Political meddling is apparent in the final awarding of the R4.3 billion tender for digital terrestrial television (DTT) set-top boxes, DA shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services Marian Shinn has said.
The tender encompasses the production of 5 million decoder-like set-top boxes (STBs) and antennas that the government will subsidise for the poorest households in SA.
South Africans who receive their TV signal over a normal antenna will have to get a STB when the country migrates from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Shinn raised concerns after Business Day reported that all 20 bidders for the controversial STB tender would get a piece of the deal.
Of these, 15 bidders will supply the STBs, 7 will supply outdoor antennas, and 6 will provide decoders for areas without DTT coverage which will access channels using satellite technology.
Some companies will supply more than one item.
“The fact that so many bidders have been chosen to produce and supply the STBs – which must have 30% local content – indicates that intense lobbying, outside the tender adjudication, took place,” Shinn said.
Initially, only a shortlist of four companies were in the running for the tender, Shinn said.
“These four companies were deemed the most suitable bidders. The adjudication was led by Ernst & Young and included industry experts and representatives from National Treasury.”
“The week before the board meeting a ruckus developed between the factions of the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic components when members belonging to the one faction learned they were not on the STB short list. Now, some of them are.”
Shinn said this led to the suspicion that some bidders had already stockpiled imported STBs 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 signal encryption was excluded from the 18 March 2014 Cabinet approved Broadcast Digital Migration Policy,” Shinn said.
The DA said it is looking into whether action can be taken to exclude and expose those involved in extra-tender activities without jeopardising the much-delayed transition to digital broadcasting.