South African government charged US $10 million for a WordPress theme job

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The Free State provincial government websiteIt happens all the time, even (no, especially) locally. A large company whose PR, marketing or whoever is in charge of the company’s online presence, is completely clueless of how websites work, hires a web development company. The web development company, sometimes just a one man band, then goes onto the internet and searches for an already developed theme (also called templates). The theme can cost anything from free, US $40 to $2,000.

The web development company then and installs the theme atop an open source content management system (CMS) that they just downloaded for free. Popular ones world over are Joomla and WordPress. They’ll change the logo and a few colours here and there of course, but the whole operation can take about 5 hours or so. A day at most if the guy is new to the game.

Done. They show it to the client, invoice them, maybe grease a few hands, and it’s smiles all the way to the bank. Smiles because, if you’re this South African web development company you just became US $10.7 million richer.

It happens all the time but this is definitely extreme. South African tech blogs reported that a web development company actually charged the South African government at least R97 million for a website. The website is basically just WordPress (free) and a WordPress theme (about $40) that they clearly didn’t modify much. Here’s a screenshot of the theme.

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Just a note to the reader. Themems are not bad. They are handy thing to have. But the abuse above and all such similar nonsense (at much lesser figures) happening in Zimbabwe, is madness.

26 Comments

  1. Dogstar says:

    Yes have been following the story. myBB has a breakdown of the costs on the link below. There is corruption and fraud but this one definitely breaks the bank for real.

    http://mybroadband.co.za/news/internet/71822-multi-million-free-state-website-what-did-it-cost.html

    1. tinm@n says:

      Insightful.

      Imagine this:

      R900 per hour x 10 persons (assuming 3x 8-hour days for testing)

  2. Lapa says:

    Tenderprenuership @ its best. hmmm them looks like some greasey hands 4sho!

  3. lurker133 says:

    Ah, let’s be real here: just change that headline to “South African Taxpayer Just Got Fleeced of (another) 10 million USD in Corrupt ANC Schemes”

    This tenderpreneur business can only be a money laundering racket.

  4. Infinisystech says:

    In as much as they did rip them off, you should realise most of the work when doing a website for a big organisation is not just about theming, big guys have bureaucracy issues, they take forever to make decisions and when they do, they may ask you to change it again and the whole process starts all over. You also dont know if they have a special section on the website, like an extranet, or special module for privileged users behind the website front, you dont know the depth of the security they had to employ , the deeper the security the more expensive it becomes, and you dont know about the maintanance contract . Basically im saying its possible that the project was big, maybe not big enough for 10 mita, but its definitely bigger than you are implying here

  5. Member says:

    you can have a free open source installation and theme but there is more to it in terms of delivery. how many people have tried to copy techzim by installing wordpress but where are they now? it is about content, execution and architecture _ people gathering and architecturing web content is where the donkey work is. but hazvo uhm 10mita ndokuti zvakabhadhara uku!

  6. King_Oberon says:

    Sounds like someone is bitter.

    Maybe this is over the top but if you can get away with it as a development house or even a freelance, I say go for it. The big problem in this industry is not the people who charge too much but those who charge too little. It’s getting tough for the little guys to make a living these days since many juniors are coming in at extremely low rates or dev sweat shops are pushing out new projects by the thousands, charging next to nothing thanks to places such as theme forrest.

    I think the real crime is that the bill was agreed to, not that it the agency got away with it.

    1. tinm@n says:

      No. Its more than that. The agency also designed other off-line material for the same provisional government. A premium rate is normal when developing for a big client, factoring in the reach, the value and impact of the website which would also have a direct relation to your liability/vulnerability to litigation risks. BUT the amount they paid for that site is obscene and calls for investigation. Given revelations that they have done other obscenely high value jobs for the Free State is reason for suspicion

    2. nope. not bitter. we don’t sell websites.

      1. bob says:

        why not try web designing yourself LSM and see how much you would charge per website? i am a web designer / developer. how about we ask you why you charge thousands on techzim for a mere advert that you simply upload in less than a minute. there is a lot that goes behind the scenes for you to get that figure. you have to consider the nature of business i.e the number of jobs/month, the amount of research and interviews you do to come up with a decent job, bureaucracy, the competition, the experience of the design company etc. Nobody forces a client to pay the thousands they are prepared to pay for the websites and surely nobody forces your clients to advertise on techzim – they see value. you need not be condescending and assume you are better placed than the people that are actually involved in the business or worse – better than the people that see value in projects that they invest in. What’s a template in the hands of a novice? What’s a template in the hands of someone who has developed websites for 5 years? I can assure you that even a website based on a template would need no less than 50 hours with a professional web design entity. Automatically that puts the starting figure at $2000! In all fairness, Zimbabwean web design companies are actually short-changed given what they are expected to do and the “acceptable industry rates”.
        On corruption – it depends on the individuals companies. It could be an easy assumption of a competitor when they lose a job to someone else that “money exchanged hands”. In my experience, I have worked on projects where the next bidder charges less than half the amount I charge and still I walk away with the job! In most serious businesses it goes beyond the charge! Not even in one instance have I paid anyone anything or known the people prior to them googling for our services online.

        1. @TheDogstar:disqus here suggested you read the figures http://mybroadband.co.za/news/internet/71822-multi-million-free-state-website-what-did-it-cost.html
          I’m sure that would help you see this for what it is

  7. Prosper Chikomo says:

    It’s good business. So is the right thing to do to return the money to the SA gvt? Hell no.

    1. Member says:

      Let the bucks roll. Havana mhosva vanhu ava. So how do u think we are going to be billionaires sure?

  8. Trust Mutemasango says:

    Guys this is just simple corruption nobody is clueless nobody got conned nobody got taken for a joy ride its simple corruption and unfortunately the details of the deal came out. This it happens in Zimbabwe at a much larger scale.

  9. Loyd Kambuzuma says:

    This is greed or outright corruption!

  10. Its called “knowledge is power”. “Ignorance is expensive”. “Demand and Supply” … a computer technician ill charge you the full fee for a mimimum 1hr labour charge even if all he had to do to ‘fix’ your computer was to change the fuse in your wall plug. You pay for lack of know-how to do it yourself.

    These guys are smart, they dealt with idiots… and they are sitting pretty.

  11. John says:

    hey i think everyone is doing it. Remember in 2007 to 2010, Econet was selling sim cards for between US$50 and US$150 and yet the cost of a sim card cost at least US$0.17 ( 17 cents to be precise). Imagine how much profits they made then, all because the ordinary citizens did not have a clue how much these really cost. Should econet be taken to task over this issue?

  12. John says:

    I forgot to put this reference: http://allafrica.com/stories/201101271074.html. Sim card shocker

  13. I am sure these guys paid for a website on a CMS and thats what they got. Its business.

  14. Blazjames says:

    This is a combination of corruption and ignorance.

  15. King Coolus says:

    This project was huge! The amount of content and dealing with all the government departments alone was a mission. The transport costs, accommodation, time and politics alone would make any developer wish they had charged more.

    I used to do development when i was in Zimbabwe. Even if you charge someone 500USD they would complain or negotiate. Most people do not know the value of a website, that’s why they are just not prepared to pay proper rates (and that’s why they get what they pay for).

    I still do (some) web development but i charge way more now. I wont touch anything that pays less than 3000AUD. And that is for no more than a week of my time.

    FYI. There is way more to a website than just a theme. In my opinion the theme is only 15% of the actual work in most cases.

    But thats just me. You will always find that developer that will charge you $300. Just remember – you get what you pay for.

    My $0.02

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