USAASA telecentre fail revealed

Johannesburg, 31 Aug 2012
Read time 2min 40sec

The Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) aimed to rollout more than 280 telecentres since 2006, but to date only managed to achieve just over half of this, even though millions have been spent.

Responding to a question in the National Assembly earlier this month, communications minister Dina Pule said to date USAASA had 160 centres deployed.

Of the 160 established centres so far, only 96 are operational. This is due to, among other reasons, obsolete equipment, centres burnt down during service delivery protests, vandalism, stolen equipment, disintegrated management structures, failure to pay service providers, part of the buildings being used as taverns and incomplete centres.

Few achievements

In the 2006/7 financial year, USAASA aimed for 32 centres, but completed 14; in 2007/8 it targeted 20 and completed none; it achieved all 30 targeted centres in 2008/9 and, in 2009/10 and 2010/11, it targeted 100 per year and achieved nothing.

The minister explained that in the 2007/8 financial year funds were reprioritised to the rehabilitation of the existing telecentres.

The 100 centres aimed for in 2009-2012 were not achieved, because the tender was re-advertised.

Inconsistent ICT

“The information we have shows there has been an uneven and inconsistent delivery of ICT centres in the country,” said Pule.

She added that this may be attributed to a lack of adequate skills capability to deliver on projects of this nature, including ICT project management in some cases.

“It is my view that this may be at the centre of the problem. Also, over the past six years, USAASA has had over three CEOs and CFO, with unstable management leadership core. This suggests there has been instability at the agency over the years.”

Financial mismanagement

Pule also said the current business plan has a target of 200 access centres.

“The first phase of deploying 65 of the targeted centres is currently under way. The deployment of the rest of the 135 centres will commence in the third quarter.”

The Department of Communications in October ordered a forensic investigation into the agency for financial mismanagement worth millions.

Then communications minister, the late Roy Padayachie, said concern surrounded the management of a R19 million project.

He explained that a service provider was awarded a R19 million contract for the provision of public access facilities in under-serviced areas, but the project was not complete and yet most of the funds were disbursed to it.

The service provider was reappointed the following year and again funds were being disbursed.

In September last year, ITWeb reported that USAASA paid the service provider R15 million even though it only provided one out of the expected 20 access centres for the first quarter of that year.

Top level executives at the agency were suspended subsequent to the investigation.

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