Outrage is growing over reports that the Free State government spent R140m on developing a new, integrated website to serve citizens of the South African province.
According to a report in the Sowetan newspaper, the provincial government handed over R140m for the site’s development. Yet a technical interrogation shows the site using the free WordPress content management system popular among bloggers and is based on an off-the-shelf WordPress theme that costs just US$40 (about R360).
The website server appears to run on top of Linux, Apache and PHP, which are all free and open-source software packages.
The Democratic Alliance has called for the Auditor-General to launch a probe into the deal, which awarded the business to a venture led by controversial Bloemfontein businessman Tumi Ntsele.
Free State director-general Elzabe Rockman, who signed a three-year contract in 2011 for the redevelopment of the website, disputed the reported figure, telling the Sowetan the development cost R40m — still a huge sum of money, even if the site is designed to support huge volumes of traffic.
The website appears to be running an outdated version of WordPress, one which has known security flaws, making it vulnerable to attack. On Monday afternoon, the site could be accessed only intermittently, no doubt because of the traffic generated by news stories about its costly development.
According to the Sowetan, the companies tasked with building the site are Ikamva, Juggernaut and Cherry Online Designs. Cherry Online, registered in January 2007, is credited on the Free State government website as the developer, but the link points to a holding page from Internet service provider Afrihost.
Ntsele, a prominent Free State businessman, holds a controlling stake in Cherry Online. Born in the Free State town of Zastron, he studied at Vista University’s Bloemfontein campus. He is the executive chairman of the Letlaka Group, a media holding company that publishes a newspaper called The Weekly.
Letlaka Group also has a holding page in lieu of a website and last year Ntsele pledged R250 000 to a charitable foundation run by the Gupta family-controlled New Age newspaper.
Ntsele isn’t commenting on the reports. An assistant in his office refers TechCentral to the Free State government for comment. Neither Rockman nor premier Ace Magashule could be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.
The Sowetan reported that Ntsele’s company was awarded the tender even though two other companies submitted significantly lower bids.
The DA, which wants the website deal probed, says Magashule is “running a campaign to buy media influence and enriching his comrades in business at the same time”.
According to the party, the premier spent R12m on his own television channel last year. The contract for the channel, Hlasela TV, was also awarded to Ntsele. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
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