Crisis averted for government ICT


Image: By BiztechAfrica
Crisis averted for government ICT

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

There is incessant media speculation that the Government offices in Botswana have been thrown a lifeline by allowing local IT companies to continue rendering services for government until a solution is found to the current logistical impasse.

 “For now government has been saved from a computer paralysis that would have seen the entire National IT Infrastructure network hit by a computer virus due to the limited capacity of government IT personnel,” said one media source of the current government IT scenario.

Media reports say a court order by Justice Monametsi Gaongalelwe on February 29, gave the local IT companies the go-ahead to continue performing the service for government until a tender award, which usually takes two years to process, is completed.

Government wanted to discontinue engaging private companies from February 29, 2012, in outsourcing for hardware maintenance and software support services for PC, server and peripheral systems at government services and departments, but private companies - some of whom have been providing the services to government for 20 years - have warned government risks triggering disaster of cosmic proportions by leaving the work in the hands of its inexperienced personnel.

The business is worth USD8.6 million a year to the five IT companies engaged by government. The IT companies are also said to employ over 500 Batswana IT professionals and ancillary staff.

According to courts documents which are privy to the media, the IT companies handle 24,000 service calls annually, or 50-250 calls a day for service. They also handle a high number of computer virus calls, a situation which has been a feature of the life of the contract, as the anti-virus measures in place do not adequately address the problem.

The contracts are for the entire government information technology structure extending from ministry level all the way to structures such as Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), immigration (including border posts), education (including government schools) and all police stations.

 It is believed that five IT companies some of which have been performing micro maintenance support services for government departments for 20 years now successfully argued in court that government does not have the resources to undertake this task.

The IT companies cite a previous catastrophic episode in which the national infrastructure was severely affected by a flare up in virus activity resulting in great disruption to the government’s capacity to deliver on its mandate.

However, the Minister of Transport and Communications Nonofo Molefhi told the media that government has the capacity to perform the service presently outsourced to private companies. He revealed that government has some 800 qualified IT staff who are capable of delivering and announced that they are appealing Judge Gaongalelwe’s decision.

The situation would have seen government computers and their network going for months without adequate maintenance, while still waiting for tender award, the IT companies said in their court papers.

According to information reaching Biztechafrica, “on February 10, the companies appealed to the minister to intervene, after being told by the director of Department of Information and Technology (DITS) that government was determined to use its own human resource. Government had written to all the IT companies - MODI Investments, Office Technique and IT Integrates, IBS, PC Net - informing them that their contracts would cease on February 29, 2012.”

The tender invitation was only published on the eve of the urgent lawsuit by three of the affected IT companies though DITS was expected to have had the tender awarded by March 2012. In fact opinion in the IT industry is that the advert was placed in such a hurry just to save face ahead of the hearing of the urgent court application by IT companies. The current contracts have been running since April 2010.

However, commentators where quick to post their reactions to the story beginning with those that feel the government is blocking the entry of fresh graduates by redeploying these companies year after year. Below are a few comments on the matter:

“46 years into independence and still struggling with localisation? There are a lot of skilled and trained locals roaming the streets. Employ them!”

“60 millions of pula (about USD8.6million) that's too much just for formatting the machine and update virus with trial version” was the thinking of one commentator.

“Those Companies do overrate themselves... I think de government has better technicians than them, the fact that they're underpaying tells u that they can't retain skilled manpower,” said another.  

And lastly a concerned student says: “This (sic) companies are blocking a way for government to employ fresh graduate and continue certifying and training its employees. There lot of IT graduates out there…”

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