Procurement Mess in Uganda – The Case of the National Fibre Backbone

I have always been hesitant to come out and complain on each and every thing I hear going wrong with the handling of our ICT related projects in Uganda but it seems like the situation has hit pandemic levels. Like HIV/AIDS, this is now turning out to be a life long disease for our brethren manning the relevant civil service dockets.

On the 2nd of September 2013, I stumbled across a news article in the New Vision Newspaper titled “AG cites Loopholes in Fibre Optic Deal” by Steven Candia. As a keen industry observer I wasn’t too surprised. I had seen many flags raised on this project through the online I-Network discussion forum of the Ugandan ICT fraternity but nevertheless, I got shocked by some of the findings of the Attorney General. These include;

“The feasibility study for the National Backbone Infrastructure/E-Government Infrastructure (NBI/EGI) project was done after signing the contract.” With all due respect, I wonder how any sane person who has the slightest idea of Government Procurement rules can entertain such an action that skips basic procedure and not have the guts to resign from their job. Anyone who probably okayed such a process in my view should even be ashamed to call themselves educated at the least. Why was there a lot of haste in doing this? Was it a crisis? A project that took years to accomplish didn’t deserve taking such shortcuts unless of course if certain interests were at play. Unfortunately, when the decision makers are put to task (if the Parliament ever chooses to do so), the pedestrian answer will be; “Orders from above”. Now we all know how this statement has been manipulated to suit the interests of a selfish few.

“There was an untrained feasibility study team.” A lookup on the definition of feasibility study reveals; “feasibility study is an evaluation and analysis of the potential of the proposed project which is based on extensive investigation and research to support the process of decision making” – Wikipedia. How do you get an unknowledgeable person to carry out such a study on a highly technical project like this? How will the decision makers be best guided when the so called technocrats to be relied upon are nothing but mere uninformed wannabe consultants? Shame … A very big shame to whoever selected this team.

“There was no evaluation criteria for the proposal submitted by HUAWEI.”  By definition, “Evaluation criteria are standards that are used to assess how well an offer meets the agency’s requirements. They provide a mechanism for comparing offers by assessing the relative worth of different offers.” Someone is either too daft to understand the job they are doing or we are being taken for a ride. How do you procure something or accept a proposal when you don’t even have any criteria in place? When local businesses approach Government for work they are trashed and sidelined based on the complex processes that are usually structured to conveniently edge us out. I shudder to imagine that a multi-million dollar deal like this one could be processed without following proper due diligence. Was it a mistake? No. Someone must have been a beneficiary of all this ambiguity.

Other notable findings were;

  • Lack of evaluation of the proposed cable
  • Substandard Civil works. Cable that should have been laid 1.2 meters below the ground was largely not more than 0.5m below. Why was there no supervision? Who signed off this work? Were the contractors poorly paid by HUAWEI thereby leading them into cutting corners? (I actually got first hand information from some contractors about the stringent payment terms of HUAWEI)
  • Lack of quality assurance by sub contractors. This role couldn’t have been left to the subcontractor alone. HUAWEI as the contracting company should have played a lead role here to ensure that those that executed the work on the ground adhered to certain basics.
  • Government did not specify the requirements in the form of Terms of Reference for the project prior to contracting HUAWEI but only relied on the MoU. Could it be that our officials get start struck or numb when they interact with foreigners especially white skinned people? How else can someone explain such an oversight?

From a bungled up NBI/EGI project, a staggering National ID project to a heavily manipulated Integrated Financial Management Systems (IFMS), our folk in the corridors of power seem not to appreciate the basics of proper project planning and management and very soon we might hear them justifying the hiring of a global Project Management firm to help us deliver on these seemingly good initiatives that are always going wrong.

It is also prudent that our government wakes up to the realization that most of these things we are seeking from the outside world can actually be managed and implemented locally with ease. We spend a lot of time being fed on the propaganda of Ugandan Youths being prepared to do outsourcing jobs for countries in Europe and America but charity begins at home. Why doesn’t the Government start by outsourcing to us before it expects foreign companies to trust us? Over to you Ministry of ICT and NITA-U.

Always @wirejames on #Twitter

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9 responses to “Procurement Mess in Uganda – The Case of the National Fibre Backbone

  1. androidbethy

    Reblogged this on Android Bethy.

  2. Thanks for this insight. I have always been wondering why the initial stages of these big projects yet life changing are always done in a haste as if there is crisis. Our neighbours Kenya and Rwanda are taking fundamental steps in the IT sector but like you now know even the fundamental one like ID project is again stalled for reasons unknown.

    • The haste is partially caused by Govt officers looking at projects as just another ‘deal’ to line their always thirsty pockets with money. It’s all a procurement game. It’s the reason you have different Govt departments fighting to implement a single project. Have you ever wondered why UCC set up a CERT in haste fully knowing that it was a NITA-U responsibility ?

  3. My worry is that even after unearthing all these mistakes, we might never see any practical steps by the responsible parties to correct them.

  4. Thank you namesake.
    Merely asking all ISPs and data providers to link (IXP) as a regulatory requirement would have gotten us 85% of the way ahead towards a “national infrastructure”. Our visionaries/leaders/technocrats are inept.
    This is what happens when you appoint people along political instead of intellectual lines. (Also known as “inbreeding” in science)

    • Bwana Makumbi, its a pity but what appears as common sense is never common or is surpassed by personal greed. Most of what we serially fail to do is not rockt science, infact these are things the folks in authority have probably already studied in school but now I realise, converting paper education into real world solutions seems to be the biggest challenge for mankind.

    • Dear James’s,

      i fact, there is a requirement for ISPs to interconnect at the UIXP. And they do. However, the cabinet of the national backbone (which is in the same room) is not been connected to the UIXP for years. (i dont know if it now is).

  5. Good thought JW,

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