SITA lashes out at Gauteng e-gov, Altron over broadband services

Read time 5min 10sec

The war of words over the Gauteng Broadband Network (GBN) has escalated, with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) tearing into the head of the Gauteng e-government department, accusing him of missteps in managing a fallout with Altron.

Altron, which has threatened to discontinue provincial broadband services unless it’s urgently paid more than R150 million for services, has also not been spared SITA’s backlash.

Luvuyo Keyise, SITA executive caretaker, is unimpressed by Cyril Baloyi, HOD of the Gauteng e-government department, for failing to pay for services rendered and is also unhappy with the way Altron has handled the dispute.

Keyise accuses Baloyi of invoking public sympathy in a dispute that is threatening to put service delivery in the province in jeopardy.

On Monday, ITWeb reported that Altron Nexus and the Gauteng Department of e-Government had sealed a last-minute deal to avoid a connectivity shutdown, which could have crippled service delivery.

However, Keyise disputes that the problem has been averted, accusing the two of sharing inaccurate information with the public, thereby portraying SITA as the one misleading the public.

“There is no new agreement between Altron and SITA because I have letters written to us that prove Altron’s position to switch-off services has not changed,” he says.

“Altron did inform us and the department on Saturday [about the switch-off]. We have the letter and we will make it public if needs be, where Altron put in writing that if by the end of business [on 6 July], if they don’t receive R154 million, they will switch-off services, and if they don’t receive the remainder of the money by the 15th, they will also switch-off services.

“It’s in writing from Mark Harris, the CEO of Altron, who makes it look like SITA lies; it comes [across] as if we are the ones saying we are switching off services.”

Side-stepping reprisal

According to Keyise: “Altron is now worried, because they believe if they get this backlash, they will lose the contract. SITA is publishing a new tender next month. There is no new agreement between Altron and SITA because I have letters written to us that Altron’s position to switch-off services has not changed.”

When approached to comment on the alleged letter, Altron said: “This statement is factually incorrect. Altron wrote to SITA on Friday, 2 July 2021.”

The company did not respond to Keyise’s allegation that it had deliberately misled the media by stating it will not be switching off services.

“This is a confidential arrangement between Altron Nexus, SITA and Gauteng e-Government,” it says.

Keyise also lashed out at e-government HOD, Baloyi, for claiming the contract was irregular and that’s why he didn’t pay for services rendered.

On Monday, Baloyi said: “The reason for the department to withhold payment to SITA arises from the auditor-general (AG) findings that have deemed the appointment of Altron by SITA to be irregular, emanating from a supply chain management process that was not duly followed by SITA [in regard to] the procurement of services from Altron.

“Therefore, as a result of the AG’s findings, these flowed further to e-Gov as the payer and end-user of the contact, which resulted in irregular expenditure in the financials.”

He also claimed SITA had received partial condonation from National Treasury, adding the agency needs to obtain a full condonation so e-Gov doesn’t further incur irregular expenditure.

No fender-bender

Keyise hit back: “SITA has received full condonation of anything that has to deal with the procurement process of the GBN contract. Full condonation, not partial. We confirm that Treasury has fully condoned anything that has to do with procurement processes for the GBN contract.

“But e-gov must get condonation for themselves; they failed to appoint a lawyer at the beginning of the contract and we advised them on the contract and contractual implications. That’s an internal e-gov process that they should have done. SITA cannot help them because they should have appointed their own lawyer to review the contract they signed with SITA.”

According to Keyise, SITA is only offering to assist the department in terms of challenges between it and Provincial Treasury because National Treasury has already condoned the GBN project from SITA.

“That means historic costs and future costs of this contract have been condoned. So there is nothing that is irregular that SITA needs to seek that is still outstanding.

“Even if the contract is irregular, there is nothing in law that says to consume services but don’t pay, so the e-gov HOD is in breach of the PFMA [Public Financial Management Act] and he has been informed by the HOD of Provincial Treasury that he is in breach of PFMA regulations. PFMA regulations are clear – if you are consuming services, you must pay for those services.”

Keyise continued to blast Baloyi, saying he isn’t disputing anything around the services that SITA and Altron provide.

“There is not even a single dispute. So he simply says I will continue to consume services but all of you must wait until I get condonation, but for me and my staff, we get our full salaries and the rest of you wait. That’s bad; he receives his salary, his staff receives their salaries but the SMMEs that deliver the services and their families must suffer and SITA must keep quiet about it? That’s unlawful. SITA’s job is not just to protect the government but also to protect the private sector.”

The e-gov department had not responded to ITWeb’s request for comment by the time of publication.

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