Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), International Lusaka has responded to the presentation made by the Zambia Information and Telecommunication Authority (ZICTA) before parliamentarians.
In a statement released to the media, CUTS exonerated itself from the gross misrepresentation and uptake of the findings of their initial report on the chiefdom tower project by some sections of media and the regulator, saying the findings of their report has never been generalised.
Below is Mr Ng’ona full statement.
CUTS Responds to the emerging discourse on the Chiefdom Tower Project
For Immediate Release
Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), International Lusaka would like to exonerate itself from the gross misrepresentation and uptake of the findings of its initial report on the chiefdom tower project by some sections of media and the regulator – the Zambia Information and Telecommunication Authority (ZICTA).
CUTS has been clear from the onset that the initial assessment undertaken was concentrated on the initial set of towers erected under the ZICTA chiefdom tower project. Specifically, the areas visited include Matanda in Mansa and Malendema, Shakumbira and Kaindu, in Mumbwa. The findings of this report have never been generalised.
There are series of subsequent reports in the pipeline and these will be released as and when they are completed.
At Matanda, our findings revealed that network coverage averaged around 1.65 km as opposed to the prescribed 5 km radius.
Therefore, we are elated by the revelations of ZICTA that its recent audit on this site shows that the tower meets the 5 Km radius requirement in the North direction of the tower.
In the eastern direction, it has been revealed that coverage was limited by mountainous terrain.
This is a better picture than what existed in August 2014 when CUTS conducted its initial audit.
However, we still need to make more efforts to equalise the coverage between the north and the south.
The 2 Km coverage in the South is too low and undermines the very principle of 5killometer radius as prescribed by ZICTA.
We believe it is the responsibility of the vendor contracted to find solutions on how to eschew mountains and terrain challenges.
Further penetration in the south is required if the communities in the south are to benefit from this tower.
In Mumbwa, it must be re-emphasised that, our initial report acknowledges that towers at Shakumbira and Kaindu were not fully functional due to lack of power.
ZICTA has also indicated that the sites are still not live due to lack of power.
Though there could be questions on why installation of power has dragged, it is beyond the scope of this statement to discuss this issue.
Lack of power entailed that tests could only be carried out at the Malendema tower by CUTS.
As of August last year, it was discovered that the installed tower at Malendema site could only cover an average of 2.8 km.
Again, we are elated by the revelations of ZICTA that indicate that the tower now meets the 5 kilometre radius in all directions. This is a good development.
CUTS is also exultant to learn that the results from 61 sites audited so far by ZICTA which indicate that 45 sites (representing 73.8 percent) meet the minimum coverage requirements and 16 sites (representing 26.2 percent) do not.
Again efforts need to be made to equalise the situation and ensure that those covered in the 26.2 percent are improved upon.
Comfortingly, it is exhilarating to also learn that ZICTA has given an assurance that, where 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.
This is a good and bold policy directive by ZICTA management. Alas, it contradicts with the earlier statement and position by ZICTA.
In a statement released late December 2014 directed to the Post Newspaper and copied to CUTS, one part of the statement read as follows; “Phase two of this project will be embarked on in a couple of months’ time and will include approximately 270 towers to cover all the other communities which are not covered in Phase one of the project. All related concerns noted from Phase one will be addressed during the second phase of the project”
The latter part of this extract entail that phase one challenges will be deferred to the second phase.
We have argued over the months that it does not make logical and moral sense to transport inefficiencies of phase one into phase two.
Therefore, we take it that the directive given above supersedes this position.
In moving forward, there is need for ZICTA to invest more in giving the public coherent positions as such uncoordinated statements have potential to breed information asymmetry among different stakeholders on the subject.
Further, there is also need to reconcile certain issues on this project.
In the same statement issued last December 2015, it was indicated that “On average, the typical cost of a Communication Tower site is between USD 200,000 – and USD 250,000.
However, for each Communication Tower in phase one of the Connecting Chiefdoms project, ZICTA has spent approximately USD 80,000 because of the lower specifications which were used”.
Our question over the months has been why use lower specifications against the legally prescribed specifications developed by ZICTA itself.
Surely, a saving should not make one go against legally defined specifications in the terms of reference.
This has to be clarified unless there was a misprint in the statement.
The other issue which might require further clarification is on the number of towers to be erected under phase one.
What is in the public domain is that ZICTA has targeted construction of 169 towers.
This is also confirmed in the December statement by ZICTA which reads in part “The cost of the project for the 169 towers is USD 13.5 million dollars and not what the article intimated.
We have now been informed that the towers being erected are 204 under phase one and no contract has been signed with any vendor for phase two.
The question that ensues, therefore, is where do the extra 35 come from and at what cost?
Perhaps it could be a generous gesture by the vendor to set up the towers for free. Whatever the reason is, a more concrete statement by ZICTA could assist in addressing such questions.
To end, it must be stressed again that, when CUTS divulged the findings of the initial assessment, the expectation was that ZICTA would take it positively and invest more in monitoring the installations as and when they are installed.
It was CUTS’ reasoning that the probability of success of phase one was higher if ZICTA vetted every installed tower (or through a quotavetting process) before a green light for other installations is given.
This was a prudent way of managing such highly financed projects than deferred audit exercises to project partial acceptance or completion stages.
We are glad that ZICTA is conducting the audit now and in-tern the vendor is being coerced to deliver without any reservations.
Funds permitting, ZICTA should also consider engaging an independent auditor to undertake the due-diligence of the project and this will give the institution an independent perspective devoid of personal interest to the project.
It must also be noted that it’s not about proving CUTS wrong.
Setting up towers that meet the agreed specifications is the right thing to do as public resources are at stake and our interest rests there.
We are also comforted that, ZICTA under phase two has sought to engage the services of an external project manager to manage the proposed phase two of the chiefdom tower project.
This is a timely and positive development, and to some extent, confirms with CUTS’ observation that capacity within ZICTA was limited to handle such a complex project.