Two executives of a Chinese telecoms firm, ZTE, battling to retain a multi-billion-shilling tender to supply police with communication and surveillance equipment have been kicked out of the country.
ZTE is owned by the Government of China and its winning of the tender was challenged in court by Huawei Technologies Company. The latter, a privately owned firm, is also Chinese.
The deportation of the two ZTE executives adds a fresh twist to the controversy stalking lucrative national security tenders. Just two days before the two ZTE executives were bundled out of the country, Parliament put the brakes on a Sh12.3 billion contract awarded to mobile communications giant Safaricom by the Government to manage the national security communications system.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has been featuring in adverts on print and electronic media for the same.
The two officials, Mr Yang Yong alias Thomas and Zou Lingying alias Eileen, directors in charge of government enterprises and marketing respectively, were picked up at dawn on Saturday, and held for over 12 hours before being deported around 10pm.
Chinese nationals working in Kenya often adopt English nicknames for the benefit of locals.
Authorities declined to comment on the reasons for their deportation.
CID officers reportedly arrested the three at 3am on Saturday from their residence at Mimosa Court, off Ngong Road.
They were taken to Kenya Ports Authority’s (KPA’s) inland depot police post along Mombasa Road in Nairobi where they were held to await deportation.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku reportedly signed the deportation orders on Saturday at 6pm and they were taken away aboard a Qatar Airways to China.
Their lawyers, Mr C.N Kihara and Mr Assa Nyakundi, said they were not informed of the deportation and were yet to receive an explanation from the State on the reasons for the action.
Yesterday, ZTE Chief Executive Officer Liu Sen refused to comment on the matter saying their lawyers were handling it.
“I will not comment for now since we have left it to lawyers. Thank you,” Liu told The Standard on phone.
Lenku declined to comment when reached on phone. “No comment,” he replied when asked why the two were kicked out of the country.
It is unclear whether the deportation has anything to do with recent developments.
“These people are suspected of sponsoring individuals who have petitioned Parliament over the same and some guys up in government are not happy,” a source claimed.
The initial Sh17 billion tender was floated in 2011 and was to be funded by the Chinese government on condition that only Chinese firms were awarded the projects.
There have been protracted legal battles between the two Chinese firms, Huawei and ZTE, after Huawei moved to court to contest the decision to award ZTE the tender.
Recently, the Kenya Government awarded Safaricom a tender for the so-called Integrated Public Safety Communication and Surveillance System. The new security system will be linked to the National Command Centre that has already been set up.
The agreement with Safaricom also allows Government to deploy around 2,000 CCTV cameras in locations around Nairobi and Mombasa – the two towns that have been hardest hit by the terrorists.
A day after Parliament suspended the contract for the Sh12.3 billion project, President Kenyatta publicly complained at State House over the integrity of the decision by the legislature on a project whose virtues he has been extolling on mass media.
Members of the National Assembly’s Committee on National Security said the procurement was not above board, the choice of Safaricom was unclear, and the details of how the project would be executed “not convincing”.
The chairman of the committee Mr Asman Kamama (Tiaty) said his team was not convinced with the explanation they had received from the Interior Cabinet Secretary.
“We have instructed the CS to suspend any signing of this contract until this committee approves it and the House also approves it,” said Kamama.
“We have confirmed that they have awarded the contract, but it has not been signed. That’s why we are saying that the signing has to be suspended forthwith. There’s no signing that is going to be done,” he added.
Lenku, his Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo and National Police Service Inspector General David Kimaiyo had appeared before the committee to shed light on the project, but there were many queries they failed to answer to the satisfaction of the lawmakers.
Last Friday, Safaricom welcomed the parliamentary probe into the contract.
The statement from the Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore stated: “The cutting edge system will run on an independent LTE security communications network using designated International Telecommunications Union standards. It will therefore not run on Safaricom’s commercial network.”
Collymore added: “The management and control of the new system will however be the sole prerogative of the National Police Service.”
Three MPs from the Energy and Communications Committee had also raised questions about the project, arguing that giving Safaricom the national security project could expose the country’s security.
The MPs questions linger over the ability of Safaricom to deliver and whether it would be right to allow them access to such a sensitive national project.
The project will, in the first phase, focus on Nairobi and Mombasa cities. It will thereafter be extended to the rest of Kenya in accordance. Safaricom will spend Sh12.3 billion and recover the money from the Government later.