New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Museveni Orders Probe On Chinese Firm

President Yoweri Museveni has ordered an investigation into the national backbone optic fibre project being undertaken by a Chinese firm Huawei Technologies .

In a letter to the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi dated April 16, Museveni said he had received intelligence information that Huawei used inferior cable type G-652 instead of type G-655 data that Uganda will need to transmit. The President also cited inflated costs.

"Type G-652 cannot handle the volume of data transmitted. Who okayed this in terms of approving the work done?" asked Museveni. The president also said the cables were buried at a shallow depth of 0.9 metres. The recommended standard cable burial depth is about 1.2metres.

"Worst of all, is the overpricing by Huawei Technologies. While MTN did the work for $ 11,000 (sh28m) per kilometer, Huawei did it for $30, 000 (sh75m)," Museveni noted.

Rwanda spent $38m (sh95b) to cover a distance of 2,300km to connect 35 sites. Uganda, on the other hand, will spend over $62m (sh155b) to cover 2,100km.This means Rwanda spent $16,521 (sh41m) per kilometer while the cost to Ugandans is $29,523km (sh75m) per kilometer, which ICT experts say is overly inflated.

The president asked the Auditor General to audit the project, "so that we see what to do."

David Dou, the Huawei public relations manager in Uganda in an e-mail response yesterday said, "As our company policy, we cannot divulge detailed information pertaining contractual agreement we have with our customers and subcontractors."

The Auditor General John Muwanga on Wednesday told the New Vision forensic investigations of the project had started and a report would be ready by mid-October . "We have appointed Ernst and Young to do the forensic audit for us," explained Muwanga . Ernst and Young officials declined to comment when contacted.

Museveni said he had also got intelligence information that there were efforts to steal money from the government by inflating the costs involved in digital migration for broadcasting . "I have been hearing demands for $75m (sh188b) as being necessary figure to achieve this .According to my intelligence information, only $11m (sh28b) is needed," Museveni wrote.

Harris of USA did a similar project in Rwanda for only $12m (sh30b). The president said the Uganda Communications Commission Executive Director Godfrey Mutabaazi had informed him that Uganda does not need to borrow the money from abroad . "Government can do this in phases using its own money," the President explained. Mutabaazi declined to comment when contacted on Wednesday.

In April 2010, New Vision quoting local and international experts published an exclusive story citing flaws in the project. MPs had also pointed out some flaws in the project.

ICT experts had warned then that the project would become a 'white elephant' because of the wrong cable being used.

The National Transmission Backbone Infrastructure and related e-Government Infrastructure is a project funded by a concessional loan from the export/import bank (EXIM) of China. Uganda has to pay back the loan over a period of 20 years.

The Chinese government recommended Huawei Technologies to carry out the implementation.

The project involves building a 2,100 km fibre optic cable network linking 20 major towns, making Internet accessible and affordable to the majority of Ugandans and enabling e- Government.

Questions about the type of cable were raised as far back as June 2009. In a brief to the ICT minister, the Project Implementation Unit recommended a shift from G652 to G655.

More concerns about the type of cable were raised by the parliamentary committee on ICT.

The committee found that the bandwidth per fibre was too small. Bandwidth is the amount of traffic the fibre can carry simultaneously. The G655 has a capacity of transmitting 40 gigabites per second whereas the G652 can only transmit 2.5 GB, upgradable to 10 GB.

Experts say this is insufficient for Uganda's current needs and cannot provide for future growth.

"The G652 cable does not have enough provision for future upgrade path for higher data rates, multiple channels and longer distances," said the ICT committee.

Another concern raised was the number of cores of fibre that has been installed. The cable being laid is only a 24 core fibre whereas experts recommend 96 cores as a minimum to ensure that future growth in data and video usage is not interrupted.

The number of cores determines the number of separate channels. Security sensitive information, for example, is preferably transmitted through a separate channel.

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