Windhoek's 5G plans opposed

Opposition politician on the municipal council of the City Of Windhoek (CoW), Brunhilde Cornelius, last week tabled a motion countering the secret Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the CoW and Chinese telecommunications giant's locally registered Huawei Telecommunications

Technologies Namibia for the installation of its 5G network in the city. The confidential MoU between the CoW and Huawei it to be in force for five years.

The 5G network project is to include design, equipment, implementation services and maintenance, and training. It comes after a mayoral delegation visited the Smart China Expo in Chongqing, China in the second part of 2019.

During this trip, Windhoek's mayor, Muesee Kazapua, and his Chinese counterpart, Li Mongqing, agreed to strengthen cooperation in, among others, “smart cities innovation (big data, 5G, artificial intelligence”. CoW delegates also visited the Huawei Research and Development Centre in Shanghai.

CoW's fibre optic project

The Windhoek municipal council in May 2019 approved the “fibre optic network monetisation” project, which could include the undertaking to set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to oversee the operationalisation therefo.

The City would have a 50 + 1% stake in this SPV. The municipality has earlier this year stopped private company, Paratus Telecommunications, from digging trenches to expand its own fibre optic network in the city, arguing that the municipality, in accordance with the amended Local Authorities Act, has sole custodianship, ownership, and administration of public property within its jurisdiction, which includes road reserves.

Private operators have countered the CoW's intention to develop the city's fibre optic networks and install its own infrastructure, which they said would be at the expense of licensed operators. They said the CoW should instead have access to shared infrastructure.

The motion

Cornelius, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) councillor, in her motion said the agreement with Huawei effectively would “monopolise” the telecommunications sector in the capital. She said the intention therewith it clearly to “increase control over access by other telecommunications service provide rs, both public and privately owned”. Cornelius in her motion said this action by the Swapo Party-dominated city council is “blatantly unlawful”.

“The proposed regulations appear to be a move towards state capture, where statutory amendments are pushed for the gain of some individuals, and not for the purpose as expressed in our empowering legislation, or for public good,” Cornelius stated.

The Namibian High Court in March 2020 ruled that the Communications Act of 2009 allows all CRAN license holders to install required fibre optic infrastructure, and interdicted the CoW from unlawfully obstructing such licence holders from exercising their rights.

The Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) has controversially granted the municipality a class comprehensive telecommunications services license. This license was granted with the understanding that the CoW would partner with state-owned Telecom Namibia.

Cornelius in her motion, however, pointed out that it now appears as if an agreement between the municipality and the South African company, RAIN, and Huawei is imminent. Moreover, she said, no prescribed procurement procedures with either RAIN or Huawei have been followed.

Cornelius also accused the CoW of “turning a blind eye” to security concerns over Huawei's reported connections to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Cornelius accused “a few individuals” of pushing the deal with Huawei, saying these should be exposed and held personally liable for any adverse consequences.

Counter motion

A counter motion alleged to have been tabled irregularly, was referred to the CoW council management committee for consideration. The motion was filed by Swapo Party councillor Paulus Immanuel, who claimed Cornelius' motion would have financial implications for the council since it has already approved plans to make Windhoek a 'Smart City' by 2022. Immanuel said substantive progress has already been made on the implementation of the Smart City plans.

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