China's Huawei Technologies is facing a growing backlash in Zambia, following revelations that the company is erecting telecom towers that do not adhere to technical specifications.
Lawmakers and consumer rights groups have urged the Zambian government to withhold payments to the company until it brings the towers up to the required standard.
The Zambian Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), awarded Huawei a contract to construct 169 telecom towers in rural areas of the country, at a cost of over $13.5 million. It has been established, however, that the coverage of the towers extends to a radius of 1.65 km (one mile) as opposed to the 5 km specification in the contract.
The Zambian government launched the project in a bid to connect rural areas to mobile networks and the Internet.
The Consumer Trust Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) has written to the Zambian government, raising concerns over the lack of adherence to technical specifications. CUTS Lusaka Center coordinator Simon Ng'ona said Huawei should not be allowed to continue building towers until the ones already erected are brought to the required standard.
ZICTA has said it was aware that the towers being erected by Huawei were below the required standard and that it has directed the contractor to work on the towers again once the second phase of the project starts.
CUTS has, however, told ZICTA that allowing Huawei to construct new towers before fixing the ones already built would be inefficient, and might lead to similar issues in phase two. "To this end, we are encouraging ZICTA to ensure that all concerns under phase one should be addressed before phase two ensues," Ng'ona said.
Christine Ngimbu, a Patriotic Front party representative in Zambezi West, said, "the government should not pay the contractor until all the towers have been worked on and brought into the required standard."
So far, Huawei Technologies has declined to comment.
Over the past several years, Chinese telecom suppliers have been involved in a series of controversies throughout Africa, usually centering around charges of corruption.
For example, Zambia's Anti-Corruption Commission is still investigating the manner in which contracts for the installation of CCTV cameras by ZTE and the digital migration project for broadcasting by Star Software Technologies were awarded by senior government officials. In Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Algeria, Chinese companies have faced similar allegations involving corruption related to contract awards.