Coordinated ICT is effective ICT

Government is spending billions on ICT at national and provincial level, but in order to assure the most effective use of these funds the various arms of government need to communicate with one another to ensure effective management of projects, lack of overlap or redundant efforts and expenses and that projects are prioritised and executed in order of importance.

Government has also been at work on a number of large ICT projects in recent years, many of which have gotten attention for all the wrong reasons. Systems like the Treasury’s IFMS, Home Affairs’ Who Am I Online and Transport’s eNatis have all faced problems of governance and capacity alongside questions over SITA’s involvement.

Nationally, the Justice Cluster spends the lion’s share of the ICT budget, with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) leading the pack, followed by the Department of Home Affairs. Sadly, some expenses originally positioned as one-off expenses have become recurring ones, like the police budget for equipment and IT services that has sat at R2.3 billion for the past two years.

The SANDF, meanwhile, has spent R1.3bn on the same categories of expenses while Home Affairs budget allocation is just shy of R1bn. In the context of a R9.5bn national ICT budget, the fact that the three biggest spenders in ICT amount to R4.5bn alone is worrying.

The spending of the SAPS, in particular, attracts interest, and the current audit under way into its spending on computer services is eagerly awaited. Another issue that deserves scrutiny is the role of the State IT Agency (SITA). Were it not for the SAPS and the SANDF, SITA (which has a budget of around R4bn) would not exist.

Collins Chabane has replaced the previous Minister of Public Service and Administration, Lindiwe Sisulu. Hopefully under his direction SITA’s efficiency can be improved.

"Who Am I Online”, a project Home Affairs initiated in 2008 aims to replace the Department’s outdated and obsolete legacy systems and improve security and is expected to cost R2.4bn. The Department cancelled its original deal with IT company Gijima in April 2010 and has stalled repeatedly since. In the interim, the department has spent R852 million on purchasing instead of leasing hardware, which was the intention of the original contract. For this year ahead the computer services spend is budgeted at over R800 million.

The new Minister of Home Affairs is Malusi Gigaba, who has quite a task ahead as he will have to assist in coordinating the "Who Am I Online” project and the Integrated Justice System.

Another troubled and costly project is the Electronic National Traffic Information System (eNatis) vehicle database. The primary failing of the endeavor is that the Department of Transport has treated it asa service contract rather than a delivery project. The original contact ended in 2007 but has been repeatedly extended. 

Meanwhile, Treasury’s Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) initiative, which it is funding and which was approved in 2005, has still not been completed. The initiative is intended to replace the many disparate, inadequate and obsolete systems Treasury uses with a single solution that meets legislative and policy requirements.  

To compound this, the national health insurance planned for South African citizens – an Integrated National Patient-Based Information System is proposed – will need to connect the entire health care sector across all regions. The CSIR was tasked to create norms and standards
for the system but the challenge is going to lie in ensuring existing systems and databases can successfully integrate and communicate with one another – an enormous and potentially incredibly expensive task.

However, things look somewhat better at a provincial level. While the aforementioned departments have money transferred directly to them provincial projects tend to get funding through provincial administrations and state-owned enterprises.

This includes projects like the Department of Energy’s universal electrification initiative, the Integrated National Electrification Project the money for which will come from Eskom and municipalities. Similarly, eHealth and eEducation are both examples making progress despite national coordination and standards being slow to solidify.

Follow the money to the provinces, metros, agencies, public corporations, private enterprises, and SOEs associated with those departments, and you’re sure to find sizeable ICT components. Eskom, in particular, is by far the biggest ICT spender amongst SOEs, followed by Transnet.

Going forward, both SOEs have massive infrastructure budgets, which will lead to good growth potential for ICT. The Auditor General’s last audit outcomes indicated that, although the majority of municipalities had improved with IT governance, they still experienced challenges with the design of IT controls. It is hoped that the new Minister, Pravin Gordhan, will use his experience gained during his tenure at SARS and Treasury to improve the situation in local government.

Overall however, ICT in government is in a very troubled state. Government continues to fail to prioritise projects properly, neglects some and poorly oversees others. Procurement also remains a problem, both in terms of ensuring it’s devoid of corruption or maladministration, and in taking advantage of the scale of some projects to ensure procurement is conducted strategically.

What is needed is a culture that recognises the importance of sound planning, insists on scrupulous procurement, and demands outstanding project management and support to ensure that funds aren’t wasted and that projects are completed efficiently, and on time.

Author — Tertia Smit ( A version of this story originally appeared on