SITA’s administrator refutes ties with Ndabeni-Abrahams’s hubby

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Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, communications and digital technologies minister.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, communications and digital technologies minister.

State IT Agency (SITA) executive caretaker Luvuyo Keyise has denied allegations that he shares close ties with minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams’s husband, Thato Abrahams.

This, after an IOL report alleged that Keyise and Abrahams’s husband are familiar with each other, resulting in “interference” by the latter in SITA business.

Writing in his personal capacity, the SITA caretaker refutes claims that he enjoys a “personal relationship” with the minister’s spouse.

He states: “Contrary to recent media reports, I, Luvuyo Keyise, do not have and have never had, a personal relationship with Mr Thato Abrahams, the husband of minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

“I have only met him in the course of my official duties as the State Information Technology Agency executive caretaker, at events where Mr Abrahams has accompanied his wife.

“As a person, I would not leverage my personal relationships in the course of doing business and I condemn any internal and external forces attempting to prevent me from doing my work and carrying out my duties, as the executive caretaker of SITA.”

As the communications and digital technologies minister, Ndabeni-Abrahams is charged with overseeing ICT-related departments and entities, including SITA.

In addition to developing ICT-focused policies and legislation, her department has the critical role in shaping the country’s response to the fourth industrial revolution.

The SITA issue is not the first time the minister’s husband has faced allegations of conflict of interest in relation to ICT companies.

Earlier this year, reports surfaced that the owner of a multibillion-rand tech company, Yekani Manufacturing, claimed his business was going under because he refused to sell a controlling stake to the minister’s husband.

Yekani – an ICT company – officially launched the R1 billion electronics factory in the East London Industrial Development Zone in June 2018.

The Sunday Times reported that Yekani alleged the Industrial Development Corporation introduced Abrahams to company CEO Siphiwe Cele as an “investor” who would buy a “majority stake” in his business “for R1 billion”.

It alleged Ndabeni-Abrahams was deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services at the time, raising a potential conflict of interest because Yekani, which also made smartphones, fell under her sphere of influence.

The report said after Cele declined to sell to Abrahams, his business ran into trouble and his pleas for government help – to save his company and the jobs of more than 500 employees – fell on deaf ears.

However, Cele came out to refute the claims.

A repurposed SITA

Keyise joined SITA in December last year to lead the embattled state entity through its journey of being repurposed. He was appointed to the position for a period of 24 months.

Announcing his appointment at the time, Ndabeni-Abrahams said part of SITA’s repurposing is to turn into a new digital transformation agency that will drive digitalisation, innovation, localisation and supporting a capable state.

The government IT agency has a long history of accusations of corruption and lack of service delivery, among other issues. Faced with these challenges, Members of Parliament reportedly also called for it to be closed, as it is failing to fix IT systems at several government departments.

At the 2019 GovTech conference, hosted by SITA, Ndabeni-Abrahams alluded to future changes, saying the IT agency of the past is not what is going to be seen in 2020/2021.

Last December, the minister detailed what the changes entailed, saying for too long the state IT agency has been acting as a procurement agency for government, but that has to change.

SITA has a bigger role to play in the fourth industrial revolution, especially in affording an opportunity to SMEs and local solutions that must find expression to government, she emphasised.

According to her, repurposing SITA is in line with government’s digital transformation plan, which requires an audit of current government IT spend and interventions in order to identify champions and priorities related to the ease of doing business and provision of crucial services to the citizens.

“We had to make sure we appoint an administrator to take SITA through this process of it being repurposed and address the immediate challenges that have been raised by various departments in relation to the work that it is doing,” she said at the time.

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