SA is racing to meet the digital TV migration deadline. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Johannesburg - The names of 26 bidding organisations that have each won a piece of South Africa’s R4.3bn set-top box tender have finally been revealed by the state agency tasked with the project.
Last week, the Business Day newspaper reported that all bidders for the set-top box tender had each won a slice of the deal.
However, the Universal Services and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) did not make an official announcement about the tender, and it did not respond to calls from Fin24 last week for comment.
Concerns over a lack of communication about the deal have also been raised by the Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister for Posts and Telecoms, Marian Shinn.
The multi-billion rand tender is intended to subsidise set-top boxes to five million poorer households. Set-top boxes are the devices needed to decode digital signals for analogue television sets as part of South Africa’s broadcast migration.
Zane Mheyamwa - who heads up financial services at USAASA - provided Fin24 on Thursday a list of 26 companies that have won the tender (see below).
“I can confirm all the bidders; they received an award letter; they received a negotiation letter,” Mheyamwa told Fin24.
The winning bidders:
NAMEC (National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components)
NAMEC Western Cape
“The agency is in the process of negotiating with the various suppliers and they have indicated various lead times from four weeks to 32 weeks,” Mhenyamwa told Fin24.
“The list has been put on our website. We will be publishing this in the newspapers this coming week,” he added.
Apart from being divided into different stages of the manufacture process, a USAASA presentation slide document indicates that all the winning bidders are subject to valid South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) test certificates.
Meanwhile, the slide also indicates that the process is further “subject to negotiations on commercial; technical; and transformation objectives”.
Mheyamwa further told Fin24 that bigger companies could take on larger slices of the tender deal, but he added that discussions on this are still underway.
USAASA reports to the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services despite the Department of Communications being tasked with driving South Africa’s digital migration process.
At a briefing in Parliament earlier this week, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele told Fin24 that he expected to see an inclusive approach regarding the set-top box tender.
"We would still like to encourage that. It's an issue of inclusion; it doesn't mean that if I'm a small company and I'm competing against a giant, the giant must take the whole share," Cwele told Fin24.
The DA’s Marian Shinn has raised a number of concerns about the way in which the tender process has been carried out.
“It (the tender) was never intended to go to only a few as it was intended to grow entrepreneurship among emerging companies and I buy into that - but it must be unprecedented that all those who submitted bids were awarded a share of the pie,” Shinn told Fin24.
“We need an explanation of why the tender was awarded this way. It hints at a political compromise to ensure that there are no legal challenges from losing bidders in order to get the boxes out and get the transition done. This may be valid but I suspect there are some cronies as passengers on the list,” she said.
Shinn has also raised questions about the time-frame of the project as she said it's unclear as to what volumes are being asked for and how long the devices could then take to manufacture.
Other issues such as the technical specifications for the Direct To Home (DTH) or satellite boxes have not yet been approved and gazetted yet, said Shinn.
Specifications for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) boxes, though, have been established. DTH boxes are expected to be handed out to outlying areas in South Africa in one of the first waves of the project.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set June 17 as the deadline for digital migration. Experts, though, have said South Africa is unlikely to meet the deadline after years of delays with the country digital migration process.