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DHA douses fears of ‘ordained’ contractor in biometrics tender ructions

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Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) has allayed fears that the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) project has been ceded to an EOH subcontractor amid growing ructions over the contract.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi yesterday fired a broadside to insinuations that French multinational technology company IDEMIA is the preferred company to take over the project from EOH.

The ABIS project is meant to migrate data on the current Home Affairs National Identification System, which only records photos and fingerprints of South African citizens, to the new ABIS system, but is behind schedule by more than two years.

The final implementation of the system would provide a single source of identification for citizens across state institutions and private-sector entities.

Implementation of the ABIS system was delayed after the missing of master files in the ABIS contract with EOH, and a forensic audit is under way into the contract.

The minister is now making amends to salvage the controversial multimillion-rand project, and the department has since slapped technology services company EOH with a R44 million penalty over delays in the implementation of the project.

According to the minister, EOH took a decision to exit all government contracts and recommended the work be ceded to IDEMIA, a subcontractor on the project.

It is this recommendation that has caused ructions, with questions being asked as to why a subcontractor that was part of a consortium that failed to deliver the ABIS system on time should be the one to take over.

The ABIS system was supposed to be up and running after 12 months but it’s now two years late and IDEMIA was working with EOH in the period that project timelines were missed.

IDEMIA’s empowerment credentials as per the tender requirements have also been flagged as a concern because it’s a French-headquartered company.

Speaking to ITWeb, minister Motsoaledi dismissed suggestions that IDEMIA had been ordained to take control of the project.

“The DHA has not made a decision to cede the contract to IDEMIA but is considering various rescue plans, including the ceding of the contract on condition that such action doesn’t lead to excessive additional costs, doesn’t lead to fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and guarantees the success of the project,” he says.

Motsoaledi also told ITWeb that the ongoing forensic investigation by auditors will not impact the ceding of the project.

“The investigation is looking at the bid evaluation process and contract award as per SITA [State IT Agency] recommendation. The AG had raised an issue during their audit at SITA.

“The contract is for five years, meaning it will end in 2022 because it included support and maintenance. EOH is liable for penalties, not any other party.”

EOH, however, has denied it is quitting government contracts.

The company’s spokesperson said: “EOH remains committed to the project insofar as the engagements under way present viable options which are commercially sustainable for both parties.

“EOH maintains and intends to maintain its ongoing strategic relationships and engagements with the government insofar as those relationships and engagements are commercially sustainable.”

Commenting on the latest development, Paul Jeremias, managing director of ‎IDEMIA in SA, says his company is only a technical subcontractor to EOH and provider of the core biometric solution at the centre of the DHA ABIS.

On the forensic investigation, he says: “I am not aware of the scope of the forensic investigation and ask that you address your question to the DHA.”

Jeremias declined to be drawn to comment on other matters pertaining to the contract, referring ITWeb back to the department.

In his presentation to the portfolio committee just over two weeks ago, Motsoaledi revealed that out of the R400 million contract, R224 million had already been spent on services, infrastructure and software. The budget still available for the project is R129 million.

The minister added that legal opinion obtained by DHA suggested that ceding is permissible, subject to certain requirements being met.

According to Motsoaledi, after meeting officials from the Department of Telecommunications and Digital Technologies, it was decided that DHA proceed with the ceding, provided that the cession is approved by National Treasury.

The minister is still awaiting feedback from National Treasury.

“No guidance has been received from Treasury yet and that process is still unfolding,” he says.

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