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MORE was spent on the planning of the Free State government website than most South African corporates have ever spent on the full development and implementation of their websites.

The tender was awarded by the Free State Province on February 24 2012 for the “Redesign/Relaunch of a comprehensive and integrated website” to the “Cherry Ikamva-Jugganaut Joint Venture”.

It includes four phases prior to implementation, followed by implementation, maintenance and “content generation and management”.

The tender award document, supplied yesterday to Radio 702 by the Office of the Director General of the Free State Provincial Government, makes for startling reading.

Phase one, for “planning, conceptualisation, research & information development”, allocates the following funds for financial year 2011/12:

“R350 000 per site for departments and Metro;
R300 000 per site for larger Local Municipalities;
R200 000 per site for Entities and District Municipalities;
R150 000 per site for other Local Municipalities”.

The Free State Provincial Government comprises 11 departments, including the office of the premier. Along with the metro, the first line item therefore comprises 12 sites, for a total cost of R4 200 000.

The Free State province comprises 19 local municipalities, of which six could be described as “larger” (those that include the larger Free State towns, namely Kroonstad, Welkom Sasolburg, Parys, Harrismith and Bethlehem).

The second line item, based on this outline, comes to R1 800 000.

The province includes four “District Municipalities”, which are in effect umbrella bodies for the 19 local municipalities.

The Entities refer to statutory bodies, of which there are four: Free State Tourism Authority, Free State Gambling and Liquor Board, Free State Development Corporation and Centlec, the local electricity authority in Bloemfontein.

Based on these municipalities and entities, the third line item amounts to R1 600 000.

A total of  13 “other Local Municipalities” are not included in the second line item, making for a cost, in the fourth line item, of  R1 950 000.

The total cost, then, of planning the Free State government website was R9 550 000.

Phase Two, for “Design”, also allocated to the 2011/12 financial year, included the same line items, with the same costing. In other words, the design of the site/s cost exactly as much as the planning: a total of R9 550 000.

The allocation for Phase Three, the “Development and Creation” of the site/s, was R1 100 000.

Phase Four, for “Testing”, was open-ended, specifying “R900 per hour x 10 persons”. Assuming, very conservatively, that three eight-hour days were allocated for testing, this would have amounted to a relatively humble R216 000.

No ceiling was placed on this amount, however, and it could be 10 times as high.

Phase Five, for “Implementation”, which appeared to be something other than design, development, creation and testing, was given a budget of R413 600.

The total for the first five phases is R20 829 600, simply to get the site/s up and running.

Phase Six A, for Maintenance, and Six B, for “Content Generation and Management”, is a fascinating mix of hidden and unstated cost. Maintenance is costed at “R900 per hour x 2 persons”.

It can safely be assumed that maintenance was allocated to budget as an ongoing function, i e 40 hours per week x 2 persons, amounting to R72 000 per week.

Assuming the financial year ended in June, as it usually does for provinces, and a modest 12 weeks of maintenance was provided, the total would be R864 000.

Phase Six B, “Content Generation and Management” allows for “R75 000 per month per site x three months” in financial year 2011/12.

The total number of sites, derived from the breakdown of phase one, is no less than 39. For one month, the cost is R2 925 000. For the last three months of financial year 2011/12, the total cost was R8 775 000.

Assuming the project started in time for three months of content generation and management to be provided in the 2011/12 financial year, the total paid out in the four months after the tender was awarded would have been R30 468 600.

For financial year 2012, two phases are provided namely:

“Phase: Maintenance, including review and update of design: R900 per hours;
“Phase: Content Services, Generation and Management: R68 253 per month per site.”

Based on four weeks of maintenance per month, and assuming one person responsible, the cost of maintenance is R144 000 per month, or R1 728 000 per year. This assumes that it is not a per-site cost.

Content services, generation and management, on the other hand, is a per site service which, for 39 sites, amounts to  R2 661 867 per month, or R31 942 404 for the 2012/13 financial year.

The total cost of the web site for 2012/13: R33 670 404.

The allocation for 2013/2014 is exactly the same as for 2012/13: R33 670 404.

This puts the total cost of the site over less than three years at R97 809 408.

This, in turn, gives the Free State government website the distinction of being the most expensive website ever built (or not built) in South Africa.

The previous website to hold that dubious honour, a South African Airways site aimed at foreign visitors, cost R90m in a venture that was eventually aborted in 2001.

By way of comparison, the website of the South African presidency, which is somewhat more complex than that of the Free State provincial government, was built and maintained by Absol Internet Business Solutions (which hosts the Gadget website and content management system) at a total cost of about R250 000 over the past four years.