The push to complete a national ICT master plan that would eventually connect federal offices nationwide was stymied recently when the Ethiopian Information and Communication Technology Development Agency (EICTDA) suddenly cancelled a controversial tender issued to find a consultancy firm to prepare it. The tender had run into problems when participating companies complained that the Agency was not following specifications set for the tender process. EICTDA, which is under the Ministry of Capacity Building, first invited companies to express interest in August 2006.

The Agency wanted to hire a consultant company that would conduct a study on drawing up a network master plan focusing in part on the Woreda network (Wordeda Net), implemented two years ago. Other goals of the desired consultancy include recommending a three year ICT strategic plan and providing training requirements to run an eventual network.

Seven IT firms responded to the tender. Three were local companies; MAT Electrotechnical, BIS and National IT Solutions. The other four were Telecom Finland; EQ Telecom from the Netherlands, Huaxin China and TCIN India.

Although EICTDA welcomed all the companies to the next level of technical bids, Huaxin and MAT Electrotechnical were not present for the opening of the documents on October 2, 2006. The Agency then evaluated the offers for 11 days and proceeded to open their financial offers on October 13, 2006, when the controversy arose.

The companies held that the Agency could not open all of their financial documents as it had not announced the ones that passed the technical level. They referred to the tender specifications, pointing out that EICTDA could only open the financial documents of those firms that had passed the evaluation. Unless the Agency told them the results, the bidding process could not properly proceed.

"Even if the Agency does not like the specification, it was required by the body that is funding the project, and the Agency needs to follow it" a representative of one of the international participant firms said.

Due to the strong protests stating that the Agency could not go against the specifications of the tender, it postponed the financial opening indefinitely, telling the participants that it would call on them when ready. But in the end, EICTDA has announced a re-tender. "Despite the Agency's mistake, nothing went wrong as to block the whole procedure," said the general manager of one of the local contesting companies.

He said that beginning from scratch did not only make them go through the process of organizing their documents all over again, but it wasted time, compromising the project's deadline.

"Unless the Agency has a certain firm that it is trying to benefit, I cannot understand how it would go through the whole process of re-tendering after they saw the content of our offers," said a representative of one of the international companies.

Attempts made to talk to the Director of EICTDA, DebreTsion GebreMichael, were unsuccessful as he is currently out of the country. The National Network Master Plan is being entirely funded by the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) and overseen by the Public Sector Capacity Building Program (PSCBP). Other programs that are run under the PSCBP include tax reform as well as justice reform programs. The Master Plan project is under the ICT capacity program.

Addis Fortune