Free Wi-Fi in Pretoria still on, for now

A project to roll out free Wi-Fi in Pretoria is back on track, despite the Auditor General having raised concerns about it under the previous administration, a city official said on Thursday.

“While this city government may not have conceived of free Wi-Fi, our aim is to perfect it,” mayoral committee member for corporate services, Cilliers Brink, told reporters in Centurion.

The Auditor General red-flagged R180m that had been spent on the project as unlawful and irregular expenditure, Democratic Alliance mayor Solly Msimanga said after his first 100 days in office.

During a meeting with the AG in May, it emerged that the project, called “TshWi-Fi”, was being paid for with grant funding meant for non-profit organisations and charities. The non-profit company linked to the deal was called Project Isizwe.

The city spent months negotiating with Project Isizwe, under extremely difficult circumstances for both parties, Brink said.

Amended contract

The outcome was that the contract had been amended to ensure the quality and the reach of the current free Wi-Fi was maintained. The agreement would run until December 2017.

“With the short-term of free Wi-Fi secured, the ingenuity of the private sector now becomes crucial to securing the service in the long-term.”

Pretoria would not be able to sustain full subsidy of free Wi-Fi indefinitely, or to fund the expansion of the network on its own. It would need commercial investment and partnerships.

In the 2017/18 financial year, the city had budgeted R88.5m for the provision of free Wi-Fi. It was crucial that this money be spent wisely and that the mistakes of the last administration, which endangered the project, were avoided, he said.

The previous African National Congress-led city government under Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa initiated TshWi-Fi.

Brink said the cost of rolling out the project until June 2016 had been R320m. Expenditure for 2016/17 to date was R78m.

“Free Wi-Fi is about individual opportunity and potential. It gives ordinary people a small hand-up to get ahead in life.”