Uganda’s important National Backbone infrastructure (NBI) has attracted controversy after information emerged indicating that a Chinese company ZTE, is alleging that National Information Technology Authority of Uganda (NITA U) and the Ministry of Information and Communication (ICT) are ‘colluding with the companies that built and maintain the national internet backbone to fleece Ugandans’.
Chinese ICT firm ZTE is interested in completing the project and according to sources is working hard to ‘disadvantage the rest of companies bidding for the final phase of the NBI which seeks to connect government departments with high speed interconnectivity.’
Quoting media reports, sources say ZTE accused President Museveni and NITA-U officials of signing ‘unfavourable internet provision contract with SolitonTelmec, a Kenyan company’. Allegedly, according to ZTE, the deal with Soliton was bad for the country.
‘In so doing, they are positioning themselves as the company which might offer the country a better deal, in the final phase of the NBI project.” A source told this website, adding that ZTE wants ‘government entity NITA-U to be denied its mandate and be offered to a telecom company which they can easily manipulate.’
The president recently said that as part of plans to revamp UTL, he wanted the government to start purchasing data service from the struggling telecom.
The president was told that for every Mbps of Internet delivered to any government agency through a cable owned by government through NITA-U, the Kenyan company Soliton charges NITA-U $200 (Shs725, 400) as transport charges.
But Nita-U strongly dismisses these allegations saying whoever makes such blatantly lies was unhappy about the recent contracts handed to other firms, but theirs.
To win the right to work on the National Backbone infrastructure, ZTE will have to out-compete Huawei, Klawanchi Telecomm Camusat, Raubex and BCS & Fiber Home. Source intimate that Huawei, another Chinese ICT firm, has a more competitive bid; something that stands in the way of ZTE.
Online publishers Chimp Reports quoting a source this week reported that detractors have been recycling old lies to discredit Nita-U. However NITA-U says that during the pre-bid stage, all suppliers were invited to view the bid specification.
At this stage, NITA-U says that at this stage bidders were asked to register concerns with the bid process and stakeholder involved. No concern or complaint was registered paving way for the bidding process to continue.
NITA-U Communications Manager, Steven Kirenga says the authority didn’t handover any form of regulation of the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) to any third party.
“NITA-U outsourced the management of the NBI to a managed services provider, SolitonTelmec, to manage the day to day operations to ensure that we provide a reliable and consistently ‘on’ service to our customers, Ministries, Departments and Local Governments,” said Kirenga.
Government spends about Shs12bn on managing the infrastructure which the whistleblower says is a huge amount given the nature of task at hand.
Kirenga said the contractor’s scope of work goes beyond maintenance.
“The day to day operations include maintenance of all NBI equipment at MDA sites and transmission sites across the country i.e. Network equipment, Generators, air conditioners, CCTV, UPS, Inverters etc,” he said.
The contractor is required to maintain over 2,400kms of fibre, pay electricity bill for transmission sites and the main distribution center, make payments of fuel for generators and meet costs of health insurance and salary of staff.
Soliton also foots the bill of insurance of the Infrastructure; maintains vehicles and fibre network and all NBI equipment; and also run a network operating centre and help desk.
Uganda government did not seek to manage the network hence securing a service provider.
Kirenga says globally, the Managed Services model is the best practice and allows for institutions to benefit from shared value by having a Network partner take over the management and enhancement of highly evolved network process capabilities which leads to significant enhancement in the delivery of a superior Customer Experience.
“The assertion that NITA-U has overseen the financial loss of tax payer’s money is not true as the engagement of a managed service partner is an industry best practice. Reference can be made to banks and telecommunications companies where Business Process Outsourcing has been carried out as testimony to this being, indeed, best practice,” he observed.
Outsourcing is part of Government’s BPO program as outsourced parties provide employment to Ugandan citizens.
While NITA-U is providing high speed internet to Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, the cost remains a contentious issue.
The whistleblower said in his/her report to President Museveni that Soliton charges NITA-U $200 per Mbps to a government ministries, departments and agencies.
Kirenga wondered: “Surely, on the face of it, if NITA-U charges $70 per Mbps to a ministry, how would it manage to pay $200 per Mbps for the same capacity to Soliton in transport charges? This is clearly not true.”
He said NITA-U remained committed to digitizing Uganda by reducing the cost of internet connectivity country.
“This effort has been deliberate and we are happy to have led the industry in reducing the cost of connectivity to Government offices by over 84 percent since 2010, when 1Mbps cost a government office $1200 to the current cost of $70 for 1Mbps.”