The man tasked with running South Africa’s digital migration project at the department of communications, Solly Mokoetle, says the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) has jumped the gun by launching a multibillion-rand tender before a final policy on migration was gazetted.
The communications department now wants the tender process for the supply of more than 5m digital television set-top boxes for poorer households — a project kick-started by Usaasa — halted and brought under the watch of the department, led by minister Faith Muthambi.
Mokoetle, a former CEO of the SABC who resigned from the public broadcaster in 2011, tells TechCentral that industry players have expressed concern to the communications department over the role of Usaasa as funder and procurement officer in the process.
He says the Usaasa tender will now be investigated for “any violation of the procurement process”.
The agency’s tender “will need to be reviewed” in light of the changes to the broadcasting digital migration policy, published this week, Mokoetele says. In the latest — and probably final — policy amendment, government has controversially scrapped its support of encryption in the set-top boxes, handing a decisive victory to MultiChoice. Critics say the decision entrenches the pay-TV operator’s dominance in South Africa, to the detriment of free-to-air broadcasters.
Mokoetle’s comments come as a grouping led by Keith Thabo accuse Usaasa of “questionable tender processes”.
In a statement, the grouping, using the disputed name Namec, has accused Usaasa of “outsourcing their jobs to white auditing firms, as if we don’t have black auditors” in South Africa.
“Hundreds of millions of rands which should be destined for the poor are consumed by white auditing firms who don’t qualify to audit electronic manufacturing entities,” the grouping says in the statement.
“The current set-top box tender issued by Usaasa is worrying. Our concern stems from the fact that Ernst & Young was given a mandate to audit the manufacturing ability of bidders in the [set-top box] tender.”
The grouping claims that financial accountants are not best placed to audit manufacturing processes and that the audit was rushed.
“No questions were asked about the box, chipset availability, chipset suppliers, components, guarantees, logistics, tag times, heating of components and all the technical stuff that demonstrates your capability, competence and capacity,” Mtsali says.
However, Rob Bruggeman, chief operating officer of CZ Electronics, a large electronics manufacturing business in Johannesburg, has praised Usaasa’s processes, saying it appears to be conducting a thorough and careful assessment of potential manufacturers.
But Usaasa’s project may now be scuppered, with Mokoetle saying that new specifications for the tender will be issued by the department of communications.
Usaasa CEO Zami Nkosi tells TechCentral that he can’t comment on the developments, telling the publication to speak to telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele. The telecoms department has oversight of Usaasa. “You will have to speak to Cwele. I don’t report to Muthambi,” Nkosi says when asked about Mokoetle’s comments about the set-top box tender. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media