SMEs accuse Gauteng Broadband Network of corruption

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The multibillion-rand Gauteng Broadband Network (GBN) has been hit by fresh allegations of corruption and non-compliance with the laws and regulations that govern the project, in a development that could potentially delay the implementation of phase two of the project.

A group of SMEs has accused provincial finance and e-government officials of maladministration, greed and nepotism, as the small business owners cry foul for being sidelined from the lucrative project.

The Department of e-Government was mandated to provide broadband connectivity to 3 000 Gauteng provincial government sites. Gauteng Broadband Network phase one commenced in 2014 and was completed early in 2019, with 1 181 sites connected.

Now, the department is embarking on phase two of the project and requested government IT agency, SITA, to implement GBN in the second stage of the project to connect the remaining sites. The estimated total value of this phase is R2.8 billion.

The components of GBN phase two include broadband/wide area network connectivity; local area network connectivity; the GBN core upgrade, which is required to accommodate the additional sites; and the services costs related to the additional sites.

The new contract is in addition to the R1.7 billion already spent by the Department of e-Government, pushing the project cost up to R4.5 billion.

The contract for phase one of the GBN was awarded to Altech Alcom Matomo, at a price of R1.2 billion, in 2013, for the building of a core network and connection of 450 sites. The tender for phase two of the GBN was also awarded to Altech Alcom Matomo, by SITA, at a contract value of R2.8 billion.

It is this, the second phase, which has now caused ructions between the SMEs and the department.

The SMEs, which are still engaging the department with the hope of a solution, declined to be named for now, for fear of jeopardising these ongoing efforts, but are adamant there are deficiencies when it comes to work allocated to smaller companies.

At the core of the fight is that 47 SMEs were allegedly presented in the budget documents of the project as being service providers, but only seven have actually been working on the project. Out of the seven, only four have been paid for their services rendered to the GBN project.

The SMEs claim corrupt provincial finance and e-government officials are the architects of their troubles as they favour working with bigger and established companies with deep pockets, despite a standing requirement that an empowerment partner must be included in the project.

Further, the group alleged officials in the department corruptly influenced the awarding of another contract, that of cyber security.

Gauteng government had a broader plan to protect the provincial government against increasing threats of cyber attacks, and the department planned to launch its own Government Security Operation Centre, but the project is allegedly under threat because of corruption, exposing the provincial IT infrastructure to cyber attacks.

The department denied this without providing answers to specific questions ITWeb posed to new Gauteng MEC of finance and e-government Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko.

The department’s spokesperson John Sukazi says: “In accordance with the SITA Act, as amended, the Department of e-Government requested SITA to implement the GBN phase two project. SITA is responsible for the delivery of GBN. All the questions should therefore be directed at SITA.

“The Department of e-Government has operated a 24/7/365 Security Operations Centre (SOC) since 2011. The current SOC contract has expired. In accordance with the SITA Act, as amended, the Department of e-Government has requested SITA to provide future SOC services to GPG. SITA has gone on tender and an award thereof is pending for the SOC service.”

The State IT Agency (SITA) did not respond to requests from ITWeb to address the allegations, with SITA spokesperson Anthea Summers later saying the agency would respond at a later time.

Broadband has been identified as a key foundation in the province's e-government strategy, which aims to modernise government operations and service delivery through technology. The GBN project falls under the stewardship of Gauteng’s finance MEC and head of the e-government department.

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