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Probe into R120m Free State website project

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A NEW investigation will be launched to determine whether the Free State provincial government received value for the almost R120 million it was billed for its integrated website by a company with no track record.

The move by the provincial government follows a probe by Public Protector Busi Mkhwebane into circumstances that led to the Cherry Ikamva Juggernaut joint venture being awarded the contract to develop and maintain the website.

Mkhwebane recommended that the provincial government appoint an ICT specialist to conduct an audit to determine whether the provincial government got value for money for the integrated website.

She also recommended that the provincial government provide training in public procurement processes and procedures for supply chain management officials and members of bid evaluation committees after identifying anomalies in the manner in which the tender was adjudicated.

Free State provincial government spokesperson Setjhaba Maphalla told Independent Media this week that Mkhwebane was advised that Premier Sisi Ntombela’s office was committed to implement her recommendations.

“Due to Covid-19 and the fact that we will in all probability have to use external service providers, this will be done when there is a significant reduction in the risk of transmission. It is now our primary duty to do everything possible to preserve lives,” Maphalla said.

Cherry Ikamva Juggernaut JV – made up of Cherry Online, Ikamva ICT and Juggernaut Trading and Projects – was awarded the R120 million three-year contract in 2011 to implement the integrated website project, in which all provincial departments, municipalities and public entities would be incorporated.

The companies charged over R37.5m in 2011/12, nearly R41.1m in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 financial years for the redevelopment/redesign and re-launch of the provincial government’s comprehensive and integrated website.

This is despite the provincial treasury having allocated about R68m for the project.

The provincial government eventually paid R85m for the website after the Cherry Ikamva Juggernaut joint venture’s contract was prematurely terminated following the office of the auditor-general’s warning that the expenditure on the project risked being declared irregular.

Mkhwebane found that Cherry Ikamva Juggernaut JV was paid about R64.6m between 2012 and 2016 as well as a R19.3m cancellation fee.

According to Mkhwebane’s report, the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department would pay for the hosting of 24 municipalities while then premier Ace Magashule’s office would be responsible for 14 departments and public entities.

Another probe by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) found that it was not easy to find information on the websites, pages were slow to load, search functions did not work and were not secure.

The CSIR identified that the Free State Online website did not meet the requirements of the service level agreement signed with the provincial government and that most of its content and features were not positioned as specified in the contract.

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