Where is 'Who am I'?

Johannesburg, 22 Oct 2008

“Who am I online”, the controversial Department of Home Affairs (DHA) ICT project, faces another potential derailment, with a resolution passed by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs calling for its suspension.

The “Who am I online (I am I said)” project was awarded to a consortium headed by GijimaAst in October last year and officially signed in July. It has since been plagued by allegations of irregularities.

Before requests for proposals for the deal went out, the DHA said the deal would be valued at R1.9 billion. However, once the deal was signed, the value escalated to R2.5 billion. According to a statement by the Democratic Alliance on yesterday's meeting, the cost has now spiralled to just under R4 billion.

Yesterday's meeting saw the committee call for the suspension of the project, with immediate effect. The panel said it also wants to meet with the home affairs minister, its DG and the auditor-general to discuss the matter and “get answers to our questions and concerns”.

Need to know

“Questions about the procedure followed in awarding the work of the project and its apparent failure - particularly in the light of the forthcoming election - all remain unanswered after several months,” says DA spokesman for the committee, Mark Lowe.

This is not the first time this year the committee has raised concerns about the project. In June, home affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula referred the deal to the AG, after politicians raised concerns.

However, the department was convinced the deal had been conducted transparently and cleanly. The result of the AG's investigation has not yet been released.

The DHA awarded the “Who am I online (I am I said)” project to the GijimaAst-led consortium not long after former SITA CEO Mavuso Msimang was appointed director-general of home affairs and former SITA chief of strategic services Jonas Bogoshi joined GijimaAst as CEO. The career moves immediately triggered innuendo.

Ready for 2010

The “Who am I online” project has been touted as a key component in the DHA's turnaround strategy. It also forms a major part of government's preparations for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The project could potentially revolutionise the DHA by providing access to two core systems to branch offices and field teams. The national population register (NPR) and the Home Affairs National Information System (Hanis) have, to date, only been accessible to officials at the DHA's Watloo, Pretoria, head office.

The lack of access to these systems has caused the issuance of urgent documentation to take up to a week. With positive biometric verification at DHA offices around the country, temporary identity documents can be issued immediately.

The NPR is a mainframe database that contains the identity records of every South African citizen, resident and deported illegal, while the Hanis automated fingerprint identification system contains their photographs and fingerprints. Hanis is used to verify identity and acts as a “guard dog” for the NPR.

“Who am I” will allow DHA officials, border guards and immigration officers countrywide to check anyone's identity against the NPR and Hanis. “Who am I” will also simplify the visa application process for foreigners - which is why it is meant to be part of government's 2010 preparations.

Home affairs and State IT Agency officials were in meetings and could not be reached at the time of publication. GijimaAst was also unavailable for immediate comment.

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