Thursday, February 28, 2008

ICE and Alcatel make up

ICE president Pedro Pablo Quiroz. Photo by La NacionICE president says "there is no other option"

Despite the scandals that rocked the country as alleged payoffs went as high as a former president, Costa Rica's state-owned telecommunications authority, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, or ICE, has awarded the French telecommunications firm contracts worth millions of dollars.

Even though Alcatel faces a judicial trial for bribery of public officials, last September ICE approved a contract for $1.8 million for Alcatel to adapt 70 percent of the fixed line telephone centrals and a cellular central for the move to an eigh digit telephone system that goes into effect March 20.

In addition to the ICE contract, Radiogr√°fica Costarricense, S. A. (Racsa), a ICE subsidiary, awarded Alcatel a $440.000 contract to provide maintenance to their TDM node, according to Racsa spokesperson, Elbert Duran.

Duran added that Racsa has also awarded Lucent a $3 million dollar contract for the installation of high capacity data transmission network called metro ethernet. Lucent is now part of Alcatel.

Waldemar Nunez, ICE provider of services, added that the institution has awarded Alcatel a number of smaller contracts for parts and maintenance of various systems.

In 2004 Alcatel was uncovered to have made payoffs to high level ICE officials to obtain a mobile telephone contract to install 400.000 GSM lines in Costa Rica.

Former president Miguel Angel Rodriguez (1998-2002) was figured as have received a payoff and is now waiting his day in court after having to quit as Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) only a month after being elected to the post and promptly arrested when he returned to Costa Rica.

There is a case pending as ICE filed charges against Alcatel and last year, Pedro Pablo Quiros, president of ICE, announced that it would be cutting all ties with Alcatel, especially with the problems of network coverage and service of that network.

ICE was also in the process of claiming some $60.6 million from Alcatel because of the problems with the 2002 purchase and installation. However, ICE agreed to drop the claim in exchange for some 200.000 additional GSM lines to be provided by Alcatel.

Quiros defended the recent contracts saying that 70 percent of the fixed line centrals are of Alcatel equipment and are strongly dependent on that company as it has been supplying equipment for the last 15 years. Quiros added that as the country moves to an eight digit system it had no other option but to purchase equipment from Alcatel to effect the change.

The problem it appears, is that the maintenance and upgrade of the equipment are of exclusive technology and that only the original supplier can provide maintenance and parts, explained Quiros.

The ICE president said that it was better to have committed to the present solution of exchanging more cellular lines and equipment rather than wait five or more years before being able to collect on its claim.

Giovanni Bonilla, ICE's legal director, added that the exchange of lines and equipment and the awarding of additional contracts to Alcatel does not eliminate the claim by ICE of $20 million that is before the courts for damage to its image caused by the Alcatel scandal of alleged payoffs to ICE officials.

Information provided by Inside Costa Rica, written and translated from a La Nacion newspaper article.

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