Mokonyane to shelve USAASA's digital migration role

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Government wants to complete SA's digital migration switch-over by June 2019.
Government wants to complete SA's digital migration switch-over by June 2019.

The communications ministry has no plans to go through the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) for matters relating to digital migration or procurement.

This is the directive communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane says she will issue to USAASA as soon as she receives the agency's status report, which she has been promised to receive in the first week of June.

Speaking to ITWeb, Mokonyane labelled issues such as infighting within the department and its entities as embarrassing, noting the legal disputes involving USAASA are areas she does not want to be dragged into.

Mokonyane said she has not met with the agency since taking over leadership of the Department of Communications in February. "For a good reason I have not met USAASA yet, because my intention when meeting USAASA together with minister Siyabonga Cwele will be about giving a directive and not consulting. Giving a directive is in the best interest of the country... [it] is straightforward.

"It shall no longer be through USAASA that we deal with digital migration or for procurement."

Local not so lekker

In 2015, USAASA decided to award a R4.3 billion tender for the manufacturing of digital migration set-top boxes (STBs) to the 26 companies that bid for the tender.

Soon after, however, USAASA allocated a purchase order for 1.5 million STBs with only three of the manufacturers: CZ Electronics, BUA Africa and Leratadima.

Mokonyane says none of the companies selected as STB producers actually manufactured the digital migration decoders in the country.

There is not even one "Nomvula" or "Zanele" set-top box production factory in this country but all we know is that we have these decoders, the minister continued. "They were not even manufacturers. They just go to China and purchase those apparatuses."

According to Mokonyane, set-top box manufacturing needs people with technical know-how. "We should have been realistic with the three companies that were selected and told them exactly what their role is and where they fit in the digital migration process. That is how you create opportunity for businesses. We have destroyed them, but we must not bury them. That is the undertaking that I have made."

She added: "Everyone who participated did so with good intention of responding to a government contract and hence we must demand the status report.

"Now that we realise this thing is not sustainable, we must determine how do we together with trade and industry and small business redirect the interest of these new participants so that they can participate and do something beyond just going abroad and buying set-top boxes. They must really become industrialists in a true sense because if that is not going to happen, then government would have acted irresponsibly."

She stressed that government must make sure those that have fallen victim of the USAASA procurement processes, especially those that have gone out and been given the contracts, are not also casualties.

"We will work with trade and industry to see how we help these entities. People have gone out to borrow money to buy these things [decoders] without the knowledge and supervision, and it can't be government that again destroys emerging business people.

The minister concluded that she has refused to visit the warehouse where the STBs are kept. "I will never go because the minute you go it's like you are endorsing something that is not right."

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