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In-fighting plagues digital TV migration

18 March 2015 News

South Africa’s progress towards digital TV broadcasting has for months been bogged down as government, manufacturers and broadcasters bickered over the issue of access control. At the centre of a new controversy is control of a different sort, as a simmering feud between the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), and the Department of Communications (DOC), threatens to cause more setbacks to the project.

While the overall broadcast digital migration (BDM) process falls under the purview of the DOC, the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), which is responsible for the tender process for the local manufacture of set-top boxes (STB), reports to the DTPS. Audits of hopeful STB manufacturers bidding on contracts have been under way for some time, and USAASA is due to announce the names of successful bidders shortly.

Solly Mokoetle, the DOC man in charge of the programme, has now called into question the validity of USAASA’s tender, based on the fact audits conducted prior to the publication of the final BDM policy. He wants the tender to be brought under the control of the DOC and has threatened to instigate an investigation into USAASA’s tender process. Perhaps wanting to distance themselves from the dispute, the respective ministers of the DTPS and DOC – Siyabonga Cwele and Faith Muthambi – were noticeable absentees at a recent parliamentary joint sitting on digital migration.

Also central to the dispute is the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec), a business interest grouping of small to medium sized black manufacturers. Insisting that it wants at least 60% of the STB manufacturing deal for its members, Namec is itself in the midst of an internecine war between the leader of one of its factions – Keith Thabo – and secretary general Adil Nchabeleng. This rivalry turned nasty recently at a conference on small and medium enterprises, with accusations of intimidation by private security and resulting in the police being called to the scene.

Namec has echoed Mokoetle’s call for a review of USAASA’s tender process, complaining that the appointed Ernst & Young is a white auditing firm and is not well qualified to audit manufacturing processes.

In response to Mokoetle, USAASA pointed out that he has no jurisdiction over it, and suggested that certain big business interests within the sector have a vested interest in delaying migration and are at the heart of the latest dispute.





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