COVID Contact Tracing Money Pit the shadow 858px

Where'd all the money go???

Late on Tuesday, 19 May, the New Zealand government finally released its long-awaited and much media-groomed Contact Tracing app, NZ Covid Tracer.

There is just one thing...why did it cost $60Million+ and WHERE did all that money go?

Let's take a look at this.

Contact Tracing App Australia

Australia's COVIDSAFE Contact Tracing app cost $1.5Million (which includes $700,000 for AMAZON AWS data storage). So the app itself cost $800,000 for development and operation. Such a deal!

Publicly announcing that the app "might be made MANDATORY to use", cost Australian PM Scott Morrison a lot more...

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

One of the ways the world's richest man continues to be the world's richest man (Jeffrey Preston Bezos actually made money during this pandemic while the world's economies were tanking) is to continue to invest in wanted and needed technological wonderment.

Jeff Bezos' Amazon AWS makes doing complex things in the cloud a piece of cake and has made data storage a cheap-as-chips alternative to expensive onsite data centres.

I run several web servers and use Amazon AWS for weekly and monthly backups of all of the website accounts I manage. The bill for using around 150GB of storage (including the computer time to upload the backups) costs me a whole $1.85 NZD per month. Yes, less than $2/month for fast, safe, backup security.

Australia's cost for AWS data storage for the Contact Tracing app project was $700,000. Now, remember, Australia has 25 million people, which is roughly five times (5x) the population of New Zealand.

So, proportionally, the expected cost for the New Zealand data on AWS would be around $140,000.

The CovidCard – What happened to it?

Back in April, there was much discussion from the Parliamentary Ivory Tower about a Covid Contact Tracing SmartCard. The reason was obvious: not all people have or can afford smartphones. This SmartCard could sit in your pocket or bag and still work the magic of Contact Tracing.

[Quick Aside: Contact Tracing ONLY WORKS if the ENTIRE population is using it, and statistically it fails more and more when fewer and fewer people are using it. But, there I go being all LOGICAL and realistic again...]

"CovidCard, as it is being called, works almost like the popular Tile Bluetooth tracker. But instead of simply broadcasting its presence and location, CovidCard communicates with other cards in close proximity, basically creating a log of people (or cards) you've been in contact with. When a person tests positive for COVID-19, health workers can download the log from the card and alert the appropriate
people." – SlashGear, 20 April 2020

"A private sector proposal to produce and distribute five million Bluetooth-enabled credit card-sized contact tracing tools at a cost of $100 million is one of "a wide variety of technological solutions to contact tracing", a spokesperson for the All of Government Covid-19 response team has confirmed." – Stuff, 17 Apr 2020.

Ok, now that figure is a lot closer to what we know was spent.

We were also told that this SmartCard was being looked at because the Singapore TraceTogether app was having issues with reliability.

The $55Million+ No Transparency Money Fest

On April 20th the news said:
"Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, when extending a four-week lockdown of the country on Monday afternoon, announced the Government would spend a further $55 million on bolstering the contact tracing system." – Stuff, 20 Apr 2020.

The words "a further $55 million" are really bothersome – because NOWHERE does it state what was already spent on this project! Every article from the New Zealand media about this said the same thing ("a further $55 million"). Gees, you would think that this was a conspiracy or something. Almost like somebody was telling the free, independent, and impartial MEDIA what to say...

If you are going to throw an 'additional $55 million' into a project, then it has to be at least $5 million – $10 million already to begin with, no?

But the fact is, we really DON'T KNOW what the total spend on this COVID Contact Tracing project really is.

Questions, Questions

So, here we are with the NZ Covid Tracer app, NOT a SmartCard.

We are not being told if this app is really just the same app that the Australians are using (which is the Singaporian TraceTogether app) but simply wrapped in sheep's clothing. It is also using Amazon AWS for data storage, just like the Australian one, and says so clearly in the registration details.

Costs (by inference):
App Development and Operation: $800,000
Amazon AWS Data Storage: $140,000
Total: $940,000

$60Million – $940,000 = $59,060,000
Oh, Lucy! You have some splainin' to do!

  • Did the manufacturing of the 5 Million SmartCards fall over?
  • Did it turn into another NovaPay debacle?
  • Did 'friends of Parliament' get a windfall simply for running the project even though they didn't produce ANYTHING?
  • Will we ever see any transparency on this project?
  • Will Simon Bridges survive this week?

Enquiring minds want to know!

The answers, my friends, can all be assured by doing the right thing come September: kick this non-transparency money gravy-train out of the Bee Hive.

Research & Investigation

Something can be done about this.