The Democratic Alliance has filed a Public Access to Information Act (PAIA) application with the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) for details of who has received orders to produce 1,5m set-top boxes, worth about R1,2bn, as part of the government’s roll-out of digital terrestrial television.
This is the first tranche in the government’s R4,3bn programme to give 5m set-top boxes to identified poor households.
During the past week, I have repeatedly called for communications minister Faith Muthambi to reveal with whom the orders have been placed. This has met with silence from her and hostility from the Usaasa, which is managing the programme, and a company believed to be one of the three currently producing the boxes.
Industry sources have given me three company names and I forwarded these to Usaasa CEO Zami Nkosi asking him to confirm or correct my information. He has remained silent on this issue.
The local production of set-top boxes was meant to be a flagship government project to open the door for black small, medium and micro enterprises to gain a foothold in the electronics manufacturing sector and grow jobs.
My view is that if this policy is being manifested in the current production allocation, why are the names of these companies not being trumpeted from the rooftops? Government secrecy just fuels suspicion that this programme is being corrupted.
As there is no willingness by government to be transparent about this my PAIA application asks Usaasa to supply the following documents:
- The letters sent to the 26 companies who submitted bids for the tenders for the STBs and antennae and whose names were approved by the Usaasa board to be on the panel of approved suppliers among whom the orders would be shared.
- Any signed contracts and orders already issued by Usaasa in terms of the tenders, as well as deposit slips for any monies paid to these companies.
- Copies of signed contracts, orders and deposit slips to any other service provider involved in any aspect of the digital TV programme.
So far, national treasury has approved only R2,4bn for the programme. This is sourced from levies on annual turnover imposed on telecommunications companies as their contribution to the Universal Service Access Fund for the roll-out out of universal access to communications infrastructure. The fund is managed by Usaasa.
There is no clarity on where the shortfall of about R2bn will come from, although there are proposals to raise further levies from networking companies and to tap into the resources of the unemployment insurance fund to fund training of set-top box installers.
- Marian Shinn is a DA MP and shadow minister of telecommunications & postal services
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