Set-top box report must be made public - TechCentral

Set-top box report must be made public

Communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo must release the report arising from the investigation into the procurement process for the state-sponsored set-top box procurement process in the light of the publication in the Sunday Times about attempts by Jacob Zuma’s son Mxolisi to influence the tender process in favour of Altech UEC.

This will reveal where the corruption in the process was identified in the R1bn first phase of the set-top box procurement process and prompt the relevant criminal investigations.

Her predecessor, Faith Muthambi, who gained control of broadcast digital migration when the former department of communications was split in 2014, requested national treasury in 2015 to investigate possible irregularities into the tender process for the assembly of 1.5m boxes in the first phase of the plan to roll out five million of them.

Altech UEC did not secure an order in this phase. Orders were placed with CZ Electronics, Leratadima Marketing and BUA Africa. Leratadima outsourced its production to Grand Tellumat Manufacturing and BUA Africa outsourced its production to Microtronix.

National treasury commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to investigate the process and its report was handed to Muthambi in March 2016. Because the entity charged with implementing the set-top box process, the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) reports to the minister of telecommunications & postal services, neither department has taken action on the report’s findings which claim major irregularities in the procurement process.

Questions

Parliamentary questions I asked on action being taken on the report’s findings have had both ministers of communications and telecoms & postal services ducking the issue saying it was up to the other to take action.

Usaasa CEO Lumke Mtimde has responded to parliamentary questions on the national treasury report that he has not engaged with it and is basing any “disciplinary investigations” on supply chain management highlighted in the auditor-general’s 2016 annual report, indicating that there is little appetite for probing the wider issues of possible corruption in the process.

For the past year, I have repeatedly asked both the chairpersons of the portfolio committees on communications and telecoms & postal services for a two-day parliamentary hearing into the status of the broadcast digital migration process, its legal and fast-changing technological challenges, and to seek views of all stakeholders in the digital migration process to discuss ways to accelerate the process.

I also wrote to Dlodlo, soon after she took office, to push for a two-day hearing. None of these requests has been responded to.

The switchover to digital broadcasting technology has been severely hampered by policy uncertainty and broadcasting turf battles, mainly centred on set-top box encryption, for eight years.

The government-sponsored set-top boxes for identified poor households is an important step in the process of switching off analogue broadcast signals, which will free the airwaves for the expansion of Internet access using mobile technology.

  • Marian Shinn is an MP for the Democratic Alliance and the party’s spokeswoman on telecommunications & postal services