The Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) has apparently finalised the winning bidders for the set-top box tender process, but confusion reigns over how the process will work from here.
The agency has gone to ground, with no announcement on its website and its spokesman unavailable for comment.
Business Day reported on Friday that all 20 tender companies that had bid for the project, said to be worth R4,3bn, have been given an opportunity to build set-top boxes for government, which will provide free boxes to as many as 5m poorer households. The newspaper described the decision as a “compromise in a contested process”.
But the Democratic Alliance is already crying foul, with MP Marian Shinn warning that “political meddling is apparent” in the final awarding of the deal.
Business Day quoted Usaasa CEO Zami Nkosi as saying that it had never been the plan to award the bid to one service provider only. “The intention has always been the promotion of inclusivity and to increase the manufacturing and supply base,” he is quoted as saying.
Attempts by TechCentral to contact Nkosi and Usaasa spokesman Khulekani Ntshangase proved fruitless.
According to Shinn, four companies were shortlisted to the Usaasa board on 30 March as they were deemed the most suitable in an adjudication process led by Ernst & Young, which included industry experts and representatives from the national treasury. Yet, less than two weeks later, the number of winning bidders had been expanded.
Shinn says this may have been the result of intense lobbying that took place outside the tender adjudication process.
Shinn says a week before the Usaasa board meeting, a furore erupted after one of the two warring sides in the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec) discovered that they were not on the short list. “Now, some of them are,” Shinn says.
“This adds weight to the suspicion that some bidders with no — or at best, minimal — set-top box production capability or facilities have already stockpiled imported set-top boxes which cannot accommodate signal encryption over which there has been a year-long dispute. Minister of communications Faith Muthambi fought for almost a year to ensure that signal encryption was excluded from the 18 March 2014 cabinet-approved broadcast digital migration policy.
“This sort of dubious tendering cannot be shrouded in confusion and irregularities and must be made public as soon as possible so that this process can continue without any further delays caused by tender turf wars,” Shinn says.
Secretary-general of one of the Namec factions Adil Nchabeleng says some of the association’s members were informed by Usaasa that they were part of the winning bid.
However, it is unclear what this meant as a letter from Usaasa said they would be invited to sit on a panel to decide on how the bid would be split.
Sicelo Mtsali, representing the other Namec faction — the one that has lobbied hard against encryption in set-top boxes, says it has not officially received any notification from Usaasa. “We had multiple bids and we are still collecting information from the provinces.”
Usaasa is due to appear before parliament’s portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services next Tuesday. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media