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The cancellation of SA’s rural broadband tender, due ostensibly to all bidders failing to meet the technical requirements, will have a profound impact on the far-flung communities that live on thin or dysfunctional health, education and social services. While the bureaucrats fiddle, recalibrating specs that were probably unrealistic in the first place, millions of our worst-served citizens will grind on, unaware of how life-saving and/or life-changing this technology can be. In health alone, speak to any community service doctor posted to a deep rural district hospital, and they’ll tell you what a difference broadband communication would make to their patients – let alone their own ongoing education. It would be literally life-saving, enabling them to instantly access expert consultant opinion on how to deal with medical or surgical complexities that even the best internship and medical school could not have prepared them for. We simply don’t have the luxury of enough people with sufficient skills. Technology must be the answer. It’s not the first time that controversy and confusion have struck the tender. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)-listed Telkom were at one stage reportedly near to sealing the SA Connect deal – without undergoing a proper tender process. Government owns 39% of Telkom. Zuma said, in his 2015 State of the Nation address, that government had decided to “designate Telkom as the lead agency to assist with broadband roll out”. Yet, Telkom was not part of Sita’s bidders list for the tender, sparking further confusion. Adding to this, last month Treasury’s medium-term budget policy statement indicated that the tender for the broadband project still had to be issued. Given the context of the all-pervasive corruption in government, one is sorely tempted to wonder. – Chris Bateman
By Garth van Zyl
Johannesburg – Government’s rural broadband tender has been cancelled because all bidding companies failed to meet technical requirements for phase one of the project.
This is according to the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) in a response to recent reports about the shutdown of the tender.
A tender bulletin update on November 18 revealed that bidding for South Africa’s ‘Connect’ tender had been cancelled by Sita.
The telecommunications and postal services ministry approach Sita earlier this year to commence the tender process. The tender was originally divided in two phases.
Phase one was allocated R1.5bn and was expected to connect 6 235 government facilities in eight district municipalities. Phase two was subsequently planned to connect 35 211 facilities in another 44 disctrict municipalities by 2020.
The project was part of government’s ‘SA Connect’ plan, which seeks connecting broadband access to 90% of the country’s population by 2020 and 100% by 2030.
Last week the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) said that bidders for the project would include Broadband Infraco, EOH, MTN, Vodacom, Tradepage and Galela Telecommunications. Telkom declined to bid, despite reports that it was in the running.
And Sita on late Tuesday revealed reasons for the cancellation.
“Sita conducted the screening process in the presence of the Independent Auditor to ascertain if all the prospective bidders had submitted compliance documentation to proceed to the technical evaluation stage,” said the agency in a statement.
“At the conclusion of the technical evaluation process, which was also subjected to probity by the Independent Auditor, none of the six companies that responded to the bid had met all six technical mandatory requirements…to enable them to proceed to the next phase of pricing evaluation.
“As such the bid had to be cancelled in terms of clause 32.4.1 (4) of the SITA Supply Chain Management Policy,” said Sita.
Sita further said that the decision to cancel was signed off at a meeting of the board of directors on October 19 2016.
Sita added that all six bidders were notified and individual reasons furnished to each in the week of 14 – 18 November 2016.
This may not mark the end of the tender project though.
“Realising and acknowledging the importance of the SA Connect and its intended impact on the achievement of the NDP (National Development Programme) milestones, Sita and the client will still meet to discuss and decide on way forward and the public will be kept informed,” added Sita.
The move to cancel the tender has sparked criticism from opposition party the DA.
Earlier this week, DA MP Marian Shinn said she had written to telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele to query the cancellation.
“I have written to the minister of telecommunications and postal services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, requesting that he urgently explain why the tender was cancelled and what steps are being taken to revise the procurement phase and implementation of SA Connect,” said the DA’s Marian Shinn.
“The rapid provision of broadband internet structure is critical to give all those living in South Africa access to online government services, educational and economic opportunities.
“Government must now be innovative in requesting broadband solutions from a wider spread of small and large network service providers to deliver affordable and sustainable internet access to all,” said Shinn. – Fin24