CCTV Contract with Huawei Will Guard Against Spying: Mandalay Chief Minister

By Myat Pyae Phyo 18 July 2019

MANDALAY—The Mandalay regional government is proceeding carefully in drafting its contract with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which has been chosen to supply a CCTV surveillance system as part of the “Safe City” project being implemented by Myanmar’s second-biggest city, the region’s chief minister has promised.

Widespread international allegations surfaced earlier this year that Huawei has close links to Beijing and has been involved in espionage against Western governments. The allegations also prompted public concerns that Beijing will use the Safe City project to conduct surveillance of activities in Mandalay, from the movements of citizens to the daily functions of the regional government. IT experts have warned that Huawei equipment could have a “backdoor” for use by government spies looking to access citizens’ data.

Mandalay Region Chief Minister U Zaw Myint Maung acknowledged the need to get down to the serious business of preparing a contract for the project with Huawei.

“We are seriously considering this matter. Though we are doing this with good intentions, if something goes wrong, we’ll have to take the blame. So, there is no room for error. The contract is extremely important. Just one or two [problematic] clauses in the contract would be enough to get us in trouble,” the chief minister told The Irrawaddy.

The regional government in the first week of July submitted a draft contract to the President’s Office and the Union Attorney-General’s Office. The President’s Office has sought feedback from concerned ministries, and the Union Attorney-General’s Office is scrutinizing the legal aspects of the draft contract.

In May, Mandalay Region Minister for Electricity, Industry and Construction U Zarni Aung unveiled Mandalay’s “Safe City” crime prevention plan, for which Huawei will provide smart surveillance cameras and other security equipment.

The plan followed a rash of muggings in Mandalay in December and January. It calls for CCTV cameras to be installed at crime-ridden intersections and other areas in the city, starting with Maha Aung Myay, Chan Mya Thazi and Pyi Gyi Tagun townships, which are large in size and have relatively high crime rates.

The cameras will use artificial intelligence (AI) and facial-recognition technology, as well as alarm systems to alert the nearest police station in case of a crime, according to U Zarni Aung.

One of the important provisions in the contract is to ensure there are safeguards against spying, U Zaw Myint Maung said.

Huawei Myanmar deputy general manager Zhu Bo told The Irrawaddy last month that his company never has and never will monitor any information, including personal data, transmitted over the network or equipment provided by Huawei, nor will the company ever provide the Chinese government with customer information.

The regional government is also scrutinizing the language of the contract, after the Union Attorney-General’s Office found that the Chinese side had added new clauses to the Chinese-language version of an agreement establishing a sister city relationship between Mandalay and China’s Xianxi some months ago.

“The [contract] will be complete after the Union Attorney-General’s Office sends back its remarks and we make changes as necessary. We have to continue with this plan. We can’t renege on it,” U Zaw Myint Maung told The Irrawaddy.

The project is expected to cost around 1.9 billion kyats (about US$1.25 million). The smart CCTV monitoring system should come into operation within six months of the contract being signed.

The Mandalay regional government awarded the contract to Huawei without inviting tenders. Citing tender instruction No. 1/2017, U Zarni Aung said: “[The regulation] says we don’t need to invite tenders so long as the project is in the public interest and requires a huge investment, and the company we choose is internally accredited.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Union-level official expressed the view that the Mandalay regional government should reconsider its planned partnership with the Chinese tech giant.

Mandalay City already has a CCTV surveillance system in place with over 130 cameras installed at important entry and exit points and public places, according to the Mandalay regional government.

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