What you need to know:
- The ICT ministry announced in February two tenders for the operation and maintenance of NOFBI Phase Two.
- In total, 11 companies applied for the tender, which was to earn the winner at least Sh200 million a year to maintain the network.
Several counties are staring at a possible disruption in internet provision and access to government services due to a tussle over who should get a lucrative tender to maintain Phase Two of the National Optic Fibre Broadband Infrastructure (NOFBI).
The Nation has established that the fight, which has been going on since May, has prevented the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs from handing over a maintenance contract for the Sh7.2 billion project whose construction is almost complete.
NOFBI Phase Two, whose construction by Chinese company Huawei Technologies began in September 2014 is supposed to complement Phase One, which provides fibre optic connection to 28 counties. Most of the sections of its network have already been completed and are in use.
The first phase of the project was completed in 2009 by three contractors -- Huawei, ZTE and Sagem, which jointly rolled out 4,300 kilometres of fibre optic cable, providing Kenya with backbone infrastructure that was supposed to be a launch pad for universal high speed internet access.
Phase Two, which will see an additional 1,600 kilometres of fibre optic cable installed, will enable all the 47 county headquarters to be linked to the national grid, plus another 500km dedicated for military use. 1,200km out of the 1,600km civil works are complete.
However, just like the controversy surrounding the maintenance of the first phase, the second phase has also run into headwinds. To date, the national government has been unable to take over the management of Phase One of NOFBI from Telkom Kenya due to lack of funds, even though its contract expired in 2016.
The Auditor General’s office has time and again warned that this arrangement, which lacks clear instructions, is a risk to taxpayers’ money.
“The government has, therefore, been funding the operations of commercial entities without recovering the cost, which amounts to lack of prudent use of public resources,” the Auditor General said in February.
Keen to avoid finding itself in a similar hole in the second phase of the project, the ICT ministry announced in February two tenders for the operation and maintenance of NOFBI Phase Two. For ease of managing the critical infrastructure, the project was divided into Western and Eastern regions.
“The implementation of this project aims to ease communication across counties as well as improve government service delivery to the citizens, such as application of national identity cards, passports and registration of birth and death certificates,” said the ICT Ministry while announcing the tender in February.
“The scope of work shall involve operating and maintaining the entire NOFBI II network in the whole country as per the agreed service level agreement (SLA). NOFBI II is part of the wider NOFBI network serving the national and county government offices, as well as most internet service providers,” said the ministry about the tender, which is set to see the winner pocket up to Sh600 million over a three-year period.
While the tendering for the Eastern region has been smooth, the Western region has been charactarised by suits and counter suits at the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board (PPARB).
The Nation is aware that the matter has come up at the board at least four times without a solution, as some firms claim one of the companies that bid for the tender is being favoured.
In total, 11 companies applied for the tender, which was to earn the winner at least Sh200 million a year to maintain the network that has taken high speed broadband internet to towns such as Kabarnet, Baringo, Siaya, Homa Bay, Gilgil, Nyahururu and Maralal.
The companies are Adrian Kenya Ltd, Telkom, Com Twenty One, Prime Telkoms, Broadband Comm, Geonet Tech, Techsource Point, CCS Kenya, Kinde Engineering, Topchoice Surveillance and Decko Connecting Africa.
Nine companies failed at the technical evaluation, leaving Com Twenty One and Adrian Kenya Ltd to battle it out for the tender. Com Twenty One had placed a bid of Sh203,280,000 while Adrian Kenya had bid Sh203,764,532.
“The evaluation committee recommended award of the subject tender to Com Twenty One Ltd for being the lowest evaluated tenderer at its tender price of Sh203,280,000,” says filings at PPARB about the matter.
The decision to award Com Twenty One has, however, not been taken well by some of its competitors, who say it is linked to a company that has been receiving undue advantage in most of the tenders at the ICT Ministry.
Geonet Technologies, in particular, filed a suit at PPARB, saying the tender evaluation committee treated it unfairly while evaluating its technical capacity, with a view to knocking the company out.
“The acts of arm twisting the evaluation committee team to alter scores and change winning teams is rampant,” said one of the letters filed at PPARB in respect to the fight over the tender.
Additionally, the tender evaluation committee failed to notify those who had failed, of the specific reasons as to why they did not make the cut, only giving them broad explanations.
“The board finds that the first respondent (ICT Ministry) was in breach of section 87 of the Public Procurement and Disposal Act for failure to disclose the specific reasons the applicants failed to attain the 70 percent mark at the technical evaluation stage,” said PPARB when the matter first came to it in April.
“The upshot of the foregoing findings is that the procuring entity did not evaluate the applicant’s bid at the technical evaluation stage in accordance with section 80 (2) of the Act and the principal of fairness provided in article 227 (1) of the Constitution,” ruled the PPARB.
The Ministry was then ordered “complete the procurement process of the tender to a logical conclusion.”
It has been unable to do so.