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Uganda: Cost of the National ICT Backbone Questioned

The outgoing chairperson of the Parliament's committee on ICT, Edward Baliddawa, has raised questions about the cost of the national ICT backbone infrastructure project. Baliddawa raised the questions earlier this week in a handover brief to the new chairperson, Nathan Igeme Nabeta.

Baliddawa's brief raised queries regarding the total cost of the project. He indicated that Rwanda is carrying out a similar project to lay 2,300 km of fibre cable at a cost of $38 million. In contrast, Uganda's fibre projected to span 2,130 km will cost $106 million, or three times more. The committee has asked for an audit of the work so far completed on the first phase of the project, he noted.

Baliddawa also wonders why the Rwandan equivalent is scheduled to be completed in a period of one year, thus by the end of 2009, while Uganda's project, that started over a year ago, is still ongoing. "Of course it is known that our project has some extras, but the question to be answered is how much benefit that will bring to the ordinary citizen who will be responsible for paying back most of this loan," he noted.

Already the first phase of the project has seen errors and challenges during installation and the ministry badly wants the involvement of local authorities as they extend the fibre.

Among other issues raised was an offer by Huawei Technologies to donate $2m to Uganda in communication equipment to enhance ICT use in the country. Huawei Technologies is the Chinese company responsible for implementing the backbone project in Uganda. According to Baliddawa, since the generous offer was made in Beijing, China, no effort had been made by the ICT ministry to follow up on it.

The Parliament passed a request by the Government to borrow $61m from the Chinese Exim Bank for the implementation of the second and third phase of the project. However, the Committee expressed concern that the first phase, worth $30m, had been completed but the results left a lot to be desired.

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