Vol. 4 Num 313 Fri. April 16, 2004  
Front Page

Controversial BTTB mobile project okayed

The government yesterday controversially approved the $76 million state-owned cellphone project in favour of a company found to have been guilty of forgery.

The Cabinet Committee on Public Procurement (CCPP), the highest government purchase approval authority, at a meeting on January 24 rejected BTTB's mobile purchase proposal and asked Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) for a re-tender. But the state telecoms monopoly did not comply with the directive.

Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman had also told the media after emerging from that meeting that BTTB's mobile would be re-tendered.

The CCPP did not ask at yesterday's meeting why the BTTB had revised its mobile purchase proposal instead of re-tendering as directed, sources said.

Six of the nine members of the CCPP however skipped yesterday's meeting, chaired by Saifur, despite being in the capital, sources said, fuelling controversy and making the project uncertain.

According to yesterday's approval, Siemens of Germany ($40,887,106) and Huawei of China ($35,174,291) would jointly complete the project by the year-end. Only last month, the BTTB detected forged documents in Huawei's other telecoms bids. The law stipulates the BTTB revoke all dealings with Huawei.

The BTTB, instead, mysteriously recommended Huawei as its preferred vendor for the multi-million-dollar cellular phone project.

"The BTTB did not inform me of any fraudulent act of Huawei," said Post and Telecommunications Minister M Aminul Haque. Secretary Faruk Ahmed Siddiqui also expressed his ignorance about Huawei's fraudulent practice with the BTTB.

The BTTB gave Huawei the go-ahead under pressure from an influential minister's son who unofficially represents the Chinese company, sources pointed out.

The BTTB received bids on April 19, 2003 to add 48,000 phone lines to its existing exchanges at Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet. It also received offers to install fresh 62,000 phones in Dhaka and Bogra.

French Alcatel, Swedish Ericsson, Turkish Netas, German Siemens, Indian TCIL and three Chinese vendors Ningbo, Huawei and CNTIC were in the race to seal a deal on these self-financed turnkey projects.

Two separate committees evaluated these vendors' technical bids and unearthed evidences of forgery by Huawei.

This Chinese vendor had provided a certificate in its bids claiming to have supplied 900,000 phones to Telecom Company of Iran (TCI). The certificate has been issued by one Arash Fatourehchi, claiming to be the manager of Design and Planning Department of the TCI.

The BTTB however was told by the TCI's director of Planning and Engineering Affairs that Fatourehchi does not hold any office in the organisation. Later, the BTTB found that Fatourehchi works with Opal Trading Company that deals with decorative stones and mineral powders.

Huawei's another certificate, claiming the supply of telephone exchange to the CTBC of Brazil, was also found fabricated. The BTTB had discovered that Huawei's Brazilian distributor, not the CTBC, had issued the certificate.

The flabbergasted BTTB officials stumbled into further forgery in Huawei's certificates from Russia. For instance, it claims to have supplied more than 480,000 phone lines to Russian operator Svyazinvest. But the BTTB's evaluation committee visited Huawei's website and found it had supplied only 160,000 lines to Svyazinvest.

Huawei also failed to defend such false submissions, prompting both technical evaluation committees to unanimously disqualify Huawei's bids. They also sent reports to higher authorities for further action on February 28, 2004.

The Public Procurement Regulations (PPR) of 2003 prohibits the BTTB from further dealing with a company such as Huawei because of the proof of forgery, sources said.

"So, Huawei does not qualify as BTTB's mobile equipment supplier," observed a source, referring to Regulation 15 of the PPR.

Huawei's forgery however was not discussed in BTTB's April 4 board meeting that endorsed and forwarded the mobile project's purchase proposal to the telecoms ministry.

Sources said the 'higher authorities' had asked the BTTB to revise and resubmit the mobile purchase proposal to the CCPP. Lately, the telecoms ministry obtained additional funding from the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) for BTTB's controversial mobile equipment purchase.

Sources said the son of a highly powerful minister has been backing Huawei. He has been reportedly influencing the BTTB management to suppress Huawei's official forgeries in the 48,000- and 62,000- phone line projects to get its mobile deal through.

The authenticity of Huawei's certificate in its mobile bid has also been under question, as BTTB's mobile bid evaluation report says Huawei's certificates are 'deemed fabricated'.

Sources are sceptic about the completion of BTTB's mobile project in time mainly due to interference of the said minister's son.