Johannesburg - If a new company is awarded the current Gauteng Online tender, it might have to replace R2-billion worth of equipment that was put in schools over the past five years.

This can be ascertained from answers provided by MEC of Finance Mandla Nkomfe to questions about Gauteng Online that were submitted by the DA.

The Star reported recently that there were concerns that the Gauteng Online tender favoured the current service provider SMMT Online (now known as CloudSeed) because the company owns all the computer equipment, including all computers, the entire network and source codes.

The SMMT tender was worth R2bn and, according to experts, the new tender would be a minimum of R3bn.

A new invitation to tender for the project was issued at the beginning of this year, and requires the winning bidder to, among others:

l Connect the 652 schools who have not yet received computers.

l Continue to manage the 1 652 schools that do have computer labs.

l Provide security for the labs and the entire school.

Nkomfe admitted in his answers that all hardware and software of the Gauteng Online project was owned by SMMT Online.

He said the equipment was leased on an operating lease.

When asked by the DA if this made it logistically impossible for the tender to be awarded to another company, the MEC replied that because ICT is constantly evolving, with new inventions and cheaper e-learning solutions, what they have done is created space for new innovations.

“Against this background and information obtained from our research, no single company will be capable of providing this solution,” Nkomfe said, adding that the tender led itself to consortiums bidding.

The Star recently quoted engineers who said this set-up meant that if a new company was awarded the tender, they would either have to buy the old equipment from SMMT, or buy new equipment, which would hike the price of their tender submissions.

The MEC also admitted that the project only really took off in 2011.

Nkomfe said while the 652 schools who did not receive labs were part of the original tender, SMMT Online was not penalised for failing to install these because it was the department who failed to honour its financial obligations towards the project between 2009 and 2010.

DA MPL for education Khume Ramulifho said it appeared that the government wanted to renew SMMT’s contract.

“It doesn’t make sense to start from scratch when it took years to build and install equipment,” Ramulifho said. - The Star