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.