ZNBC says the Auditor General has not found anything scandalous about how the government acquired a US$273 million loan for phase two and three of the Digital Migration project.
In a letter to News Diggers! which was not signed by an individual but “ZNBC management”, the national broadcaster claimed it had no obligation to pay the US$2,321,811.89 loan interest and neither did Topstar.
Last week, the Auditor General revealed that government acquired a US$232,181,138.85 loan from Eximbank of China through Star Times without a repayment plan.
And the Auditor General also revealed that ZNBC and Topstar had failed to pay an interest of US$2,321,811.39 which was due on July 15, 2017, on the loan acquired.
But ZNBC management said what the Audtor General revealed was not a scandal, as reported by News Diggers!
In a letter dated January 22, 2018, the ZNBC management stated that the News Diggers! headline “AG tells Topstar scandal” was highly misleading.
“We would like to state from the onset that your headline ‘AG TELLS TOPSTAR SCANDAL’ was highly misleading to the public and in particular to the readers of your newspaper,” the ZNBC management stated.
“Topstar came into being as a partnership between Star Times of China and ZNBC to form a special purpose vehicle to facilitate for the roll out of the digital migration project in Zambia. The joint venture is a strategic alliance between two entities. The government of the Republic of Zambia, through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, embarked on a process to adhere to the ITU directive of transitioning from analogue broadcasting to digital terrestrial transmission whose deadline was 17th June, 2015 after agreements by stakeholders at the Geneva Conference in 2006.”
The ZNBC management also refuted the Auditor General’s finding that the institution and Topstar had defaulted on an interest repayment, saying the loan from Exim Bank of China had not even been materialized.
“Further, it is important to note that the entire loan agreement from the Exim Bank of China is US$273 million meant to cover phase two and three of the digital migration. ZNBC and Topstar are not obligated to pay interest of US$2,321,811.89 as quoted in your news article because the loan has not yet been realized as the funds that are being used for this project at the moment are from contractors. Digital migration has both technical and generic benefits and Zambia is one of those countries considered on the African continent to have had a well thought out plan for rolling our digital transmission,” read the letter.
The ZNBC management claimed the Auditor General did not find the entire digital migration process to be a scandal.
“Rightly so, the Office of the Auditor General of Zambia has Constitutional mandate to audit all public resources in the republic and, as the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) of Zambia, it exists to strengthen accountability and transparency in the public sector through provision of quality audit services, thereby building public confidence. We found your news article grossly misleading giving an impression that the entire digital migration project in Zambia is a scandal. The Auditor General’s report covered the period of up to September 2017 and at no time did the Auditor General’s report suggest that the actual project is a scandal as your screaming headline seemed to suggest,” read the letter.
“The digital migration project in Zambia is being done in a meticulous, methodical and systematic manner and procedure is being followed to the latter such as the opening of Escrow account management agreement on the national digital terrestrial television migration project which was signed on 5th December 2017. The account is meant for collecting and transferring revenue generated for loan repayments.”
ZNBC management however did not make any demands for any correction to the story published by News Diggers!
Meanwhile, former minister of information Chishimba Kambwili revealed revealed that President Edgar Lungu personally instructed a director who was acting as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information to single source Star Times of China for the digital migration tender.
Kambwili went further to narrate that when he inquired from Huawei and ZTE among other bidders who were interested in the tender, how much they would charge government to migrate the remaining six provinces from analogue to digital, he was told that it would cost less than US$25 million; leaving him wondering why the President wanted government to acquire a loan of over US$270 million.