* It raises fears of sabotage on the part of the foreign contractor, who are reluctant to hand over the system to Malawi Government
* The MalTIS developers have held back the system as ransom for the past 5 years
* If this was a Malawian company that developed the system, we would not have these kind of problems and expenses
By Duncan Mlanjira
The Malawi Traffic Information System (MalTIS) servers crashed on Tuesday, disabling all essential services of the Directorate of Road Traffic Services & Safety (DRTSS).
The crisis forced the DRTSS to fly in the developers of the system, Movesa & Fischer Consulting from South Africa, raising fears of sabotage on the part of the foreign contractor, who are reluctant to hand over the system to Malawi Government.
Our source within DRTSS indicated that they have a problem with one of their network switches at the data centre and were failing to restore operations — opting to fly in the MalTIS developers, who have held it back as ransom for the past 5 years.
The DRTSS confirmed the shutdown of entire country system in a public notice on Thursday November 10 and while acknowledging that the public was experiencing numerous challenges they said they were “working tirelessly to resolve the problem and have the system restored” and assured that “services will be restored as soon as possible”.
Our source said: “If this was a Malawian company that developed the system than been given to a foreign firm, we would not have these kind of problems and expenses.
“The country is losing forex having this system outside of the country”.
The servers crashed on Tuesday at around 3pm and as DRTSS indicated in the public notice, it is still not up and running and our source indicated that it would probably take over a week to be back online.
When asked what made the system to crash and if indeed the consultant Movesa and Fischer were flown in to fix it, DRTSS publicist Angelina Makwecha did not respond.
The MalTIS — a government technological service — is riddled with controversy that it has attracted the attention and action by the Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda as well as Malawi Parliament through its Committee on Transport.
When contacted, the AG promised to come back to us with a government stand on the system shutdown and also of the whole MalTIS saga.
Meanwhile, the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) is assessing for possible investigations serious concerns raised by private garage operators on unfair trading practices to do with vehicle certificate of fitness (COF) thorough the MalTIS.
CFTC engaged the private garage operators, who raised many challenges that include being barred from accessing the supposedly government system even after meeting all regulatory requirements — such as investing in advanced equipment at their premises.
The creation of MalTIS was granted to Movesa and South Africa-based firm, Fischer Consulting with an agreement to handover to the Malawi Government in 2017, but five years after the agreed initial handover, the consultant is still clinging on to the sensitive system.
In September, the AG was incredulous that an technological contract was given to Movesa, a company with no ICT expertise, that subcontracted the deal to Fischer Consulting.
The AG also told the media that through the breach of not handing over the MalTIS system, vehicles are dubiously being registered in South Africa by Movesa and Fischer Consulting and being driven into the country to evade the payment of excise and import duty.
Nyirenda indicated in September that his office would commence litigation against the consultant after Movesa was reluctant to engage with the AG to hand over the system since May this year.
In an interview after the meeting with CFTC, Atupele Mahata — manager for one of the accredited garages for COF, Blantyre Motor Vehicle Inspection Centre along road to Lunzu soon after Kameza — said they highlighted pending issues of Movesa and Fischer Consulting dominating and controlling MalTIS.
She said vehicle inspection garages are being cut off from the system while other stations — closely connected to the consultant — are allowed to work offline.
“We keep losing customers because when they visit for services but find us offline, they go back and never return because of other challenges that include scarcity of fuel,” she said.
“We have engaged the authorities on numerous of times such that, as an association, we were invited by the Parliamentary Committee on Transport to hear the challenges we are facing.
“In the process of explaining what our services are, using a power point, we lost connectivity from the MalTIS, which was enough evidence for the Committee to appreciate how challenged we are.
“The Parliamentary Committee even visited our stations physically to inspect if indeed we met all regulatory requirements and none of all that are accredited failed the parameters that the Committee had with them.”
CFTC’s acting Executive Director, Apoche Itimu said they engaged the industry players in their mandate of conducting market surveillances, and was quick to say they needed a clear understanding of the matters raised to look into them and come up with a determination.
She emphasized that CFTC may investigate or not based on their assessment of the complaints raised, while indicating that they have no defined timeline.
The minutes, which the the vehicle inspection stations association prepared, indicate that CFTC highlighted that new entrants into the market, such as importation of blank number plates, are encouraged and must be treated fairly.
A business or institution must not create barriers for other players or consumers and that dominance is strictly discouraged.
As the AG was at pains to enforce the hand over of the MalTIS, Movesa and Fischer Consulting doubted if the process would be completed any time soon — as quoted by the firm’s official named as Gerrit Fischer by Nation on Sunday last month.
He was quoted as saying: “We cannot at this stage indicate when the system would be handed over to government as you may appreciate that the matter is regulated by contractual terms and conditions that need to be adhered to for the handover to take place.”
However, the AG accused the developers of the system of failing to make it functional while the Ministry of Transport, in a report quoted by the paper, indicate that while Movesa and Fischer provided training for front end users on how to operate the various functions in the different modules, management at the Ministry and DRTSS have not been trained in the MalTIS and other subsystems administration functions.
Parliamentary Committee of Transport chairperson Ucizi Mkandawire was quoted in the media as saying there was need for the government to take control of the system, raising fears that the consultant might decide to tamper with it and in worst case scenario, switch it off.
He was quoted by The Daily Times as saying: “They may decide to shut down the system anytime they want because they have all the rights; all the control of the servers and everything.
“We, as a Committee are indeed worried. The way things are, we — as government — don’t own the system because it is still being controlled by the consultant,” Mkandawire told the paper in September.
The private garage operators also raised concerns of unfair trading practices on the part of DRTSS and Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) over sole blank number plate importation granted only to Motor Vehicle Spares and Accessories (Movesa).
DRTSS and MBS denied a bidder to join the industry to supply the blank number plates by indicating that the bidder’s plates failed to meet standards but Movesa is supplying and selling substandard plates.