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How cars and smartphones ‘inflated’ Huawei’s NetOne Zimbabwe


ITWebAfrica

By Gareth van Zyl

Cars, smartphones and solar powered cell towers were among items that inflated an initial price tag of Chinese telecommunications equipment firm Huawei’s controversial network upgrade deal for Zimbabwean state-owned mobile operator NetOne.

This is according to documents a source has provided to ITWeb Africa regarding the network upgrade deal, which is facing a court case in Harare amid allegations that the over $200 million contract was awarded illegally.

Zimbabwean-born Tafadzwa Muguti, who lives in South Africa, has taken NetOne, Zimbabwe’s State Procurement Board (SPB), Huawei and the Anti-Corruption Commission of Zimbabwe to Harare’s administrative court over the awarding of the $200 million contract.

The businessman, who is the chief executive officer of investment group Africapaciti, wants to find out how Huawei won the NetOne contract, even though the Chinese company did not go through an official tender process.

Because NetOne is a state-owned entity, it is obliged to adhere to Zimbabwe’s procurement laws with regard to the awarding of contracts, Muguti has argued.

Muguti also alleges the contract was awarded to Huawei despite Zimbabwe’s SPB having expressed concerns over an inflated price for the project. The SPB is the first respondent in Muguti’s court case.

And documents detailing the record of proceedings regarding the awarding of the deal, which are in the hands of ITWeb Africa, illustrate the SPB’s initial concerns about the Huawei deal.

In a July 2013 letter from NetOne to the SPB, in which the mobile operator addresses concerns about the Huawei deal to the SPB, an amount of $298.6 million is quoted for the upgrade, which hinged on a loan from China’s Exim Bank.

That figure was then dropped to $251 million, according to the documents, and ultimately — as the documents later reveal — this figure was cut to $218 million.

NetOne officials, in the document, argued that only Huawei could carry out the upgrade deal as the mobile network’s infrastructure is from the Chinese telecommunications firm.

But the State Procurement Board then raised the following issues, which are summarised below:

  • “Members noted with concern that the Secretariat had failed to properly analyse the matter for logical presentation to the board.”
  • “The presentation was jumbled up and comprised of disparate requirements including Upgrades, New Equipment and Construction of a Building.”
  • “The matter was also hastily presented as an urgent item without adequate background and factual information.”
  • “Background was inadequate and lazy.”
  • “There was no clear justification why the current requirements should not go to tender, in light of the unclear relationships between the projects.”

The documents reveal that on 27 June 2013, the State Procurement Board deferred the pending of the contract to await further input.

The board also raised concerns about “the procurement of smartphones and tablets for resale to the public, which are not part of the network upgrade.”

Furthermore, the documents also highlight concerns that Huawei had quoted inflated prices for equipment that may not help with a widespread upgrade to next generation LTE.

Items that the deal was initially planned to include were as follows, according to the record of proceedings:

  • Purchase of 1336 2.75G base stations
  • Purchase of 600 3G base stations
  • Purchase of 400 4G base station
  • Supply of 500 diesel generators to serve as stand-by power at base station sites

NetOne in the documentation does argue that Huawei has quoted it at a lower price for base stations at $170,000 rather than the market price of $180,000.

In the documents, the Zimbabwe’s ministry for transport, communications and infrastructure development, did write to the SPB calling for the upgrade to be given to Huawei.

The ministry argued the deal could help NetOne boost its services, subscriber base and contribute to Zimbabwe’s ICT development.

But a letter from the Transport department then outlines how the project had been scaled down.

“Some of the key components that have either been scaled down or removed as a result, include Base station Towers that have been reduced by half, removal of four wheel drive vehicles for project implementation and maintenance, solar powered Base Stations that were meant to serve as coverage gap fillers, the online charge system, where NetOne will later have to expand the existing system to meet the increased subscribers to be connected,” says the letter.

The response goes on to allay fears regarding the number of 4G stations, as the Transport department said that these would be deployed in highly dense urban areas to cater for demand.

The Huawei-NetOne contract, though, was publicly announced in July while deliberations continued in the background.

And in that same month, concerns about the deal were communicated from the State Procurement Board in a record of proceedings.

Among these included:

  • “Members noted that there were allegations of overpricing some aspects of the project components.”
  • “Members noted with concern that according to the minute from the Secretary for Transport, Communications and Infrastructure Development to Treasury dated June 19, 2013, NetOne and Huawei Technologies of China had already signed a contract for the Works without authority.”

A board resolution on the 18th of July then further deferred the matter.

Further reading into the documents also reveals that the Post & Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe but that concerns existed that the watchdog had not consulted the relevant industry experts.

The contract price in the documents goes down then to $218 million, while reports in July talk of a deal that was just over $200 million

Court case postponed

Subsequently, on 19 November, Tafadzwa Muguti’s court case against the relevant parties was postponed.

However, in court documents, the SPB has outline that it did finally approve the Huawei deal, despite its concerns outlined in the record of proceedings.

The board then further highlights how it consulted advice from three government ministries and telecommunication and IT engineers.

The board goes on to say in court papers that the urgency of the upgrade drove its decision.

As a result, the board asked that the court reject Muguti’s appeal as “frivolous and vexatious.”

The board also then asks that the court finds that its decision was “prudent and feasible.”

Finally, the board asks that the court throws out the appeal with costs for a lack of merit.

Huawei responds

Chinese telecommunications equipment firm, Huawei, meanwhile has also denied alleged corruption regarding the deal.

“For the project with NetOne, we strictly abide by all procurement laws and regulations in Zimbabwe, our target is to help Zimbabwe people enjoy their life through communication at affordable price,” Jacky Zhang, who works with Huawei Technologies Zambia but manages communications for Zimbabwe, told ITWeb Africa.

“The allegation for over-inflated is not base on the truth,” Zhang told ITWeb Africa.

ITWeb Africa also asked NetOne for comment, but the company has not responded to emails.

World Bank Advised Ethiopia to Audit Large Telecom Agreements


Business Ethiopia

Reporter

January 11, 2013

The World Bank (WB) in its report on the status of corruption in Ethiopia advised the government to audit Ethio Telecom’s large agreements. 

According to the report launched this morning at the Hilton Addis, focusing on the level of corruption in the country in different sector sectors, the government needs to apply standards to Ethio Telecom that are in line with Ethiopia’s Public Procurement Proclamation.

The report, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia”, in its subtopic that assessed the level of corruption in the telecom sector also stated that absence of uniform procurement standards is one of the major causes of corruption, among others.

The report highlighted that the vendor financing contract entered into by the then ETC (Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation now named Ethio Telecom) in 2006 appears to be highly unusual. “…This brief study should not be seen as an investigation or interpreted as alleging in itself that corruption has necessarily occurred. However, the circumstances as perceived both by stakeholders and by independent observers do raise serious questions about the control of risks in this sector.”

The stakeholders of the then 1.5 billion US dollars vendor financing argue that ETC’s financial requirements were not provided in detail to those suppliers (other than possibly the winning supplier –China’s ZTE) that had been approached to consider providing such financing. The report also stated that there is no evidence of a formal tender procedure for the finance package.

“The supplier selected by the ETC to supply the finance package that suited the ETC’s purposes. The equipment supply element of the vendor financing contract was not put out to competitive tender.”
The report stated that generally the contract was not in accordance with the ETC’s procurement procedure and no competitive tender for the contract and subcontracts.

“Difficulty in measuring technical compliance: By appointing one supplier without competitive tender, the ETC has no opportunity to assess the degree of technical compliance of the supplier’s equipment. The contract was also inappropriate and went through unclear procedures for ensuring technical quality and competitive pricing,” according to the report.

In addition, the report further mentioned that Ethio Telecom is vulnerable to corruption because it is under government monopoly.

Health, education, water, justice, construction, land and mining are also the sectors surveyed by the report sponsored by the World Bank, Canada International Development Agency, UK Aid and the government of the Netherlands.

“Some of the recommendations of the report are under implementation,” said Ali Suleman, Commissioner of the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC).  While the report also recalled that in January 2008, the FEACC 2008 brought charges against a former ETC CEO and 26 former ETC executives for allegedly “procuring low-quality equipment from companies that were supposed to be rejected on the basis of procurement regulations.”

World Bank country Director, Guang Zhe Chen, on his part stressed that the purpose of the study is conducted to support evidence-based policy formation.

S.Africa’s MTN slides on Iran corruption lawsuit


Reuters

The MTN Logo
The MTN Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By David Dolan

JOHANNESBURG | Fri Mar 30, 2012 9:00am EDT

(Reuters) – Shares in MTN Group (MTNJ.J) slid on Friday after rival Turkcell (TCELL.IS) filed a $4.2 billion suit against the South African mobile operator, alleging it bribed officials and lobbied support for Tehran‘s nuclear program to win an Iranian license.

Turkcell, which lost the 2004 bid for the Iranian license to MTN, filed the suit in a U.S. federal court in Washington, accusing the Johannesburg-based firm of using its influence with Pretoria to arrange support for Iran’s military.

The Turkcell case threatens to tarnish the reputation of both MTN – a black-run company widely seen as a post-apartheid success story – and the South African government, including former President Thabo Mbeki.

It comes at a time when countries around the world, including South Africa, are under strong Western pressure to halt oil imports from Iran and cut other trade.

MTN, Africa’s top mobile operator, has said the claim is without legal merit and has accused Turkcell of attempting to extort money from it – an allegation the Turkish company rejects.

Turkcell’s suit, backed by a collection of alleged MTN internal documents including emails, invoices, memos and presentations, accuses the South African firm of a “staggeringly brazen orchestra of corruption”.

Turkey’s largest mobile operator alleges that under a strategic plan code-named “Project Snooker”, MTN used corrupt practices to win the license which had initially been awarded to Turkcell…Read more.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by David Holmes)

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