Free State website deal: love me tender

A tender award document shows the province’s website development may have cost in the region of R100m, yet the companies involved appear to exist mainly only on paper. By Craig Wilson.

Tumi-Ntsele-640

Tumi Ntsele

The Free State provincial government’s controversial website development may have cost it the region of R100m, according to the tender award document, which TechCentral has in its possession.

This comes after Free State director-general Elzabe Rockman on Monday disputed the figure of R140m quoted by the Sowetan newspaper, saying that the actual figure was closer to R40m.

Yet the companies involved in the joint venture that were awarded the tender — Cherry Online Design, Ikamva and Jugganaut — all lack any substantive online presence.

Cherry Online, the company credited on the integrated Free State government website with the site’s development, is controlled by Bloemfontein businessman Tumi Ntsele, who is also the executive chairman of the Letlaka Group, a media holding company that publishes a newspaper called The Weekly.

Further investigation into the companies involved in the tender suggests that most of them exist on paper only. Cherry Online’s website is a holding page and its Facebook page has little content aside from vitriolic comments from members of the public expressing their disgust at the Free State website tender.

A “whois” domain lookup of the three companies in the winning joint venture, Ikamva, Jugganaut and Cherry Online, show a common thread with Ntsele’s Letlaka: a street address in Bloemfontein. The address — 9 Jaconette, King Edward Road, Willows — points to an inexpensive block of residential flats when viewed in Google Street View.

There was outrage on Monday when the Sowetan broke the news of the province’s online spending. The Democratic Alliance has called for the auditor-general to launch a probe into the deal.

The Free State provincial government has since come out in defence of the expenditure, claiming that the money was used for the development of 38 websites, not just one.

Online publication Gadget on Tuesday revealed the apparent true costs associated with the development project. Its editor, Arthur Goldstuck, who is also MD of research firm World Wide Worx, says the tender award document shows that more money was spent on planning the website than is usually spent on the complete development and roll-out of websites for large companies.

Planning for the project amounted to R9,6m, with design costing the same amount again. In total, simply getting the site up and running cost almost R21m. Content generation, meanwhile, cost a further R8,8m in the last three months of the 2011/2012 financial year alone.

According to Goldstuck’s analysis of the tender award document, the cost for the first year of the three-year project amounted to R33,7m, making for a total project cost of R97,8m.

This makes it even more expensive than the R90m South African Airways spent on a website it abandoned development on in 2001.

Goldstuck says that even the complex South African presidency website cost only R250 000 over four years.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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