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South Africa state government buys $40 website for nearly $10 million

A state government in South Africa contracted with a largely unknown company for development of a website that will cost taxpayers a whopping $9.9 million over three years.

The Free State’s website is reportedly an off-the-shelf template available from WordPress for $40.

The url for the site couldn’t have cost millions. It’s www.freestateonline.fs.gov.za.

The company that built the site is shown as Cherry Online Design. A link to the company’s site says ‘Website Coming Soon.’

The Free State, according to its aforesaid website, ‘is one of the nine provinces of South Africa and is centrally located. It represents 10.6% of the total land area of the country. It boasts wide horizons, blue skies, mountains and goldfields. The province covers an area of 129,464 sq km and is roughly the size of Nicaragua. In 2011, the province had a population of 2.7 million.’

Tech site Gadget published a breakdown of the pricing in March from its analysis of the website development contract.

Gadget calculated the total cost of the site over three years as R97,809,408 — or just over $9.9 million.

Gadget said,

This, in turn, gives the Free State Government website (http://www.freestateonline.fs.gov.za) the distinction of being the most expensive website ever built (or not built) in South Africa. The previous website to hold that dubious honor, a South African Airways site aimed at foreign visitors, cost R90 million ($9.1 million) in a venture that was eventually aborted in 2001.

By way of comparison, the website of the South African Presidency (http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/), 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 ($25,000) over the past four years.

No formal allegations of corruption in connection with the website deal have been reported.

A comment on the Gadget story said, ‘It’s painful to know this is where our taxes are going, but considering the state of our education and housing and services it’s an absolute disgrace. How many bursaries could have been granted instead, how many houses built for the poor?’

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