Zuma orders investigation into Project Vulindlela

February 21st, 2014, Published in Articles: PositionIT


clare-leadby Clare van Zwieten, EE Publishers

President Zuma has issued a proclamation calling on the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and its service providers for alleged fraud, corruption and maladministration relating to the e-cadastre project, also known as Project Vulindlela, and the processing of deeds on the Deeds Registration System.

The proclamation, published in the Government Gazette on 14 February 2014, makes specific reference in the schedule to contracts relating to the DRDLR’s e-cadastre project and e-cadastre system, the Deeds Registries System, the enterprise architecture product for the DRDLR, the Regulatory Impact Assessment for the DRDLR, and the back-scanning of DRDLR records into microfilm images for the DRDLR database.

Point 2 of the schedule also makes reference to theft, fraud, corruption and/or maladministration in the affairs of the DRDLR in relation to the processing of deeds on the Deeds Registration System of the Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein Deeds Registries or in the processes of requesting or giving out deeds information in a manner that was contrary to applicable legislation or manuals, guidelines, policies and procedures of the DRDLR.

A copy of the proclamation can be viewed on the SIU website at: www.siu.org.za/investigations?field_project_status_value=All&field_region_value=National&field_year_value=2014

South Africa’s e-cadastre project is an electronic solution intended to automate and optimise the organisational performance of the Cadastral Surveys Management (CSM) and Deeds Registration branches of the DRDLR. Two major land issues are addressed by the project: security of title, which is the responsibility of the Deeds Registration branch, and the management and maintenance of the country’s cadastral data, which is the responsibility of the Cadastral  Surveys Management branch. The latter is also responsible for examining and approving sectional title plans, diagrams and general plans. When carrying out their duties both branches adhere to legal and regulatory requirements.

Upon completion, Project Vulindlela is expected to enable the DRDLR to provide improved land and land rights information management. It will assist in developing a more accurate reflection of South Africa’s cadastre, and will see a major reduction in examination and approval time which will have positive spin-offs for the land development value chain and the economy as a whole. The e-cadastre solution will be implemented at all Deeds Registration and Cadastral Surveys Management offices across South Africa, and will enable a range of role players in the land development and property arena to interact with the South African cadastre.

In 2010 the Project Vulindlela contract, worth over R350-million, was awarded to IT company, Gijima, with work on the project expected to have been finalised  by 2013. On being awarded the tender, Gijima, sub-contracted the data back-scanning work to Anderson Scanning Technologies (AST). This working arrangement subsequently broke down with  Gijima applying for AST to be provisionally liquidated in June last year and AST issuing a summons against Gijima in October 2013 claiming damages of over R180- million.

Whatever the truth of the claims and counter claims between these two companies, the handling of the back-scanning of the documents has led to concerns within the surveying fraternity regarding documents being removed from the legal custodianship of the Surveyor General (SG) offices to a central location for scanning; damage to delicate original documents; inaccuracies in the capturing of attribute data; and whether the documents are being refiled in the correct place and order to ensure the continued accuracy of SG data records.

At an external stakeholder e-cadastre workshop hosted by the DRDLR on 14 February 2014, the Chief Surveyor General, Mumuso Riba, revealed that a strategic decision had been taken by the DRDLR in October 2013 to suspend work on the e-cadastre project. This, he explained, was due to challenges being experienced with the back-scanning of data from the Surveyor General offices and the development of the e-cadastre project not proceeding as planned.

Riba said that a high level GAP analysis of Project Vulindlela had been undertaken by the DRDLR from 9 to 13 December 2013 with further detailed analysis having taken place from December 2013 to February 2014. He stated that the department had consulted with experts from the Netherlands, which is widely acknowledged to have implemented an excellent e-cadastre system, and these experts had shared the lessons learnt from their experiences of developing an e-cadastre. At the workshop Riba acknowledged that external and internal stakeholders had not been sufficiently engaged during the e-cadastre development process, and that the process would now be more consultative. He stated that after additional planning and stakeholder engagement, work on Project Vulindlela was expected to resume in June 2014.

President Zuma’s proclamation gives the SIU powers to subpoena, search, seize and interrogate witnesses under oath. It can take civil action to correct any wrongdoing uncovered during its investigations, and it has the power, in conjunction with the DRDLR, to cancel contracts when proper procedures have not been followed.

It is not clear at this stage whether the issuing of the presidential proclamation on 14 February, the same day as the DRDLR workshop, will impact on the strategic overview of the e-cadastre project that is underway… or whether the project’s suspension and  the SIU investigation are a co-ordinated effort to get Project Vulindlela on the right track.

Whatever the case, South Africa needs an e-cadastre that is properly planned and implemented. Hopefully the SIU investigation and the DRDLR’s project reassessment will assist in knocking the much anticipated Project Vulindlela into shape. In the meantime, the surveying industry and other role players will have to wait and see what the SIU investigation reveals about the e-cadastre project and whether the department’s contract with Gijima will be affected.

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