview stage,” reveals Mabaso.

“I think it’s just looking at how do we repackage some of those roles to be much more appealing to people; it’s definitely something that is still a focus.

“Another one [focus] is to make sure we can increase the level of female participation in our exco…for me, that is very important. Otherwise, you don’t foster innovation if you are all male and look the same; you need differences of opinion. We need to ensure there is at least a couple of orders of magnitude increase in the number of female executives within SITA.”

Commenting on what could be the cause of these roles’ lack of appeal, he believes there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to change perceptions in the public sector.

“If we don’t find a way to make it attractive to professionals, skilled, young, old and diverse people, we’re going to continue to have challenges. I don’t think it’s a SITA thing only; I think it’s a public sector-wide issue that we have to resolve.

“I’m trying to play my role in bringing a positive message and trying to remain positive in speaking for the public sector. This is our South Africa; and the young people that are here, we are the ones that are going to be running this country in the next five, to 10 or 20 years, or whatever the case may be. If we don’t participate in various aspects in its running, we’re going to inherit a country that we don’t want and don’t recognise.

“I’ll continue to make the call for more diverse and female people…to be flocking into SITA or various government departments and making a difference at the leadership level, senior and junior management level, everywhere.”

Restoring governance

SITA has often been by plagued by allegations of corruption and mismanagement, with claims of sluggish and irregular procurement processes.

Several government departments, particularly the Department of Home Affairs, have accused it of poor service delivery. It’s also been flagged by the auditor-general for irregular and wasteful expenditure.

Mabaso admits a lot still needs to be done in terms of strengthening governance within SITA, stressing the agency’s role is not to be corrupt, but to provision ICT to government and citizens.

He believes automation plays a critical role in ensuring ICT is secure and adheres to governance standards.

“E-procurement is something that we’ve driven hard; it’s something that I started focusing on since I joined. The team has made a lot of progress in getting an e-procurement solution finally running, as opposed to having a room full of procurement documents. Within the next few weeks, we’re going to have the first version of that actually running.

“We must never lose focus of our actual goal. Governance, for me, must be a servant to that…it needs to be there to make sure things are done properly, improve speed and make sure we do things in a competitive way.”

Commenting on leadership stability, in reference to the recent changes to the SITA board, Mabaso noted the process to learn the new board and acclimatise has started, but it’s still early days.

SITA’s board recently underwent a major shake-up prompted by salary disagreements, resulting in communications minister Mondli Gungubele removing the board chairperson and several other directors.

The friction between the minister and the SITA board was triggered by an adjustment to the CEO’s remuneration, which requires the minister's approval.

“Like any change, it’s going to take time to find each other. We have a [strategy] session soon where we can hopefully find alignment on a whole host of issues,” Mabaso notes.

“I’m looking forward to that and hopefully that settles things down. I think it’s normal that in any organisation that if you have changes like that, they will be somewhat disruptive. I don’t think anything is meant with ill intent; it’s all meant in a way to strengthen the organisation and take it forward.”

Fending off load-shedding

Meanwhile, with rolling blackouts still in full swing, Mabaso states load-shedding is not a simple issue to solve and is a problem for all organisations.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies previously revealed SITA is one of its entities hardest-hit by the rolling power cuts.

Government’s IT procurement arm was said to have seen diesel replenishment costs shoot up from R8.9 million in 2022, to R60.8 million so far in 2023, representing a 246% year-on-year increase.

“We have backup and dual redundancy in some cases, especially for our most critical data centres. We do have some tactical plans around installing solar or looking at renewable energy in general for some of our switching centres.

“For example, having solar capacity that charges up a UPS and then still have your generator as a last backup, in order to switch appropriately. I don’t think it’s one or the other; it has to be multiple solutions combined to combat the impact of load-shedding.”

As to the timeline of the entity’s clean energy plans, he notes it shouldn’t take long. “With renewables, it is just around diversification and making sure we decrease our diesel costs. Our diesel costs went up quite a lot, so we are now saying: let’s diversify as a way to contain runway costs in diesel, but also as a way to minimise environmental impact.”