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e-Government dept threatens to halt Gauteng Broadband Network

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The Gauteng Broadband Network (GBN) is under threat of being halted as new controversies have emerged about the ambitious provincial connectivity project.

The project is again in the spotlight after revelations that phase two of the GBN is saddled with an alleged R1 billion bill in wasteful expenditure.

The State IT Agency (SITA) is being accused of awarding the tender at a higher fee than the amounted budget for the project by the department.

The department says it requested SITA to procure the GBN phase 2 project, in line with the SITA Act.

“The department communicated a total of R1.3 billion budget for the Medium Term Expenditure Framework for the roll-out of the GBN phase two,” it says.

SITA went on to award the tender for phase two of the GBN to Altron Nexus at a contract value of R2.9 billion.

Adding to the woes are damning allegations that the SITA has failed to meet key milestones of connecting key sites in the province.

The Department of e-Government 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.

SITA’s irregular expenditure

Now the Department of e-Government is threatening to bring the project to a halt, citing irregular expenditure and non-delivery on the part of the SITA, which awarded the GBN tender to Altron Nexus.

At the core of the dispute is the value of the tender – the Department of e-Government says the project was awarded at R2.9 billion instead of the budgeted amount of R1.3 billion.

In a letter to SITA’s acting CEO Ntutule Tshenye seen by ITWeb, Boy Ngobeni, head of department, e-Government in Gauteng, demands that any further work on the project be paused until detailed explanations have been provided.

He writes: “Please be informed that the department has received the legal opinion which recommends as follows, among others. That the e-Gov appropriated budget of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework is limited to R1.3 billion, and that any expenditure beyond this budget will amount to irregular expenditure.”

Additionally, he says: “No further activities or deliverables under this proposal should be carried out until the suspensive conditions stated in our letter dated 9 November 2018 and any conditions mentioned by SITA (in the signed proposal) are fulfilled.”

Untenable position

On top of the irregular expenditure spat, new damning allegations have surfaced, saying key milestones of connecting Gauteng have not been met, and small and medium enterprises are being squeezed to pay bribes so they are guaranteed work.

According to the documents seen by ITWeb, failure to meet the deliverables could disrupt all Gauteng provincial government sites.

“Your continued failure to deliver is placing the department in an untenable position of having to escalate these matters to the minister and chairman of the SITA board,” Ngobeni wrote in another letter to Tshenye, dated 28 November 2019.

Altron says it has delivered

Altron has denied any wrongdoing on its part.

“This is not true on the part of Altron Nexus; we have executed on all task orders received to date from SITA. The Gauteng Broadband Network phase two contract is between SITA and Altron Nexus. The Gauteng Provincial e-Government department issues a purchase order to SITA and SITA, in turn, issues a task order to Altron Nexus,” says Chris Kabwato, head of communications at Altron.

To date, Altron Nexus says it has successfully connected 16 hospitals to the network.

Similarly, on Thursday, spokesperson for the MEC Tshepo Shawa also said: “To date, we have delivered 16 sites and the delivery of the rest of the sites is on track.”

However, Ngobeni, in his letter to SITA, says the state agency has failed: “The department is currently experiencing lack of service delivery.”

Among other issues, he laments the failed Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) core node card at the department’s headquarters at 75 Fox Street, in Johannesburg.

Critically, he notes: “Should the secondary card fail, Gauteng provincial government systems and applications will not be accessed.

“As communicated before, 75 Fox core node is a critical node used by all Gauteng provincial government sites to access applications that are hosted in FMDC [Fully Managed Data Centre] and at SITA. The DWDM card failed on the 26th of August 2019.

“At the moment, the DWDM paths cannot handle the extra amount of traffic which automatically reroutes via the other core sites. Due to high volume of traffic, the IP core routers (NE40) are affected at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, 82 Grayston Drive, and West Rand district municipality office.”

Furthermore, Ngobeni says: “There are a number of sites that have not had broadband connectivity for a long time due to broken last mile fibre.”

The sites include Orange Farm Clinic, King Goodwill Zwelithini Primary School and Diepsloot Secondary School number three.

Another matter raised in the scathing letter by Ngobeni is failure to provide local area network (LAN) connectivity in schools.

“The department has requested SITA to provide LAN connectivity to 30 schools on 1 July 2019. SITA has not built even at one school. As a result, the department is not going [to] achieve Q3 annual performance plan targets,” he writes.

SITA had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publishing.

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