Thursday, February 22, 2024

MPs insist that the ZICTA towers project is a failed project

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ZICTA Director General Margaret Chalwe Mudenda stressing a point during her submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Transport
ZICTA Director General Margaret Chalwe Mudenda stressing a point during her submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Transport

The Parliamentary Committee on Communications, Transport, Works and Supply has insisted that phase one of the ZICTA rural telecommunications tower project is a failed project.

The MPs have since questioned why ZICTA agreed to change the technical specifications from a minimum of 5Km radius requirement to erect 204 sites in rural areas at a total cost of US$ 13.5 million.

The MPs were enraged after ZICTA Director General Margaret Mudenda submitted before the Committee and defended the manner in which the project has been implemented.

Chavuma MP Kenneth Konga said ZICTA should be mindful that the funds being used under the Universal Access Project are tax payers money hence the need to be prudent in the manner the project is being handled.

‘This ZICTA has really failed, first and foremost as professionals, why did you accept to put these towers in Chiefdoms because as professionals you should carry out your own professional assessments about the radius coverage without political influence,’ said Kankoyo MP Levy Chabala.

Committee Chairman Vitalis Mooya also questioned why ZICTA has gone ahead to award phase two of the contract to Huawei, the same Chinese firm that has allegedly failed to carry out phase one.

But Mrs Mudenda clarified that phase one of the tower construction project has not failed because ZICTA is yet to complete the technical verification of all the erected GSM sites.

She insisted that it is premature to state that the project has failed when technical verification of the 204 sites has not been completed.

Mrs. Mudenda who admitted that out of 204 sites erected, only 170 have been switched on said a team of ZICTA inspectors is in the field to assess the performance of the sites erected.

She said phase one of the project, mainly targeted Chiefdoms and as at 31 March 2015, 170 sites had been completed and switched on.

She added, “On the sites cited by the Consumer Unity Trust Society as not meeting the minimum coverage requirement of 5Km radius, we submit that Matanda in Mansa meets the 5 Km radius requirement in North, in the Eastern direction, coverage is limited by mountainous terrain.’

‘Malendema site in Mumba can cover up to 5 Km requirement and signal extends beyond 5 Km although signal is weaker beyond 5 Km, it is still within acceptable limits,’ Mrs Mudenda explained.

She said coverage results were not available for Shakumbila in Mumba because ZESCO only supplied power to site in December 2014 after CUTS had conducted its survey, meaning it conducted survey on switched off site, adding that now that the site is switched on, coverage test will be done.

‘The same for Kaindu in Mumbwa, ZESCO only supplied power to site in December 2014 after its survey meaning CUTS also conducted a survey on a switched off site.’

Mrs. Mudenda said CUTS conducted coverage tests on only two sites out of the 204 sites representing a sample of less than 1 percent saying this sample cannot represent the complete picture of coverage of the GSM sites.

She also stated that the final hand over of sites by the contractor has not occurred adding that ZICTA is currently undertaking tests to ascertain coverage of erected sites as part of the project acceptance procedure.

Mrs Mudenda said results from the 61 sites audited so far indicate that 45 sites representing 73.8 percent meet the minimum coverage requirements and 16 sites representing 26.2 percent do not.

The ZICTA Director General said if the minimum requirements are not met, the contractor shall be requested to remedy the defects and where possible, a detailed report of the coverage audit shall be availed in due course.

During the same hearing, ZICTA Director for Legal Services Thomas Malama denied media reports that Chinese firm Huawei has been awarded phase two of the commutation towers construction project.

Mr Malama said although a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the Zambian government and their Chinese counterpart, ZICTA is yet to engage any contractor for phase two.

‘Chair, you did allude to the fact that ZICTA has apparently awarded phase two of the contract to the same entity that allegedly failed to perform. On the aspect of ZICTA having awarded Huawei the phase two, no contract has been awarded to anyone. ZICTA as an institution has not awarded any contract,’ Mr Malama said.

At this point, Mrs Mudenda interjected and added, ‘it was in the public domain, the President on his recent visit did sign some MoU with a foreign government towards financing for phase two but that does not imply that we have awarded phase two to the same contractor.’

In a related development, the Anti Corruption Commission says investigations into corruption allegations in the awarding and implementation of the ZICTA communication towers have continued.

ZICTA Director General Margaret Chalwe Mudenda appearing before the parliamentary committee
ZICTA Director General Margaret Chalwe Mudenda appearing before the parliamentary committee
ZICTA Director General makes a point during her submissions to the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Communications
ZICTA Director General makes a point during her submissions to the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Communications

30 COMMENTS

  1. Honestly, how do you do research on just two Towers out of 200 and generalise the results from your two samples and rush to the media, which is shallow also by the way, and claim that the results of you two samples are indicative of the rest of the 200 towers!!

    Is CUTS one of these family NGOs formed by grade 7 drop outs or what? While it is understandable that there is no real statistical course at Grade 7, when you run such an institution, at least hire statisticians from UNZA or these other colleges to do the analysis for you.

    And again if it turns out that you did tests on switched off towers, that will be worse!!! Has our education and institutions been really debased like that?

    As for MPS, summons the CUTS people to present their findings, under oath.

    • it is sad that some people rush into condemning institutions or well meaning Zambians who are on the out look to try and salvage the little that this country is able to have. I personally think that CUTS have done a wonderful job by bringing this to light. Why should organisations get away with corrupt practices for lack of a better term and be let to go scot free. Kudos to CUTS now we know what ZICTA has been up to. Continue doing your good work and I am one of your followers. I still await the Sugar report.

    • I think in all fairness it is not right to compare those who have failed to perform to Grade 7 drop outs all the time. The fact that you fail to meet the cutting point does not mean that you are dull.

      I think it is already in public domain that Bill Gates flopped at college and his tutor told him that he will not go anywhere but today he is the richest person on mother earth.

      So let us not antagonize a certain group of people in order to put our points across.

    • These ZICTA chaps are not telling the truth. In short they are a bunch of lairs. Really, how can ZICTA conduct test on just two towers out of 200+? Ba mambala ndemona balilye ndalama balifuta napa tunwa. The budget was set for tests of all towers. Where are the remaining funds? heir talk and appearance leaves more questions than answers. In fact they have got not even a single answer.

      By the way can ZICTA update us on the postal code demarcation of the country? Although, the majority of Zambians know little about postal codes or zipcodes once in place millions of jobs can be created due to innovative ideas from pcodes’ presence. New systems would be created meaning new jobs. the police and ambulance services would be more effective as nav systems would be instored on vehicles.

  2. Why are these committee meetings/hearings not open to the press in the UK the sit theses managers in front of cameras, its taxpayers funds these guys are paid; these are govt directors and CEOs from public institutions and where is the sense in have rural towers that are dependent on Zesco’s unreliable power supply when they can easily be powered by solar power. This what corruption does, you get substandard products then pay first grade prices as they have cream off the excess…why would the whole President be in hurry to push the second phase.

    • They are open to the press and the general public. Before they begin the meetings, they announce to the public for those that want to attend or make submissions. It is just that as a country we are not keen on public accountability. We wait for the press to bring us issues.

      If you want to attend, contact parliament and they will be happy to receive you. It is one of the most open institutions in our country.

    • The sittings are open to the press only that unlike the parliamentary debates they are not broadcast live either on radio or TV.

      ZICTA’s problems also arise from the management. You need a technically competent person to run the institution. Margaret is a lawyer, who gets lost when technical issues are discussed. It is therefore, easy for her staff to ‘pull’ wool over her face. Although she denies it, Huawei have been granted a contract to do Phase 2. The problem with Phase 1 was apparently caused by ZICTA, who gave the contractor wrong specifications.

    • Its mind buggling! And you have a chap making arguments on something that is already public knowledge where every one including the president is eager to spend public funds on substandard equipment. You can continue talking about development. Erecting of tower is not a challenging project, why cant govt ource the tower and contract locals to erect them?

  3. The exercise was done in bad faith. PF has got a tendence of giving these contracts to companies that support it in terms of money. You go to ZICTA now you will be surprised the type of people you will find employed there, it is another family tree. As long as there shall never be professionalism in recruiting people to run such institutions, Zambia shall never assume its ponttial to develop. Late SATA put all the members of his family in the foreign missions and in most of these key government institutions which are supposed to be delivering development to the rest of the country. I am just observing what development has been taken to Muchinga, Northern and Luapula, you just get purturbed that these people in these areas never appreciate them and some vadalism is already taking root.

  4. Was there a memorandum of understanding before starting the project? Where did the political play come from? This appears to be a syndicate involving many people. The whole project lacks accountability and it seems Zambians will not get value for their money. No wonder the second phase is underway to complicate things further. As things stand now, there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope soon. There is more than meets the eye if the evidence given to to the committee is anything to go by.

  5. I don’t this ZICTA is honest with its submission. And i don’t think this organization which alarmed the nation said that all the towers were faulty.. I remember reading their report online somewhere….For me the problem is that ZICTA should take such alarms with interest and work with such organizations as they provide a better watchdog role in the implementation of such projects….

  6. Which one is which… 204 site or 169 sites.. i am getting confused. I remember reading a statement from ZICTA which said 169 Towers were being erected. Can ZICTA explain this coz 169 had a defined cost (about 13 million chakuti chakuti). Does it mean ZICTA spent more than this amount or the company working on this project was generous to put up extra towers. just thinking

  7. For us to get the truth, an independent auditor is required. Its like Nchito entering a ka self nolle. We can only get the truth from an independent auditor.

  8. Dont joke with Chinese , they have already oiled some people, it is in public domain that Huawei towers failed to meet the specs. now the mada mundende is defending the chinese that signal cover 5km and more hahahahaha…ni pa zed she has to work for the ka money she was given I rest my case

  9. Please withhold my id…….Instead of scandalizing whistle blowers, ZICTA should thank this organization for revealing that the first towers put up were faulty.. As a former employee of ZICTA, i know that capacity to monitor and manage such projects in ZICTA is limited. Even those in M&E unit are limited and some of which have limited capacity on the technical dimensions of ICT projects. What is required for ZICTA is to come to terms that this is a public project and that why there is this huge public interest. Invest more evaluation.

  10. With all due respect ZICTA management should be fired. Margaret Chalwe Mudenda, Mofya Chisala et al are no where near capable for managing such a strategic institution. The other problem is the most technically capable people spend most of their time attending donor funded workshops and courses.

  11. @viglen: ………………Both fired and charged for misappropriation of public funds. Unless Zambia tolerates corruption, firing alone is no justice. Take further steps to recover the money.

    • @Man Kenya. Well said! It’s about time we nipped such behaviour in the bud it’s really getting out of hand! Once a few heads roll others will think twice before shafting the Zambian people.

  12. i wonder why LT sensor some of the contributions. my contribution has been rendered useless because the second part which was a continuation from 1.4 that equally carried very important information has not been published. it never even contained obscene language.

  13. Sensational journalism we call it. Even our honorables didnt take time to really investigate the issues. ZICTA should also have issued a statement to put things straight. Its really a pity.

  14. Mrs. Mudenda said CUTS conducted coverage tests on only two sites out of the 204 sites representing a sample of less than 1 percent saying this sample cannot represent the complete picture of coverage of the GSM sites…


    And the Law makers want to call this a failed project based on less than 1% sample…no wonder we still do not have a sound constitution!…very poor/bad calibers!

  15. There is everything wrong with this and this country really never ceases to amaze me.

    We really need technical experts running these organisations and not political stooges.

    First when did ZICTA get into the business of installing mobile cell towers (aka Base Transceiver Station, GSM). I thought ZICTA was a regulation body and as such has no business installing mobile communications towers. Are they planning to own and then lease these towers to mobile service providers? They should leave this stuff to profit oriented operators like ZAMTEL, MTN, Airtel and the others.

    2nd why only 5km range/radious max? I’m assuming these are GSM towers, they should have a spec range limit of 35km. Who came up with this 5km and how many are they intending to install… continued

    • It will turn up to be cheaper to install fewer with longer range than these 5km garbage. And here is hoping these towers 3G/4g (LTE, Long-Term Evolution) capable for forward looking and not just stuck in yesterday’s 2G/GSM technology.

      That brings me to the issue of how the contract appear to have been set (based on what I’m reading). Normally the prime contractor are the ones who were supposed to perform acceptance testing (aka verification) of the technical specification, witnessed by the customer of course, and then hand over the results and the OQE (Objective Quality Evidence). You don’t let them walk away and leave it to you to perform testing at your cost – the only testing the customer was supposed to do is validation…continued

    • Don’t even try to argue with me on this because I earn my living by working on multi-billion dollar projects delivering high-end complex technical systems and systems engineering is my everyday food.

      Finally the garbage argument about coverage range, well, everyone doesn’t know what they talking about including the ZICTA technical ‘experts’ themselves. The simple point which they fail to explain is that a range of a mobile phone tower is not fixed ; rather it depends on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, ‘line of site’; height of antenna over surrounding ; transmitter rated power; the direction of the antenna; buildings and/or vegetation around the tower; etc. Thus you can’t just expect uniform, stable results everywhere; you need post-test analysis.

  16. In Senior Chief Kanongesha’s chiefdom, ZICTA erected a tower and it was switched on but from day one, the services have been pathetic. Even those within the said reduced radius have to struggle to access network. Secondly, the MTN network installed on this tower can’t provide internet access. This area has potential for agriculture and in this age, you can’t do away with mobile network and internet. No wonder these people feel abandoned by the government. ZICTA should intervene and look into these sham of towers.

  17. Maverick, you’ve a point. These towers are too short. I asked one of the guys who were putting it up and he cheated me that it was better than the taller towers and more effective. It was as if these guys and ZICTA were only targeting the palaces of chiefs and not the people. ZICTA has only wasted tax payers’ money and should be held accountable. In serious countries, the director should have been forced to resign. This lack of seriousness is retarding development. The minister responsible should intervene otherwise the failure by the government to act on this theft of public funds is making some of us suspicious.

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