Transparency International Zambia has demanded to know why government single sourced Star Times when there was no emergency, and other companies offered more cost effective deals.

And TIZ says as Chief Government Spokesperson, Kampamba Mulenga must stay away from politicking but provide well researched answers to pertinent questions on the Star Times deal.

In a statement to News Diggers! TIZ president Rueben Lifuka wondered why government turned down an offer from Multichoice which would allow people to view ZNBC and other channels free of charge.

“The digital migration process is complex and costly venture and it is our expectation that Government would look for the most cost effective way of undertaking this national programme. We are aware that Government, going back to the MMD government, has been looking at the different options of undertaking digital migration. And we are also aware that Government did approach Multichoice Zambia Ltd, a company that it has shares in through ZNBC, to help with the digital migration process. From our understanding, Multichoice Zambia offered to use its infrastructure under the GOtv to carry, on a free-to-view basis, the free-to-air terrestrial commercial television broadcasting services. The Multichoice proposal further stipulated that they would not charge customers a subscription fee to view the free-to-air bouquet. In this instance, viewers could view the free-to-air channels on digital by purchasing the requisite decoder kit and antenna. Once customers purchased and installed the relevant customer equipment, they would receive and view the free-to-air channels on a free-to view basis, regardless of whether they were subscribed to the GOtv pay TV service. This proposal from Multichoice was at zero cost to government,” Lifuka stated.

“Our background work on this indicates that government objected to the Multichoice Zambia proposal on the grounds that the Digital Migration Policy requires separation between the signal distributor and content provider. Now what is different from the deal entered into with Top Star? The joint venture agreement with Top Star defines the scope as follows: • Provision of digital television (TV) signal transmission service for TV stations and charge transmission fee , • Provision of decoders of Set-Top- Boxes (STBs) for every household with a TV set, • Providing to each subscriber, a basic television package of no less than twenty five (25) channels which include local TV and international programs, and charge a monthly maintenance subscription fee of US$3 tax exclusive • Providing the very poor families identified by government as such at half price, • Providing two free channels for digital television universal access to viewers who fail to pay monthly maintenance subscription of US$3.”

He observed that whilst single sourcing was not illegal, it was unjustifiable in this instance.

“The difference between the two proposals is that in the case of Top Star, the Zambian Government signed a Preferential Buyer Credit Loan Agreement with China Eximbank under which the bank is to avail to the Government a credit facility for USD232 million and the loan proceeds are to be used in the supply, delivery, installing and commissioning of a National Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting system in Zambia under Phase II and Phase III of the project, inclusive of upgrading television studios and setting up provincial studios,” Lifuka stated.

“The questions we ask are as follows: a) Can Government provide a breakdown of the US$232 million – what is this amount going to be used for?
b) What did the other interested parties like Multichoice Zambia, Huwaei and Muvi TV offer for support to this programme? c) What are the reasons why Government opted to settle for Star Times and single source this company? Indeed, single sourcing is not illegal but it should be justified. There should always be good reasons for single sourcing and it is evident that none exist in this deal with Top Star and this raises a lot of lingering questions about the whole transaction.

This transaction needs full disclosure and we demand answers. We want the Public Accounts Committee to thoroughly examine this matter and the committee should ensure that all those involved appear before it. Similarly, we demand that Government comes clean on this deal- there is national interest at play, and concerns that people have, should not be trivalised or politicized.”

Lifuka wondered why government opted to breach its contract with Multichoice, a situation which could have costly ramifications.

“It is imperative that the Zambian government clearly disclose to the Zambian people, why a decision was made to overlook an existing relationship that ZNBC has with Multi Choice Africa Limited, through two Joint ventures – namely Multi Choice Zambia and GOtv. We are aware that Multi Choice Zambia has been existence since 1994 and in this venture, the Zambian people, through ZNBC hold a 49 per cent shareholding. Our background check reveal the dividends from MultiChoice Zambia are on average up to 25% of total ZNBC revenue but unfortunately not publicized as for other State Owned Enterprises or Public Private Partnerships. ZNBC holds a similar shareholding in GOtv.

We are made to understand that the Shareholding Agreements for Multichoice Zambia and GOtv were duly cleared by the Attorney General and there is a provision in these agreements which does not permit the parties to engage in similar business that they are undertaking through the joint venture. We note that on 12 May 2016, ZNBC and Star Times entered into an agreement to invest in and establish a joint venture limited liability company called Top Star Communications Company Limited. It is therefore clear that the decision by ZNBC to enter into a joint venture with Star Times is a breach of these agreements and we want to challenge the Attorney General and Government to explain this development,” Lifuka stated.

“We are concerned that such breach of agreement presents unnecessary exposure to legal action in much the same way that the Zambian government has had to compensate Lapgreen over the ZAMTEL deal. It would seem our government never learns from history and keep repeating the same breaches of agreements. The question is what is so special about this deal with Top Star that Government is willing to breach the agreements it has with Multichoice Africa?”

He also challenged government to explain if the law had been changed to allow one entity to be the content carrier and signal distributor at once.

“We are aware that on 10 March 2014, the Government of the Republic of Zambia, launched the Digital Migration Policy which was to guide the whole process of Zambia meeting the 17 June 2015 international digital migration deadline. Of significance in that Policy, is Government’s desire that the network operation (signal distribution) should be separated from content provisioning. In this current scenario, we do note with concern that the Top Star arrangement, essentially goes against the spirit and letter of the Policy, in that Top Star is both a signal distributor and content provider. The questions that arise are as follows:
a. When did Government change the Digital Migration Policy to allow for one entity to undertake both signal distribution and content provisioning?” Lifuka asked.

“b. Why did Government not allow other players- such as Multi Choice Zambia and Muvi TV, who are capable of providing these twin services from participating in an open bid? c. What specific reasons warranted Government to single source Star Times to undertake these services?”

And Lifuka advised Mulenga to avoid responding to pertinent questions with political undertones.

“Taking advantage of this occasion, we want to appeal to the Minister of Information and Chief Government Spokesperson, to quickly settle down and get on top of issues and appreciate that her office is an important one with a specific mandate to represent the Government. It is our expectation that the responses and statements from her office, will always be measured, well researched and free of political undertones. There are many Zambians who desire clarity on government policies and actions and her office – has that honour and distinction to respectfully provide unbiased and professional feedback. We do understand the temptation to veer into political sabre-rattling with perceived opponents of the ruling party, but the party has enough people to handle the political side of any debate. We desire to hear clearly from her, Government policy and programmes- with explanations that allow us to appreciate why certain decisions have been taken by Government,” stated Lifuka.