NITA-U Executive Director Saaka James and Director Technical Services Peter Kahingi

By Omondi Julius Odera, Kampala, Uganda

Uganda has completed the phase 1 and 2 of the national backbone infrastructure and E- governance Infrastructure (NBI/EGI) which entailed the laying of fiber optic cables across major towns in the country. Despite this achievement, the Ministry of ICT and the main contractor Huawei Technologies a Chinese IT firm undertaking the project, have come under sharp criticism for what has been described as “shoddy work”.

The NBI/EGI is a project funded by through USD106million (approximately UGX 250 billion) concession loan from the republic of China and repayable within 20 years.

Last year, the parliament halted Huawei’s work until the forensic technical audit was finalised.  Telecoms Infrastructure Ltd, a Kenyan company, conducted the audit mid last year.

This was heard during the handover of the forensic technical audit report to the Parliamentary committee on ICT in Kampala this month.

Phase 1 of the project entailed among other things; Construction of 168 km of fiber optic cable connecting five towns Kampala, Jinja, Entebbe, Bombo and Mukono, Installation of five transmission sites and the Tetra communication system for government of Uganda, and training of the technical staff.

Phase 2 which is also complete oversaw the laying of approximately 1500 km of optical fibre optic cable to connect 17 major towns and construction and installation of the national Data center.

There were several defects which were detected during the audit report, several pits were not deep enough and in some areas, they were not far away from the road notes Peter Kahingi, Director of Technical services for the National Information Technology Authority-Uganda (NITA-U). He also notes that other defects included; mark posts being inconsistent, private property owners building on top of the cables, and cables not being backfilled.

The other defects Kahingi notes was with the architecture. “We had some design problems and we are currently in discussion with Huawei to optimise the design we have at the moment”, notes Kahingi. “The major issues here are how much data can be moved and this can only better what we already have," he adds.

Paula Turyahikayo

However, the Chairlady of the parliamentary committee on ICT, Paula Turyahikayo, was not convinced with the report’s conclusion. “The phase 1 of the project was poorly done and I expected phase 2 to be done very well with minimal problems but that has not been the case. Poor workmanship marred the whole process and it is a pity that you want to hand over liability to a foreign manager.”

She added that Huawei should be held responsible for the defects and threatened the blacklisting of all the contractors and subcontractors who took part in Phase 1 because in her opinion "they robbed Ugandans".

The Executive director of NITA-U, James Saaka, blames the fact that Huawei signed the contract with the government before the inception of the Ministry of ICT thereby giving it a loophole to undertake the Phase 1 and partly Phase 2 without a proper supervisor. “The journey on ICT has been a tough one because we did this (signed the contract with Huawei for NBI) when we are not yet mature as government in ICT,” added Saaka.

Nonetheless, Saaka is optimistic that the government has now taken the right direction in ICT. He also lauded the Forensic Technical report audit on national backbone infrastructure. “This is a good sign because it gives us a base where to start from and gives us a sense of direction as to where we are heading as a country on ICT."

"Two months from now, Ugandans are promised better internet services when Phase 1 and 2 will be operational." Saaka maintains his faith in the whole project, noting: "The technology works and there is value for money.”

The NBI/EGI is expected to presents great business opportunities and to help in the digital migration process by providing the auxiliary infrastructure for the transmission and delivery of digital television signals across the country. It is also going to facilitate secure business transactions nationally and internationally through the adoption of E-commerce.

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