A recent Integrated Digital Television (IDTV) project funded by National Treasury has come under the spotlight for irregular expenditure and failure to deliver on its goals.
IOL reported that Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is involved in a R1.8-billion scandal regarding a Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) project channelled through the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA).
This project aimed to provide matric learners in South Africa with IDTVs to help them study ahead of the exams. With the exams already taking place, this has obviously failed to materialise.
The report alleged that Ndabeni-Abrahams appointed Basil Ford as USAASA caretaker because he is a close associate of her husband Thato Abrahams, who allegedly controls the USAASA DTT set-top box budget.
“Basil’s tenure has been nothing less than a Hollywood movie alongside USAASA’s acting chief financial officer Frik Nieman seconding him to ensure the procurement of more than 100,000 TVs for the matriculants affected by the lockdown with an estimated cost of R242 million channelled through to companies linked to Thato Abrahams,” a source told IOL.
“The minister also wanted the board to appoint Sentech to run the digital migration and the broadband roll-out, respectively, which Usaasa would have had to bankroll as it has done with the SA Post Office distribution of DTT set-top boxes costing USAASA millions,” the source added.
USAASA rubbished the report’s statements regarding the amount spent, however, stating that it has not spent R1.8 billion on the IDTV project in question.
“USAASA can also confirm that Sentech was never approached for its appointment for the R1.8-billion project.”
IDTV project for matrics
USAASA stated that only R242 million was approved to be retained by the agency for the COVID-19 relief effort to provide IDTVs to beneficiary households with Grade 12 learners.
“At this specific period, USAASA is still finalising an internal procurement process for IDTVs and as such, we cannot disclose further details thereof,” it said.
“However, information will be released as soon as the process is concluded. Furthermore, USAASA has no knowledge of any channelling of the IDTV tender by individuals in the agency.”
USAASA also clarified that phase two of the Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) project involved the issuing of vouchers to the rest of the indigent households that will not be covered in phase one.
It said the set-top boxes in its warehouse are not gathering dust – rather, the digital migration project is “steaming ahead”.
“Lastly, USAASA would like to correct the misconception that STBs stored in the South Africa Post Office (SAPO) warehouse are ‘gathering dust’,” USAASA said.
“The stock will be depleted in the next coming months, after which the project will then move into the second phase which entails a subsidised voucher system.”
“The broadcasting digital migration project is steaming ahead, the signal distributor Sentech has been appointed by USAASA to Project Manage the installation of subsidised STBs,” it said.”
USAASA added that it remains committed to fulfilling its mandate to support and supply needy households with access to broadcasting services.