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Probe into AI internship programme leads to suspensions

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A forensic investigation by the Gauteng Department of E-government into its artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics training programme has resulted in the suspension of two senior managers.

The department has confirmed this, saying the “implementation of the findings of this investigation is under way”.

The terms of the specialised-skills programme were set up so that 45 ambitious youth would receive training in AI, semantic texting and robotics. The training took place in Germany.

However, issues emerged, with the department declaring it is investigating claims of fraudulent intent on the part of the companies it partnered with to rollout the specialised internship initiative.

At the time, Ntsumi Telecommunications, Liaport Africa and IBA Global Training were listed as the partner-companies under investigation.

According to the department, it decided to investigate after the interns that participated in the programme expressed dissatisfaction with the entire initiative. They also indicated they had not received a quality internship programme from the partner companies.

One of the partner companies, IBA, refuted the claims, indicating things went sour once the participants were in Germany and IBA realised not all of them were interested in receiving training but expected to be employed at the end of the programme.

Aside from the suspended senior managers, Gauteng's e-government department was reluctant to reveal further details in terms of what the forensic investigation into the programme uncovered.

A statement issued late last year by Adriana Randall, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow MEC for finance and e-government in Gauteng, noted the forensic investigation found there was material non-compliance with the policy and prescripts related to the Treasury Regulations, PFMA and Public Service Regulations requirements.

Gauteng Broadband Network troubles

The specialised ICT skills programme isn’t the only e-government department project that has been the subject of controversies.

The ambitious provincial connectivity project, the Gauteng Broadband Network (GBN), has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons in recent months.

Last June, the multibillion-rand GBN was hit by fresh allegations of corruption and non-compliance with the laws and regulations that govern the project.

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

More recently, it was revealed the value of the tender for phase two of the GBN was allegedly awarded at a higher fee than the budget for the project.

The department says it was awarded at R2.9 billion instead of the budgeted amount of R1.3 billion.

Responding to whether an investigation into the GBN has been conducted, the department says it has not undertaken any probe in regards to the project.

On the issue of any high-profile resignations of those running the project, it says it received and accepted a resignation from a programme manager responsible for GBN. “The programme manager resigned with a view to pursue business interests.”

It also confirmed the exit of department head Boy Ngobeni, saying he was employed on a five-year contract that ended on 31 December 2019.

The e-government department was mandated to provide broadband connectivity to 3 000 Gauteng provincial government sites. GBN phase one commenced in 2014 and was completed early in 2018, with 1 181 sites connected.

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