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Delays persist in South Africa’s automated biometric identification project completion

Idemia reportedly cleared to take over project

digital identity biometric registration

New information reported by South African media suggests completion of the country’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) project may still be a long path away.

IT Web reports that a Parliamentary meeting in which Home Affairs Committee members were supposed to receive updates on developments around the biometric project last Friday, failed to take place due to power cuts. The meeting has been deferred to a later date. The Parliamentary Committee was to receive a briefing from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) — the government ministry overseeing the implementation of the project — and also from officials of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the Department of Communications and Digital Technology.

ABIS is a multi-million digital ID project intended to provide a single source of identification for South African citizens to be used for government and public institutions. The project is estimated to cost R400 million (about US$26 million).

DHA spokesperson Siya Qoza said in January that the agency expected to see the end of the first phase of the project in the course of this year after a process to review a forensic audit into how the tender was awarded has been completed.

There have been reports that the national biometric project was awarded irregularly with many concerns raised about the major tender file which was said to have gone missing.

Awarded since 2017, ABIS was supposed to be completed in twelve months, but it has now turned out to be lingering despite about 16 of the estimated US$26 million budgeted for the project already spent.

In the midst of such delays, there are reports that the DHA has received clearance from the National Treasury to hand the project over to French biometric technology giant, Idemia. Idemia was previously reported to be the subcontractor to EOH when the project was awarded, and authorities had earlier denied that the French outfit was being considered for the job.

Local South African company EOH Holdings has been in charge of the project, but its failure to meet the prescribed deadline has now left the DHA fighting to rescue the project and also the country’s image. EOH beat out NEC Africa, Accenture SA and Ernst & Young Advisory Services for the contract.

Officials of SITA and the DHA declined to make extensive comments about the issue, saying the onus now rests with Parliament which may surely have a say on the way forward for the project after the rescheduled briefing.

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