Response to the statement issued by DA MP, Ms Angel Khanyile

The Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has noted the statement released by DA MP, Ms Angel Khanyile, to the effect that the Minister must appear in front of the Portfolio Committee to account for a purported R450 million that is supposed to have gone down the drain. The Minister believes that it is grossly dishonest and disingenuous for Ms Khanyile to pretend to the public that she does not have the correct facts about the ABIS contract.

She is feigning ignorance and pretending that the only information she has is the one printed in the City Press of 24 July 2022.

We want to assert that Ms Khanyile has got access to the correct information than what the City Press has printed.

Here are the facts:

Ms Khanyile knows very well that some five years ago the Department of Home Affairs wished to move away from a biometric system called Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS), which has only two biometrics, a fingerprint and a photo, to a new, much improved biometric system called Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) which has got five biometrics, including facial and iris recognition.

All South Africans who are on the National Population Register are on the HANIS. Part of this project is to migrate all of their data to ABIS, before adding the other biometrics. This was to improve security of enabling documents by lowering the possibility of people obtaining documents like IDs and passports fraudulently.

In terms of current government policy, departments cannot issue tenders to acquire IT services. Such a mandate is carried by the State Information Technology Agency (SITA). The Department of Home Affairs followed this policy and hence SITA duly issued this tender on behalf of the Department. This contract was given to a company called EOH.

By virtue of being a Member of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Ms Khanyile is aware that when the then Auditor General audited SITA, he picked up irregularities in the contract issued to EOH to deliver the ABIS.

She also knows that the Department of Home Affairs was instructed by the Auditor General to conduct a forensic investigation on this EOH contract because while it was issued by SITA, it was the Department of Home Affairs that was going to pay. This forensic investigation was done and completed by a company called Nexia SAB&T.

On 25 May 2021, the Nexia SAB&T team that did the forensic audit presented their findings directly to Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs. Ms Khanyile did attend this meeting.

They made recommendations which stretched from criminal investigation by the Hawks to criminal prosecution by the National Prosecuting Authority and disciplinary processes by both the Department and by SITA.

The Department presented in the Portfolio Committee, in the presence of Ms Khanyile, how it is implementing these recommendations.

Today, for political expediency, she pretends not to have correct information other than what is in the media. She even implicates the ANC when it has nothing to do with this contract.

We wish to repeat that Ms Khanyile has got access to the correct information than what City Press has printed simply because this information was given to all members of the Portfolio Committee. If she was a person of integrity, she wouldn’t be saying the things that she is saying.

There is a big claim, or should we say a big lie, that has been printed in the media that the Department has blown R450 million. Ms Khanyile is gladly rehashing this big lie.

The initial headline screamed that the Department had blown R300 million. From there, the R300 million miraculously grew to R450 million which has purportedly being blown.

We want to put it on record that there is no R450 million that the Department has blown.

Even the forensic audit report clearly stated what amount was paid and what was it for. Since this was presented in the Portfolio Committee, we insist that Ms Khanyile has got access to this information.

SITA issued a contract worth R409 million to EOH. At the time the forensic report was read in Parliament, the Department had paid R280 million, not R300 million. (A difference of R20 million is a huge amount of money)

The Department outlined clearly what this R280 million was for and the forensic audit did the same.

EOH, the company in question here, pulled out of all government contracts, including the ABIS contract.

At the time they pulled out of the ABIS project, they had already purchased hardware worth R113 million, software worth R110 million and had delivered services with R56 million. This totals to R280 million.

To say the Department has blown this amount, smells of malice.

To try and simplify this situation for people who might be misled, think of what happens when one hires a contractor to put up a school or a clinic. The contractor purchases all the bricks that are needed, the roofing material, and the tools for the construction. In addition the contractor puts up the foundation of the building.

Then the contractor pulls out of the project for whatever reason. Any right thinking South African will know that paying for the material already bought by the contractor and for the work already done cannot be equated to blowing the money. No court of law would have allowed the Department not to pay for what has been bought and delivered.

We believe it sensational to make these claims and for good effect, even exaggerate by adding R20 million which never was.

The Portfolio Committee was eager that the Department should do everything in its power to rescue this project because ABIS is very important for the security of the country’s identity documents.

The Department went back to the Portfolio Committee to outline the rescue process whereby the contract would be ceded to IDEMIA and gave reasons why it had to be ceded this way.

Furthermore, the Department outlined the step it was taking to recoup its money in the form of penalties to EOH for not completing the project on time, as stipulated in the original contract. That legal process is on-going.

Nobody in the Portfolio Committee, including Ms Khanyile, protested that the Department should not proceed in that way.

Of course it was also reported openly in the Portfolio Committee that IDEMIA was going to be paid R150 million to complete this work.

Today we are reading that the Department has also blown this R150 million for a project that has not been completed. We want to state categorically again that no R150 million has been paid, and hence blown.

At the moment, the Department has only paid R12 million of the ceded amount of R150 million for the work already done. The rest can only be paid when the project has been completed because we pay for every milestone reached.

We are still puzzled by how, whoever is reporting these stories, found it ethical to add R138 million to the R12 million that has so far been paid and claim that this money was blown.

To have attractive headlines, somebody found it expedient to write R280 million as R300 million and to further write R12 million as R150 million, totalling R450 million, which becomes catchy to any reader – especially if it is presented as corruption.

And also to fuel anger by the public there are claims that the R280 million and the R12 million paid thus far have been paid for nothing.

To fuel more anger, it is claimed that the Department has paid for hardware and software licenses that have expired or are about to expire.

It is common cause that warranties for hardware and licenses of software do expire and get renewed – whether there has been corruption or not. To expect that the hardware warranties and software licenses should for this one particular project not accordingly expire and be renewed also puzzles the Department as to what was the intention of the people who wrote all these stories.

The Minister will actually be pleased if the Portfolio Committee were to call him to appear before it to explain these issues again, as he has done before. The Minister will be further pleased by such an appearance because it will afford journalists an opportunity to write the correct facts about this project, that is if they do not have any hidden agendas.

If any member of the Portfolio Committee has lost or forgotten the contents of the forensic audit, these shall be re-availed.

Such an appearance before the Portfolio Committee will enable the Department to report progress in the implementation of this important ABIS project. We can state confidently that it is not a small progress.

The Minister has noted the concerted but vain efforts of Ms Khanyile of linking his name to corruption. The Minister wants to assure her that she will always fail because issues of corruption will never be found in the Minister’s DNA.

On the contrary, the Minister will leave no stone unturned in fighting corruption wherever it rears its head in the Department.

As an attempt to further cause more reputational damage to the Department and the Minister, Ms Khanyile pretends not to know the Department has already started rolling out a booking system.

The Department wishes to remind her that it reported to the Portfolio Committee when this appointment booking system commenced.

Because she seems to be a Member of Parliament that so easily forgets, the Department wishes to remind her that 56 offices are now using the booking system. And since its commencement in June 2022, there are 115 329 South Africans who have used this booking system.

Source: Government of South Africa