Fresh Snarl-Ups in Kenya’s Fibre Optic Cable Project

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Controversy is simmering between the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Information and Communications over the procurement for a multimillion-dollar plan by Kenya to build a fibre-optic cable link from Mombasa to Fujaira in the United Arab Emirates.

Known as The East African Marine System (TEAMS), the project is expected to be launched in parallel with the US$200 million East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) - a fibre-optic cable link along the eastern seaboard of Africa, from South Africa to Sudan via a number of landing points including Mombasa.

The EastAfrican has learnt that the Office of the Attorney General has raised queries over the manner in which Tyco International Ltd - a transnational that operates in 100 countries - was in January this year awarded a US$2.7 million contract by the Information Ministry to conduct a marine survey without competitive bidding.

The ministry had in January sought and was granted an exemption from the Directorate of Public Procurement to procure the contract for a marine survey through single-sourcing.

However, the Office of the Attorney General has - in a letter signed by Solicitor-General Wanjuki Muchemi - argued that the application to the directorate was not done according to procedure and demanded minutes of the ministry's technical evaluation committee that decided that the project be single-sourced.

Apparently, the ministry had sought the exemption on the grounds of the onset of the monsoon season in the Indian Ocean and the consequent need to fast-track the project.

It is understood that, during an earlier meeting in Dubai between Kenya government officials and the Dubai-based Etisalat Ltd - the main private sector sponsors of the project - the point was made to the officials that the marine survey contract and the cable construction contract could not be awarded to separate companies. The government had been warned that it was rare for a cable contractor to accept a marine survey conducted by another firm.

Experts had also told the government officials that marine surveys are usually deemed to be part and parcel of construction works and that awarding the survey component separately would amount to giving the construction contract to the same firm. The Office of the Attorney General wants to know why the issues raised by experts had been ignored.

TEAMS is one of the largest projects being undertaken by the government this year. The government decided to launch the project when it realised that the EASSy project was facing too many delays.

The government is set to invite bids any time from now for a financial arranger who will design a plan to raise money for the project, tentatively expected to be completed by early next year. The contract will be awarded competitively by April this year.

The government - through Telkom Kenya - is working with Dubai-based Etilasat to build the cable. The private sector will be invited to either buy shares in the project or will be brought in on the basis of proved capacity to raise funds through models worked out by the financial arranger.

The East African