Ramaphosa must clarify set-top box tender - DA

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament on Wednesday.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament on Wednesday.

Johannesburg - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to clarify the status of South Africa’s digital migration process, says the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Reports emerged last week that the state-owned Universal Access Service Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) had awarded a R4.3bn tender for the manufacture of set-top boxes to 20 bidders.

The Business Day last week quoted Usaasa CEO Zami Nkosi as saying the decision has been made. However, another report from business technology publication ITWeb on Monday said that the tenders have not been awarded but that Usaasa is repeating an analysis of bidders’ production and support capabilities. This is a process that the DA says was already done by an Ernst & Young team along with officials from National Treasury and the ICT sector.

Usaasa, though, has not released an official statement on the awarding of tenders or returned calls from Fin24 on questions regarding the matter.

“Continuing uncertainty over the awarding of tenders to produce and supply (of) five million set-top boxes (STBs) as a critical component of South Africa’s migration to digital broadcasting has prompted me to write to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as leader of government business, calling on him to urgently issue a statement clarifying the process, status and reasons for the delay,” said DA Shadow Minister for Telecommunications and Postal Services Marian Shinn.

“This meddling in the much-delayed process must stop. I call on Deputy President Ramaphosa to act with speed, impartiality and transparency to clarify the situation and ensure that it proceeds with integrity,” said Shinn.

Legal challenge

South Africa’s Broadcast Digital Migration (BDM) policy is also facing a legal challenge, after e.tv announced on Tuesday that it is heading to court to challenge a government decision on encryption for set top boxes.

The Department of Communications made amendments to the policy to ensure that set-top boxes do not have encryption.

The DA has previously argued that encryption could help switch off devices that are stolen. Meanwhile, encryption also protects television content from being pirated, Shinn has told Fin24 previously.

As a result, Shinn has said she’s also asking Ramaphosa for clarification on this matter. Shinn said she is asking Ramaphosa for clarification because of “reservations” she has over Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi’s alleged “impartially” in the process.

“I have also asked Deputy President Ramaphosa to clarify whether the Cabinet or the Department of Communications has received any legal opinions or challenges on the contradictions apparent in the latest version BDM policy that was amended without proper public consultation before Cabinet approved it on 18 March 2015. I have further asked him to be open about who has lodged these and what action is being taken on them,” said Shinn in a statement.

In the meantime, Usaasa is expected to be present at a Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services meeting in the National Assembly on Tuesday morning.

Usaasa, as a body, reports to the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and not the Department of Communications, a factor that has also sparked confusion in the industry.

Confusion over the set-top box and broadcast policy is emerging as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has set June 17 2015 as the deadline for the digital migration switchover.

Experts, though, say government is unlikely to meet this deadline after eight years of delays in the process.

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