The Democratic Alliance welcomes the news that the procurement process for the government-sponsored set-top boxes is being reviewed because of an irregular procurement process and unaffordability of the project.
This was confirmed in Tuesday’s meetings of the portfolio committee on telecommunications & postal services by the CEO of the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) Lumka Mtimde. Usaasa is the government entity responsible for the procurement process of the set-top boxes.
Mtimde was responding to the DA’s question about what information he had on media reports stating that the new communications minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, was contemplating reverting to the pre-March 2015 broadcasting digital migration policy that enabled signal encryption on the boxes. Dlodlo also confirmed the reports on the new policy in the communications committee on Tuesday.
This policy is currently before the constitutional court to rule on whether previous communications minister, Faith Muthambi, followed the correct procedure in revising the policy, which had been developed in line with ANC policy and subjected to rigorous public engagement. Muthambi’s action and subsequent legal challenges have delayed the roll-out of set-top boxes by two years.
The roll-out was aggravated by the fact that the first orders for 1,5m boxes that were issued by Usaasa in August 2015 in a process that is deemed to be riddled with irregularities and probable illegalities. The new management of Usaasa halted production of these boxes when legal challenges to Muthambi’s migration policy cast doubt on their technical specifications.
Mtimde told the committee that the government entities involved in the migration project met this past weekend with Dlodlo and telecoms & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele for an update and discussion on how to fast-track the process.
While unable to give specifics of the conversations, Mtimde said the procurement process was being reviewed in light of there being limited funds from national treasury to proceed with the current procurement and the auditor-general’s findings on the irregularities of the issue.
Mtimde made no mention of the PricewaterhouseCoopers investigation, commissioned by national treasury, that was delivered to Muthambi last March. Portions of it were published on the department of communications website and clearly showed irregular processes were followed. Muthambi failed to respond to the DA’s Promotion of Access to Information Act request for the full report.
Last year, the DA called on the portfolio chairpersons of both communications and telecoms & postal services to host a two-day public hearing into whether the set-top box programme was still technologically relevant and affordable, and to review the seemingly corrupt tender process.
A joint meeting of the two committees to get an update of the digital terrestrial broadcasting migration project is scheduled for 6 June.
The International Telecommunication Union’s international deadline for switching off the analogue broadcast signals to make way for the airwaves to exploit digital technology for wireless broadband services as well as audio and digital broadcasting was 15 June 2015. South Africa is still listed on the ITU website as not having started.
- Marian Shinn is an MP for the Democratic Alliance and the party’s spokeswoman of telecoms & postal services