Mbabane: Eswatini Post and Telecommunications (EPTC) says the roll out of the now controversial base stations that were donated to government is on-going with a target completion date of April 2021.
In a statement issued by the telecommunications company on February 16, 2021, some of the beneficiaries of the project were set to enjoy the services as early as March 2021.
The entire equipment is worth about E12 billion was set to benefit over 80 primary, secondary and high schools; 40 Clinics and Health Centres as well as 20 Tinkhundla Centres.
The benefits to be derived from this project include, but not limited to; free access to the internet to enhance online learning, research and delivering learning modules as well as to assist government in delivering the school syllabus whilst observing the precautionary measures of COVID-19.
Rural clinics that were part of this project will benefit from the use of technology in providing essential medical services through the use of tele-medicine.
The government decentralisation exercise will be enhanced with the connectivity of Tinkhundla centres.
“This project will support the EPTC Strategic direction over the next years as well as to support the Government strategic roadmap including the Kingdom’s vision 2022 which will also assist in bringing the digital divide.
This project known as the Kingdom of Eswatini’s Wireless Broadband Internet project had been a controversial matter during the past weekend as some members of the public alleged that 10 of the 20 base stations that were donated to government by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) were sold to Eswatini Mobile.
However, EPTC’s Managing Director (MD) Petros Dlamini refuted those allegations saying the base stations were not necessarily sold to Eswatini Mobile but were rather leased; no money was involved.
Speaking to the Times of Eswatini, the MD said the donation was an old project dated back to 2007, when a United States of America based donor identified the ITU to assist in locating beneficiaries in Third World countries for purposes of bringing the digital divide, especially in rural areas.
Dlamini said after Eswatini was identified as one of the beneficiaries the government then asked EPTC to engage the ITU, something that happened at the United Nations level where the corporation went through all tender processes. The equipment eventually arrived in the country in 2018.
According to the statement the equipment was only made available to EPTC in 2019 after some delays that were caused by amongst other issues SRA Customs duties clearances as this was donated equipment but it was later on resolved and released to EPTC.
“To operationalize the project and to ensure that the project benefits were realised EPTC had to undertake some major investments in its core network infrastructure which also required shareholder approval as the amount of investment needed was beyond ‘Major’ as defined by the Public Enterprise Unit (PEU) Act of 1989.
The ITU Wireless Broadband project was formally launched by the Acting Honourable Minister for ICT on July 15, 2020 with a targeted ‘go live’ date of end of September 2020.
The project was further delayed by other pertinent issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in travel restrictions for the resources to implement the project as well as EPTC’s financial constraints at the time.
Dlamini told the Times of Eswatini that at the time, Eswatini Mobile knew that EPTC had the equipment for the base stations that were lying idle in EPTC’s warehouse and they had not been deployed because EPTC had issues of upgrading their core network.
He said Eswatini Mobile wanted to also upgrade for issues of capacity in order to cater for the demand that had risen because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Eswatini Mobile then approached EPTC asking that instead of holding on to the base stations’ equipment that was deteriorating it would be better they leased 10 of the 20 base stations’ equipment to them (Eswatini Mobile) to boost their capacity, predominantly in the COVID-19 period.
Dlamini said the agreement between EPTC and Eswatini Mobile was that Eswatini Mobile should buy their own base stations and once they these arrived they would be shipped directly to EPTC; Eswatini Mobile will not bring back the leased equipment because then they would have been used. The agreement was signed in March 2020 and they stipulated that by June 2020 the replacement base stations would have be received but due to the pandemic EPTC had not received the equipment yet. Dlamini said they were hoping to receive the equipment by the end of this month (February) or next month (March). He said this arrangement were not out of ordinary because as operators, they shared resources.