INTERNET

IGG Clears Controversial national fibre backbone Project in Uganda

The Inspectorate of Government has cleared the controversial sh200b Government internet project. The project, which consists of three phases, involves building a 2,100km fibre optic cable network.

Ultimately, it is meant to link Uganda to the submarine cable on the East African coast and provide faster and cheaper internet access.

The Inspector General of Government (IGG), Raphael Baku, gave the go-ahead in a letter to ethics minister Nsaba Buturo earlier this month. Last August, President Yoweri Museveni had tasked Buturo to oversee the investigations into complaints raised about the project.

Baku explained that the project was being implemented by the time the complaint was registered with his office. "The complaint which was raised was whether the second phase should go on," said Baku. "We saw no problem with it if the damages (on the first phase) could be repaired concurrently." The IGG argued that the Government would incur more costs if it cancelled the project.

Baku also said the ICT minister did not have the capacity to monitor the implementation of the project, which led to the shoddy work. The IGG clearance comes after the parliamentary committee on ICT issued a directive to suspend the second phase of the project.

The committee vice-chairperson, Paula Turyahikayo, said they had not seen the IGG report but would hold a joint meeting with the ICT ministry and the Auditor General on the way forward. The Auditor General in a December report found several anomalies in the implementation of the project and questioned if there was value for money.

The national transmission backbone infrastructure and E-Government infrastructure is a $106m (sh201b) project, funded by a concessional loan from the export/import bank of China. The first phase was meant to provide connectivity to Government ministries and departments at a total cost of $30m (sh57b). The second and third phases were meant to connect all major towns, covering 1,900 kms at a cost of $61 million and $15 million respectively.

However, investigations found that the selection of the contractor, Huwaei Technologies, was done without competitive bidding and no price comparisons were done to ensure value for money. "By not subjecting the proposal to proper evaluation, the ministry exposed itself to the risk of high pricing and unfavourable contract terms," read the Auditor General's report.

The audit found that the cost of the project was inflated. The 24 core optic cable was quoted by the contractor at $3,200 (sh6m) per kilometer. However, in a technology brief to the board of the National Information Technology Authority of Uganda, the price of the cable was quoted as $1,400 (sh2.6m) per kilometer.

In addition, the audit found that the 24 core cable is of lower capacity than what private companies such as MTN and the Government of Rwanda laid at a much cheaper rate. It also questioned the capacity of 24 core cables to meet the under-water bury standards.

The audit further found that there was poor supervision of the project and that key implementation guidelines were not adhered to. According to the report, the cables were placed too close to the road. Also, the depth was less that the recommended 1.5 metre and the distance from the middle of the road was found to be less than the 15 metres recommended.

There were also serious delays in the project, the Auditor General noted. Implementation of the three phases was supposed to be completed in 27 months, or by January 2009.

"However, 38 months later, the first phase, originally to be implemented in six months, has not been fully completed." The delay is expected to lead to further administrative costs.

Already, the company has claimed $2.2m in additional costs for repairs on the first phase. The permanent secretary of the ICT ministry argued that the damages occurred after the hand-over of the network and could therefore not be covered by the insurance.

But the Auditor General observed that there was no independent assessment of the extent of the repairs, and there was no evidence that the contractor had actually obtained an insurance cover.

Former ICT minister Ham Mulira, under whose tenure the deal was sealed, has defended the huge cost of the project. He said factors must be considered such as terrain, geographical coverage, fibre capacity to meet the potential demand based on the size of the population, and the cost of civil works.

On the size and capacity of the 24 core cable, as compared to that of MTN of 48 core and Rwanda of 90 core, Mulira argued that once the fibre is laid, the traffic capacity can be increased by changing the devices that send the traffic.

New Vision

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