Mega CCTV project called into question  

A police CCTV camera on 8th Street, Namuwongo in Kampala. Under the first phase, the police installed 3,233 cameras within the Kampala Metropolitan area. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI. 

What you need to know:

  • Whereas police authorities have previously downplayed the extent of the problem, revelations to Parliament show that at least Shs187b is required to fix the current mess in the project.

The government plans to spend Shs261.5 billion on the third phase of the CCTV project as President Museveni’s signature security pet project sputters and stops. 

While police authorities, following several reports by this newspaper, have previously downplayed the extent of the problem, revelations to Parliament show that at least Shs187 billion is required to fix the current mess in the project. This before embarking on the third phase of the project. 

Although the cash-strapped government had provided only Shs3.9b of the Shs261.5b, leaving a shortfall of Shs257.5b, the House Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, is adamant that a special audit takes centre-stage before any more funds are advanced for the third phase. 

Under the Crime and Prevention and Investigation management Sub-programme, the police plans to implement the “CCTV phase III project, which will entail filling the gaps within Kampala Metropolitan and other areas across the country; operation and maintenance; and upgrading and integration.”

Under the first phase, the police installed 3,233 cameras within the Kampala Metropolitan area. In the second phase, 2,446 cameras were installed in 10 new cities, municipalities, major towns and highways. 

The performance of the security cameras has been questionable in some areas of the country, the committee observes in its report. This, it adds, has created difficulty in fighting crime.

In many cases, abettors of crime are not captured on camera or, if they are, the picture quality is very poor.

“The Committee, from its oversight, established that the massive malfunction of some cameras is attributed to the quality, which is affected during specifications in the procurement process,” the report notes, adding, “Whether the government negotiated a defect liability clause in the contracts was unclear. The Committee recommends a special audit of phase I and II of the project to identify how gaps emerged that currently require Shs187b to be filled before the implementation of Phase lll.”

Chequered past 
In 2019, Parliament approved a government request to borrow $104m (Shs386b) from Standard Chartered Bank to finance the National CCTV Network Expansion Project.

Ms Rosemary Nyakikongoro (Sheema District, NRM), the chairperson of the House Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, did not respond to our request for comment. 

In March, however, she said the police needs to be investigated for its handling of the project. 

“This time the investigators are going to be investigated particularly on this CCTV project because one time, a police officer was killed near the CCTV camera, but you could not bring the pictures of the criminals,” Ms Nyakikongoro said, according to a House record.

She tasked the police leadership to justify why the government should continue spending money on non-functional cameras. 

“I think it is not a matter of rushing to buy cranes that will be used to maintain these dummy cameras. Instead, we should spend on quality cameras,” she said.

At the same meeting, Mr Yusuf Sewanyana, the commissioner of police and acting director of ICT, said the quality of the footage and longevity of the cameras is usually affected by dust and rain, which he said calls for timely maintenance.

A source, who requested not to be named, has, however, shared with Sunday Monitor details of “an intelligence-led fact-finding exercise [on] why CCTV cameras, which physically exist, are unreliable in times of need.”

The failure has taken on a more important status given the recent spate of crimes that would ideally have been solved through the identification of suspects using the cameras.  

“There are numerous factors which contribute to the effective functioning of the safe city cameras, however, the ability of the three categories of cameras (ordinary, facial recognition and ANPR) to record video footages/images and the server to store the recorded videos and images respectively for live view, playback access and query primarily relies on the availability of network (connectivity) and electricity,” our source revealed.

The source says most of the optical fibre network links in the safe city CCTV camera project are not as planned and designed.

This is due, our source adds, to the fact that whereas some of the optical fibre network links were not implemented, others got damaged and were not repaired.

This is believed to have caused redundancy, making police stations and divisions go off whenever fibre cuts and power blackouts occur to some pivotal police divisions and stations. 

Cameras within the Kampala Metropolitan Police area, the source adds, don’t have memory cards in them as planned. This leads to a lack of footage in moments when the camera sites are running on backup batteries in the absence of power.

The majority of CCTV camera network rings don’t close, with our source offering that this leads to redundancy, especially when camera sites get isolated technical faults.

Manpower issues
The other issue raised is the inadequate number of trained and experienced technicians to manage the camera network.

For example, a police region which has more than 600km of optical fibre network has only one network technician, who cannot ably and timely address all the technical needs within the network.

Most technocrats (junior police officers), our source claims, are cheated of their per diem allowances. This greatly demoralises some police officers from joining or accepting deployments under the department responsible for CCTV cameras.
“Similarly, because of the above fact, very many police officers regard the above department as a “dry” beat of deployment and avoid deployments in it either by concealing their academic papers or concealing their technical ability to work under it hence leading to insufficient manpower,” our source revealed.

Police, the source claims, also operate under “a very colonial remuneration policy” of paying officers based on ranks other than technical skills. Consequently, a graduate police constable earns the same as a Seniour Four leaver.

This is in sharp contrast with the army where a private can earn more than a captain because of their academic qualification(s).

Our source also drew attention to embezzlement of maintenance costs recovered from offenders, noting that “a lot of money recovered from the people arrested after damaging CCTV camera sites, like the one in front of Old Kampala police station, Namboole, Kitubulu [on Entebbe Road] opposite Lake Nalubaale etc., and network backbone components like fibre cables ends up in the coffers of some senior officers in the ICT directorate instead of using it for the intended repairs.”

Police speak out
We put the issues our source raised and concerns spotlighted by Parliament to the police.

Ms Polly Namaye, its deputy spokesperson, told Monitor that the Force would require time to study the House report and other allegations and get responses from the specific departments before making a response to our queries.

“It is not something I can respond to. It would take time. Different departments will have to look at it and we will consult. It wouldn’t apply before consulting the departments that raised the budgets,” she said.