The Sunday Times reported (3 March 2013) that “Communications minister Dina Pule bullied television networks to accept a set-top box deal worth an estimated R100-million that would have cost tax-payers extra while benefiting her boyfriend’s business partner”.
However, the high-court subsequently struck down the deal in December 2012, calling it “unlawful”. Pule initially planned to appeal the ruling, but withdrew two weeks ago.
This is just the latest debacle in a litany of hindrances to South Africa’s digital terrestrial television migration; a process which also has an impact on the telecommunications sector as operators wish to use the freed analogue broadcast spectrum (referred to as digital dividend) to roll out new broadband and voice services.
The Sunday Times previously reported that Pule is also involved in a scandal around the recent ICT Indaba in Cape Town, for which she secured sponsorship from Vodacom, MTN and Telkom amounting to R25.7-million.
A set-top-box (STB) will be needed to receive the new digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal. The goal is to get 8 million STBs into households by the end of 2015.
The SA government plans to subsidise at least five million STBs. Among other things, STB control is meant to prevent the use of subsidised STBs outside of South Africa.
In 2011, the SABC and etv settled on using company NDS to provide the STBs to market, saying that it provided the “most competitive bid in a formal tender process,”and was a third cheaper than rival Nagravision.
In May 2012, Pule disregarded this decision, and ruled that Nagravision would handle the STBs because it had an existing relationship with state-owned signal distributor Sentech.
Nagravision refused to reveal how much it would have charged the SA government, but industry experts estimate the company could have easily earned over R100-million, The Sunday Times reports.
etv asked Sentech to provide a copy of the Nagravision deal to see if it was competitive, but Sentech did not comply.
The Sunday Times dug in and discovered that Nagravision is partnered with local company AU Communications; a company run by Rudy Rashama, the business partner of Phosane Mngqibisa.
Rashama says he no longer has links with Mngqibisa, having resigned from Khemano following the ICT Indaba. Cipro records show that Rashama is still listed as a director Khemano, reports the Sunday Times.
Also emerging are reports that in 2012 Sentech flagged a R2.3-million payment to Rashama’s AU Communications as “fruitless and wasteful.” Rashama said he is surprised by this and has not been alerted to the fact.
Sources close to Nagravision have told The Sunday Times that the company lobbied hard for the deal, even visiting ANC officials at Luthuli House. Nagravision refused to provide comment to The Sunday Times on this issue, saying questions should be directed to government officials.
An unnamed ANC official told the Sunday times that “I was shocked when I heard they’d just chosen Nagra for [what appear to be] political reasons.”
The Sunday Times also reports other possible conflicts of interest, as in 2010 when Pule was deputy minister, she chaired a panel that appointed Rashama as deputy chairman of the Digital Dzonga council.
Pule’s spokesperson would not discuss how Rashama could have benefited from this, and said that the Digital Dzonga was established by Pule’s predecessors and many of its 15-member council worked in the communications sector, as did Rashama.
Source: Sunday Times (print)