Smart ID cards cancelled - for now

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 05 Mar 2010

Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has cancelled the smart card ID project, saying her department has run out of money after it used the R114 million allocated for the project “for other things”.

While Zuma previously highlighted the importance of the project, she has now stated the project will not continue in the current financial year, as no money has been allocated to it.

The department allocated R114 million for the project in June 2008, for the 2009/10 financial year. Another R335 million was expected to be allocated for the project for the following financial year, but the funding was not approved.

“In our budget, we don't have the money for the smart card... but once we have an alternative we will try to put in a bid in the next budget,” says Dlamini-Zuma.

The Department of Home Affairs (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.

However, the project was cancelled in August 2009, following requests by the DHA to restart the tender process.

“Having stopped the tender, the money went back to treasury and, with the recession and all the problems we have, the money was then used for other things, but we are still pursuing [the project],” says Dlamini-Zuma.

Still SITA?

Last year, she announced the DHA was looking to award the tender for the long-awaited smart ID card project within the current financial year.

Dlamini-Zuma, however, also publicly lambasted the State IT Agency (SITA) for the delays to the project, saying the agency didn't “do as it was supposed to do”, with tender irregularities leading to cancellation of the tender.

The DHA has also not yet released the findings of a forensic audit on the tender process. A forensic report was requested by SITA in 2008 on the tender process. The agency says the report is yet to be validated by the DHA.

“We are not sure whether we should go back to SITA, or be given an alternative way of dealing with [the tender]. So that is the situation we find ourselves in with the smart card,” Dlamini-Zuma explains.