P100M IT TENDER CRIPPLES UB

  • Senior IT personnel accused of collusion
  • UB system cloned despite a P40m tender

LAWRENCE SERETSE

In 2012 the University of Botswana (UB) spent P55 million procuring a new, high tech database system for the administration of the institution’s daily business and student management, but 7 years later the system remains dysfunctional.

After five years of grappling with a dysfunctional Information System (IT) system that is allegedly not serving its purpose, last year the new Vice Chancellor Professor David Norris is said to have pulled the plug on a running tender for an upgrade of the same IT system at an added cost of P40 million while the University struggled for funds of everyday operations.

The Botswana Gazette investigations revealed that the University’s financial status is in a P231 million deficit as of 2018, partially because in the previous four years more money was spent at the IT department than on any other activity in UB.

UPIC

It emerged that some senior officers at the UB’s IT department are in collusion with software suppliers to milk the institution dry. UB is allocated funds by government on an annual basis.

Information passed to this publication also shows that the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application may have been manipulated and cloned from different software preceding its release and installation date of 2012, hence functional failures recorded across the University escalated with costs.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is business process management software that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage the business and automate many back office functions related to technology, services and human resources. The UB system is based on Oracle software.

Seed

WHAT TRANSPIRED AT UB?
Paper trail and emails seen by this publication indicate that in 2016 before the floating of the tender to supply University of Botswana with new ERP software, senior officers at University of Botswana’s IT department were already soliciting systems specifications from a local software company Sais PTY Ltd.

Before the tender specifics were drafted, Sais Ltd invited the IT directors to view their Oracle based server systems, according to email correspondences seen. Through this benchmarking exercise the ‘Invitation To Tender’ (ITT) was designed to fit the description of the T5 Super Cluster equipment that Sais was already providing. American company IBM, which is a competitor, also supplies the same infrastructure but the IT directors did not benchmark with the company.

Documents show that only two companies then tendered, and that was Sais Ltd and ROI Ltd. The P40 million tender was eventually won by Sais Ltd, allegedly due to the fact that the tender competitor ROI Ltd did not have access to insider information to competitively provide the exact specifics and project costs as per the ITT.

FALSIFIED DOCUMENTS DISADVANTAGED COMPETITOR-IBM?

In 2017, prior to the tender being issued, the University’s IT administration after soliciting for specifications and pricing from Sais Ltd, also submitted in its memorandums titled “Request for funding for new ERP servers (UBIT050” and “Request for Selective Tender for Procurement of ERP Servers (UBIT/043), comprehensive cost breakdown by both IBM and Sais for comparison. These memorandums were submitted to the Deputy Vice Chancellor –Finance and Administration for approval of funds for the tender.

The breakdown purported that IBM was supplying the same ERP systems at P39, 9 million while Sais Ltd was cheaper at P24, 2 million. These were signed by the Director of Information and Technology Ratsela Mooketsi who refused to field questions when interviewed at his office a few weeks ago.

Despite the quotations purported to be from IBM, a letter written to UB management on 20th March 2019, in the wake of an internal audit launched by the Vice Chancellor Prof David Norris on this IT systems tender, IBM, trading as South Consult Ltd vehemently refuted ever providing any quotation for the supply of the ERP application in 2016 to the University. This then meant that the IBM quotation may have been a fraud.

In the letter signed by Lawrence Chakanyuka, Sales Manager at IBM, the company provided what would have been the correct pricing for the software equipment had it been consulted for a quotation then, its cover charge was P11. 8 million for 3 years inclusive of licenses, installation and migration fees. This was way less than the inflated P39, 939 million the IT director Mooketsi submitted in his quotations to the University’s finance management without IBM’s knowledge.

“In summary the information submitted to the University of Botswana Council in 2017 is unduly exaggerated if not outright falsified,” IBM’s Chakanyuka told the Vice Chancellor Professor Norris in the letter. He also confirmed to this publication in an interview that the University had never requested for quotations and specifications for the ERP application tender in 2016 as purported in Mooketsi’s memos to the VC-finance.

This publication also understands that despite the fictitious figures created to eliminate IBM from competing, the software and hardware equipment in which it was quoted for was completely different from what Sais Ltd had shown the University during benchmarking and was supplying for the tender. Thus meaning IBM was fictitiously quoted to supply two IBM 870 hardware against Sais which was quoting SC128 + SC64 super cluster hardware in the same document; IT experts explain that the competition was not level as these are completely different equipment that serve different purposes. “It’s like quoting for a double storey mansion when you require space for a small parking lot.” But at the time IBM was not even aware that a quotation had been allegedly falsified in its name.

After the University had approved the justification for the funding in favour of Sais Ltd, the contract to supply the ERP applications was then escalated from P25 million to the tune of P36 million with further maintenance fees. When asked about the price variations, the Technical Director of Sais, Namalapu Bhaskar only said that, “We had submitted one bid with one price and when tenders were opened we were the lowest.” He denied allegations of collusion stating that their relationship with UB director of IT, Mooketsi was ‘strictly a professional customer, supplier relationship’.

In his summary response Bhaskar told The Botswana Gazette that the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) ‘ has investigated the matter in detail’ but did not disclose how he was aware of the piece of information.

He also mentioned that he “had experienced such false allegations and defamation activities carried out by one gentleman by the name Moses Moloi of Nexim Solutions. He has furnished UB management with the false information and subsequently UB reported the matter to DIS. We therefore request your good office to contact the DIS office to get the undisputed outcome of the investigation,” Bhaskar said in response to our enquiries.

Questions sent to the DIS Director General Peter Magosi to confirm Bhaskar’s claims were not responded to as his phone was also unavailable.

VICE CHANCELLOR’S INTERNAL AUDIT CAUSED PROBLEMS

Investigations established that the UB Vice Chancellor Professor Norris is himself facing investigations by the UB Council for unanimously engaging a company to audit the defects in this ERP application system and allegations that the system was crippling the University so as to inform himself whether the procurement tender was a necessity.

Reliable sources indicated to this publication that in 2018 the VC advised the University management to halt the awarding of the P40million ERP tender but to his dismay it was awarded behind his back.

Information gathered by this publication indicate that the Vice Chancellor then directly engaged an outside company called Nexim Solutions to carry out an internal audit at the recommendation of Oracle Systems in the US. Insiders say the audit preliminary findings indicate that the IT system installed by Sais Ltd under the oversight of IT Director Mooketsi did not meet efficient standards required by Oracle. Sais Ltd dismissed allegations that some of the reports indicated that the system which was installed in 2012 showed programming code information dating as far as 2006 suggesting that the software may have been cloned and in use long before 2012. When asked Bhaskar said that the Oracle system cannot be cloned but various IT experts engaged differed with his response.

Professor Norris is under investigation for directly appointing a system auditor, Nexim Solutions to investigate raised allegations and system malfunctions, a senior official at UB said, while indicating that Collins Chilisa, the law firm engaged to investigate Prof Norris was also similarly appointed through a direct appointment without tendering.

“The VC is only being investigated for investigating the allegations of dubious dealings that stand to cost the University multi millions and students failing to access their academic databases because of mismanagement. We are questioning the complaint letter that was sent to the Office of the president’s Senior Secretary, we do not have a member of staff named Sizo Bengu, that’s a fictitious character,” UB Union president Kaelo Molefhe said when asked about the matter.

Questioned about these findings the UB Vice Chancellor Professor Norris admitted that he indeed was aware of the allegations and system defects raised about the University IT infrastructure but could not comment due to ongoing investigations.