The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has issued a restriction notice against Macra’s plans to procure a replacer of the Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System (Cirms) commonly known as the ‘spy machine’.
The Cirms was procured in 2010 at a price of $6 million (approximately K6 billion); K21 billion has been spent on its software updates and over K200 million on insurance premiums.
Twelve years down the line, Macra wants to procure another system dubbed ‘Revenue Assurance System’ (RAS) reportedly because the Cirms does not have a component that clearly tracks revenue movements in the telecommunication industry.
A statement from ACB to Macra Director-General Daudi Suleman, that we have seen, indicates that the bureau has stopped the regulator from going ahead with much of the initial processes required in procurement.
“Whereas the Anti- Corruption Bureau has instituted an investigation in respect of a suspected offence under the Corrupt Practices Act, take notice that you shall not without my written consent proceed dealing with procurement processes towards the award of the contract pertaining to the procurement of Revenue Assurance Module by Macra,” the order reads.
It is signed by ACB Deputy Director-General Elia Bodole.
Macra’s spokesperson Zadziko Makhambo confirmed the issuance of the restriction by the graft-busting body.
“We have complied by halting the procurement processes and further submitted to the bureau all the data and files that were requested by the bureau. We will not contest ACB’s move as we will not want to be seen as interfering with their work,” Makhambo said.
He added that the tender was advertised as international competitive bidding and that six suppliers responded.
Makhambo said the RAS they wanted to procure was a module within Cirms but that it was not delivered by the original supplier of the Cirms, Agilis International, as agreed.
“As a matter of clarification, Macra does not intend to upgrade the Agilis machines and platform because technology and the telecommunications business have shifted tremendously; data services have become more essential and driving the telecoms revenue and resulting in a high drop in the voice revenue.
“Sometimes, the provision of mobile money services is on the rise, which uses the telecoms infrastructure to deliver the services. As such, mobile money services have become an area of interest for regulators in their revenue plans,” he said.
Makhambo insisted that the communications regulator’s IT Policy has put hardware lifespan to four years.
He said the equipment that was supplied by Agilis in 2010 had depreciated to zero, implying it has to be wholly replaced.
“Therefore, the authority will deal with the hardware as per the Internal Disposal Policy and as per guidance from the board,” he said.
ICT Association of Malawi president Bram Fudzulani has since asked the regulator to be forward-looking when making such expensive purchases.
“It is unfortunate that we invested billions of kwacha into this project and, a few years later, we are saying it is obsolete. It raises a question on whether we make informed decisions and in the best interest of the country,” Fudzulani said.
He further posited that the ‘swift outdating’ of the Cirms casts doubt on whether Macra may not come again five years later to acquire another machine.
Malawi Economic Justice Network Coordinator for the South, Mike Banda, said while details regarding what has prompted ACB to stop the procurement are not public, public procurement is, in many cases, not done in the interest of the country.
“We hear of equipment being bought for technical colleges, hospitals and other institutions only to be told they are outdated and are dumped somewhere.
“It is unfortunate that we could lose such a huge amount of money because we bought something that could be outdated this fast,” Banda said.
Macra blames prolonged court battles with telecommunications operators and citizens, quick changes in the technology and usage of telecommunication services and poor contract management on its part and non-delivery of contract obligations on the part of Agilis for failing to utilise the machine in time.
The Supreme Court of Appeal cleared the regulator to start implementing the Cirms in June 2017, two years after telecommunications company TNM had applied to the High Court for a review of Macra’s decision to connect the machine.
TNM had argued that there would be no framework to protect customers’ confidentiality.
Two concerned citizens, Hophmally Makande and Eric Sabwera also sued Macra, barring it from using the ‘spy machine’, saying it would infringe on consumers’ privacy but the court disagreed with the applicants.
One Alick Kimu was the first to approach the courts suing Access Malawi, Airtel Malawi, Malawi Telecommunications Limited and TNM in 2011, demanding his privacy after the four companies sent him a message that they would not guarantee his privacy in the face of the Cirms. For its investigation into suspected corruption in the RAS deal, ACB, among others, asked for a newspaper advert, copies of expression of interest from potential suppliers, copies of the request for proposal from interested suppliers, evaluation minutes and an evaluation report from Macra.