Idemia takes over SA’s delayed biometric project amid allegations of contract irregularities

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South Africa’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) project has finally been handed over to Idemia as the country’s Department of Home Affairs (DHA) struggles to find solutions to what has become a lingering problem.

The State Information and Technology Agency (SITA) however, has picked holes in the contract ceding process, saying it did not meet the procurement requirements in force, according to a report by ITWeb. Idemia officially became in charge of the project on March 31.

The ABIS project, launched in 2015, was first awarded to local firm EOH, but controversy soon ensued when it emerged that the biometric project had been irregularly awarded, and also that the master tender file had gone missing along the line.

The biometric system was supposed to be completed within a period of twelve months, but has not been despite the fact that at least US$16 million of the estimated $26 million budgeted for the project has already been spent, according to previous ITWeb reports.

The matter eventually went to Parliament with Home Affairs Committee members examining questions around the project as well as a forensic report on a probe that was launched to unearth the facts of the matter.

Idemia, a biometrics sub-contractor to EOH at the time of the initial contract award, is now taking over as EOH failed to meet the deadline prescribed by the DHA. The project takeover follows clearance from the National Treasury, ITWeb states.

But SITA, which is the government agency that helps procure IT projects for government ministries and other public institutions, holds that the ceding process was non-complaint with existing rules and regulations governing public contracts.

SITA executive caretaker Luvuyo Keyise told ITWeb the cessation was not only unconstitutional, but it was going to set a bad precedent for the country.

“The cession is anti-competitive as it does not comply with the Constitution, the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act, and other procurement laws and regulations, as IDEMIA will be taking over the contract without any tender process. This cession would also create an unfortunate precedent, as EOH wishes to move away from overall eight contracts in government,” said Keyise, adding that SITA had not been informed of the reason for the move.

Idemia, ITWeb mentioned, declined to speak on the allegations as the French firm said it was a matter of policy not to comment on its contracts. The publication however cited Idemia as affirming its desire to give back to all communities it works in across 180 countries.

“IDEMIA would like to take the opportunity to clarify that we are certified at level two for BEE in 2020; we are undergoing re-certification at the moment. As a company that operates in over 180 countries, IDEMIA is deeply committed to giving back to the communities that we work in. Our technology has supported the growth and development of the country for over two decades – we are proud that our solutions, such as contactless payment cards and SIM technology, can be found securing and enabling the everyday activities of South Africans,” ITWeb quoted Idemia as explaining.

The ABIS is part of a digital ID project intended to provide a single source of identification for South African citizens to be used for government and public institutions. It is essentially about transferring data on the DHA’s National Identification System unto an automated biometric platform. The estimated cost is R400 million (about US$26 million).

DHA spokesperson Siya Qoza had said in January that the agency hoped to finish the first the phase of the project in the course of the year.

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