The top opposition leader in Uganda's Parliament has called for an investigation of the US$74 million IT deal between Huawei Technologies of China and the country's national broadcaster.

Nandala Mafabi sent a letter to the Ministry of Finance questioning the cost and transparency of the contract.

Huawei was in August 2010 awarded a contract to supply television studio equipment, establish a national terrestrial network, establish a main head-end system to provide national encoding, build a national operational center, and supply advanced SD decoders for set-top-boxes for Uganda's national broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC).

"This tender was done without advertising and is therefore a non-transparent transaction," Mafabi wrote in the July 15 letter. The contract was over-priced and flouted regulations set in place by the public procurement regulator, he wrote.

In response to Mafabi's letter, the Ministry of Finance moved to block the loan process between the national broadcaster and the Export and Import (EXIM) bank of China. Keith Muhakanizi, the deputy secretary to the Uganda treasury, told a local daily newspaper that a memorandum of understanding had been signed but the loan process had been stopped.

UBC was appointed to serve as a network operator, tasked with carrying transmissions all over the country. It is on this network that all other broadcasters will transmit their signals to the various corners of Uganda.

Supply and installation of this equipment and more is meant to enable Uganda to beat the December 2012 deadline set by the East African Community (EAC) grouping to have migrated from analog to digital broadcasting. The migration is also contained in an International Telecommunication Union agreement on which Uganda is a signatory.

According to the Geneva 2006 (GE06) agreement, all countries party to the agreement are required to migrate from analog to digital broadcasting by June 2015.

As a signatory to the agreement, Uganda set up a national task force to provide clear guidance on the migration process.

Before this contract, Huawei and Uganda's Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) were faulted for poor work and contract management, and inflated prices on the $106 million national fiber backbone and e-government infrastructure project.

That project was audited by the Uganda Auditor General following requests from Parliament. As it is, Huawei is yet to deliver the 2,100 kilometers of fiber optics around the country more than 36 months behind schedule.

Mafabi said in his letter that taxpayers are set to lose because the procurement method was not transparent. The letter was copied to the Inspector General of Government, the Speaker of Parliament, the Auditor General and other anti-corruption agencies.

When Huawei was chosen to supply and install the equipment, there was no competitive bidding, which was a key requirement considering the digital migration project is financed by a loan from China.

Digital Television provides better video and sound quality as opposed to analog, and it also offers opportunities like multiple programming called multicasting and interactive capabilities.

Under multicasting, a television broadcaster will be in position to provide many more channels on their own. More channels mean more programming choices for viewers and an opportunity for local content production. It can also provide channels for dissemination of public programs like education, health and other public services.