MORE than 5 000 employees of the Limpopo Department of Public Works, Roads and Infrastructure have been without access to telephones and the server for the past two months.
This is due to technical problems related to alleged corruption in the procurement of the department’s Information Communication and Technology (ICT) equipment in 2013.
African Times has reliably learnt that the phones have been down since April, forcing employees to either use their private cellphones to make official calls or sit idle in their offices while service delivery suffers.
Three sources in the department said this week that the phones went down for the second time since November last year — in what they claim is internal sabotage by ICT director Kgomotso Malope’s unit designed to put the government under pressure to procure services from its cronies through emergency contracts.
Government procurement rules and regulations provide for the procurement of goods and services without following due processes in emergency situations.
This came as the Limpopo Legislature’s portfolio committee on public works grilled the department’s officials over ICT tenders following African Times’ expose last week.
The publication reported that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had found that there might have been corruption in the procurement of R26 million worth of ICT equipment by Malope during the 2013/2014 financial year.
The final report, handed over to MEC Jerry Ndou in February this year, has ordered a full forensic investigation into ICT tenders and other irregularities flagged by the Auditor General.
“November, December and January the telephone lines have not been working at Public Works. The MEC called an emergency meeting and gave IT two days to ensure the phones were fine. They then worked in February and March, but went off again in April. Now its May, the phones are still off,” said a source.
“Now cellphone limits have not been increased for staff to do their work. Junior staff don’t have cellphone allowances. It means they just come to work and do nothing because they can’t communicate with the districts. Service delivery is suffering.”
The department is responsible for the construction and maintenance of the province’s roads and government
It was allocated R3.1 billion of Limpopo’s overall budget of R51.9 billion in the 2017/2018 financial year.
The province is still battling a backlog of gravel roads dating back to the apartheid era. Sources said the phones
have been on and off since the department opted not to renew the contract of IT company Gijima AST last year, or at least find a suitable replacement on time.
They claimed Malope, as the end user, allegedly earmarked IT company CHM Vuwani for the job on an emergency contract, but the department ‘s supply chain management unit refused and insisted that the tender be advertised.
This standoff resulted in the server going down and telephones being affected for three months, between
November last year and January this year.
According to invoices and proof of payment seen by African Times, IT firm Dimension Data was paid R207 000 to fix the telephone problem in January.
“But we still have a telephone crisis, two months after the problem was solved. Servers are down,” said a senior government official.
He added that portfolio committee chairperson Rudolph Phala and his colleagues quizzed departmental officials and demanded all relevant documents.
“They said they saw a newspaper article on the ICT project as the committee and felt disturbed that a journalist has information they don’t have. They demanded the NPA report and the Nehawu memorandum, which were presented.”
Phala this week confirmed they questioned the department’s officials and demanded ICT procurement records.
“They didn’t say anything. They just said, ‘there is nothing’. The discussion did not even last four minutes. We have requested any documents. We will see how it goes,” Phala added.
He, however, insisted that they have “no view” on the matter yet but “will follow up in future”.
Paena Galane, the department’s spokesperson, admitted that their telephone lines had issues.
“It is true that we had technical problems relating to our telephone lines during those months, and the problem was resolved through a professional service, in which we had to follow proper supply chain processes. And we are attending to the current problem in terms of the lines,” Galane said. “We are hopeful the current problem will also be resolved speedily.”
Galane maintained that “all necessary processes are at an advanced stage” regarding the NPA report and that any developments “will be communicated to all relevant stakeholders including the media”.
Malope, who tried to gag African Times through lawyers last week, could not be reached for comment.
He failed to respond to calls and detailed questions sent via a text message.