For the second time, the Chinese company StarTimes Software Technology has been chosen to implement the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting systems in Mozambique.
This is the same company which won the digital migration contract from the government of then president Armando Guebuza in 2014 without any public tender. The contract, worth US$133million, was signed between the then minister of Transport and Communications, Gabriel Muthisse, and the chairperson of the StarTimes board, Pang Xinxing.
The deal was immediately controversial because of the ties between StarTimes and the Guebuza family. Guebuza’s daughter, Valentina, is chairperson of StarTimes Mozambique Media, a local subsidiary of the StarTimes group.Muthisse denied there was any conflict of interest, because the contract was not with StarTimes Mozambique but with StarTimes Software Technology, which is 100% Chinese owned. He justified the lack of a public tender on the grounds that the money for the contract was a soft loan from the Chinese EXIM Bank, and so the company chosen had to be Chinese.
But StarTimes did not do the job. Digital migration should have been accomplished by June 2015. When that date was missed, the government gave StarTimes Software technology a final deadline of December 2015 to unblock the promised funding from the EXIM Bank. That deadline too was missed, and so the
government cancelled the contract with StarTimes. Finally, the government did hold a public tender, the measure which critics had been demanding for years. Astonishingly, StarTimes, despite its previous failure, not only submitted a bid, but won the tender.
Americo Muchanga, chairperson of the regulatory body, the Mozambique National Communications Institute (Instituto Nacional das Comunicações de Moçambique, INCM), told a Maputo press conference on Thursday 3 November that the purpose of the tender was to select a company that would handle the digital migration as cheaply as possible. The tender documents stipulated that the loan to the government to pay for the contract must carry an interest rate no higher than 2%, a grace period of seven years, and an overall repayment period of at least 20 years.
Twenty companies initially expressed interest, but only six of them submitted bids. Four of these companies were Chinese, and the others were from Italy and Mauritius. The jury analysed the bids and opted for StarTimes. The company, which in 2014 had said the digital migration would cost US$223-million, now dropped its bid to US$156-million.
Muchanga denied that there had been any trafficking of influence to ensure that the contract would again fall into StarTimes’ hands. He said the procedure was completely transparent, and anyone interested in seeing the tender documents and the bids could do so in the next 60 days.
The contract with StarTimes will be for 18 months, and during this time it will install 60 digital transmitters, plus the necessary broadcasting studios. But StarTimes has admitted it does not yet have the money guaranteed, and so part of the time will be spent raising the funds.
After the digital network is installed, it will be managed by the company TMT (Transport, Multiplex and Transmission). The shareholders in this body are the public telecommunications company Telecomunicações de Moçambique (TdM), Rádio Moçambique and Mozambique Television (TVM). Muchanga said that, if they are interested, private companies could also join TMT.
Source: Agencia de Informacao de Moçambique
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