South Africa & DRC: Biometric government contracts raise mismanagement concerns

Biometrics and digital ID

Changes to government contracts with private contractors and their partners have come under scrutiny in two countries this week. In the DRC, it appears the government may be awarding the passport contract to a subsidiary of the previous supplier which it investigated for corruption. While in South Africa, a ministry is hoping to cede a contract for a delayed project from the main contractor, potentially to award it to one of that contractor’s subcontractors.

Concern over possibility of transferring delayed South African biometric contract

Even the possibility that a much-delayed Department of Home Affairs could be transferred to the French firm Idemia is causing consternation reports ITWeb, in part because the firm was one of the subcontractors of the local business EOH which ran up the two-year delay.

The Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) is intended to provide a single source of identification for citizens to use for state institutions. Part of the project required data held by the Home Affairs National Identification System to be transferred to the new system. This contract had been awarded to EOH, which claims to be the largest technology service provider in Africa, and is two years behind schedule, according to ITWeb.

Audits are underway and fines issued on this project, following previous run-ins with the authorities. But the latest controversy stems from concerns that the contract may be awarded to Idemia, one of EOH’s subcontractors on the delayed project.

According to the Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi, EOH decided to discontinue all government contracts and recommended Idemia take over. EOH denies intending to exit government contracts.

Idemia’s perceived involvement in the delays and French HQ are causing concern and triggered Motsoaledi to speak out. In an interview with ITWeb he said, “The DHA has not made a decision to cede the contract to IDEMIA but is considering various rescue plans, including the ceding of the contract on condition that such action doesn’t lead to excessive additional costs, doesn’t lead to fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and guarantees the success of the project.”

For its part, Idemia in South Africa has stated it is only a subcontractor to EOH, providing the biometric functionality for the scheme.

According to the report, Motsoaledi is awaiting approval from the National Treasury in order to transfer or revoke the contract of the flagship identity project.

DRC resumes passport production, Semlex subsidiary cited

The Democratic Republic of Congo is beginning to issue passports after a five-month pause following a rift with the Belgian credentials firm, Semlex. The Thomson Reuters Trust reports that a new decree had been issued and that a separate letter seen by Reuters suggests that the new $68 million deal is with Locosem, a Semlex subsidiary.

The decree shows a new price of $99 for a five-year passport, down from $185 under the previous contract with Semlex.

Reuters has chronicled the souring Semlex saga in the DRC since 2017 after the country appointed the firm under the Joseph Kabila administration in 2016. Prosecutors investigated for corruption and the country finally reported in May that it would not renew the contract once it expired on June 11. Semlex has denied all allegations.

More recent investigations by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), The Elephant and Africa Uncensored have covered Semlex’s dealings in identity documents and oil across the continent including Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya.

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