The Consumer Unity and Trust Society has written to the Zambia Information and Telecommunications Authority raising serious concerns over the failure by the contractor erecting telecommunications towers in rural areas to adhere to technical specifications.
In a letter to ZICTA Director General Margaret Chalwe Mudenda dated January 29 2015, CUTS Lusaka Centre Coordinator Simon Ng’ona said investigations by his organisation has discovered that the contractor failed to meet the rural macro coverage of at least 5 Km in radius requirement as specified in the bidding document.
ZICTA awarded Huawei the contract to install 169 mobile telephone base stations in rural areas to boost connectivity to remote communities in a project expected to gobble K 1 million.
The first tower was officially launched in April, 2014 at Matanda in Luapula Province at a ceremony officiated by then Vice President Guy Scott.
But CUTS under its having your say by monitoring service delivery of public projects inspectedKaindu, Matanda, Malendema and Shakumbira towers and as of October 2014 found that only two out of four towers had network life.
At the Matanda tower, the coverage was 1.65 km as opposed to the prescribed 5 km radius.
This entailed that 3.35 km meters was not being serviced. Similarly, the installed tower at Malendema site could only cover up-to a distance of 2.8 km. This was below the set minimum standard or requirement.
‘The 2.8 km entailed that only 56 percent was being serviced and 44 percent was not. Despite this radius level being more than that of Matanda, it still falls far short of the minimum set standard. And this raises the question of the capacity of the service provider and how these installations are being monitored,’ Mr Ng’ona wrote.
He stated that there is no excuse for the contracted service provider to fail to meet this provision as it is critical adding that ZICTA’s defence on this brings some form of discomfort and our plea is for ZICTA to look at our concern pragmatically in the spirit of partnership.
‘We are in no way trying to vindicate ZICTA. We are in actual sense complimenting ZICTA’s work by demanding that the contracted vendor meets ZICTA’s requirements as provided for in the specifications.’
He added, ‘We believe that ZICTA saw it fit to include in the ToRs a requirement that all towers being erected should meet rural macro coverage of 5 km. We understand that this decision was informed by a scientific needs assessment and therefore no compromise should be entertained. ZICTA being a public institution specified this prescription on behalf and for the benefit of citizens/communities. And every citizen’s democratic enjoyment of this service cannot be guaranteed under conditions where basic characteristic of the ToRs are stifled.’
‘We would like to end by encouraging ZICTA to ensure that all concerns under Phase I should be addressed before the phase II ensues. It will not be ideal to transport inefficiencies of phase one in phase two,’ he wrote.
He added, ‘ZICTA should be firm on this and demand that all towers erected in phase one meet the 5 kilometres coverage before phase two starts. Failure to do so, the contract should be halted. We are being strong on this issue because public resources (USD 13.5 million dollars) are at stake and we feel duty bound to play a watchdog role and thereby contribute to ZICTA’s successes.’