Audit shows costly Gauteng Online is mostly offline

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INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Broadband beat the introduction of the internet, which was placed second. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

It has been nearly eight years, and R3 billion has been spent, but working computer laboratories for every public school in Gauteng are yet to be achieved.

A damning internal audit by the Gauteng Department of Finance, which has been leaked to The Star, has found that Gauteng Online is not functioning economically, efficiently or effectively.

Gauteng Online is the most ambitious IT project embarked on in SA. Its aim is to place a computer laboratory in every school in the province and give every pupil an e-mail address.

First launched in 2002 with a R1bn tender, the project failed dismally. In 2007 the Gauteng Shared Service Centre and the Department of Education issued a new tender worth R2bn over five years to get the project up and running.

The tender was awarded to the SMMT Telematics Consortium, whose chairman, Tebogo Mogashoa, is a local businessman renowned for receiving government tenders.

The audit, which was done in the 2010/11 financial year and looked at 50 schools across five districts, found numerous problems with the project.

These included:

l Inadequate security measures.

l Gauteng Online being offline in a number of schools.

l Inadequate support and maintenance of equipment.

l Inadequate pupil and teacher training.

l A failure to replace stolen equipment on time.

l A failure to pay service providers on time.

l E-mail addresses not being created for many pupils and teachers.

The DA has called for the Gauteng Online contract with SMMT to be terminated, saying the project is characterised by poor management and non-adherence to the service-level agreement.

MPL Khume Ramulifho, of the DA, said he was concerned that the contract would be renewed with the company again in December when it ended.

The audit found that many of the problems lay with inadequate management of the project and that evaluation of the performance of the service providers was often lacking.

As far as security measures at schools were concerned, the audit found that in certain schools there was no evidence that stolen equipment had been reported to the police. In some schools, alarm equipment had been installed but did not work. The finance department recommended that functioning alarm systems be installed in all schools.

The audit also found that schools were offline for long periods of time. In the schools visited this ranged from two months to 16 months.

The audit states: “Our visits to the 50 selected schools in five major districts found that in 62 percent of the schools, some of the equipment and facilities of the laboratories were installed but not functional; and 8 percent of the laboratories were not fully furnished with the required equipment and facilities.”

As to the lack of training of teachers, the audit expressed the worry that the laboratories would be under-used, therefore becoming wasteful expenditure. Eighty-four percent of schools did not have e-mail addresses.

Part of the reason why there appeared to be non-delivery of the project was the late payment of the suppliers: SMMT, RMB and Nokusa Consulting.

Equipment rental payments to RMB and SMMT were in arrears at April 2011 to the tune of R234 million.

“At the time of the audit, there was an outstanding penalty interest to SMMT and RMB… amounting to R10.8m, of which R5.8m was still outstanding,” the audit said.

Despite this, in the 2010/11 year there was underspending of R164.9m on the project. R400m was assigned to Gauteng Online that year. - The Star

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