A Member on Parliament’s Communications Committee has alleged government's insistence on awarding a contract to StarTimes for the expansion of digital TV space, is to safeguard billions of dollars in loans from China.
Samuel Nartey George is baffled as to why the Communications Ministry will continue to deal with the Chinese digital satellite television service provider, after it failed to deliver the same contract it was awarded in 2012, compelling the government to abrogate the contract in 2014.
This failure, according to Mr. Nartey, is partly to blame for Ghana’s inability to migrate fully from analogue to digital television broadcasting.
StarTimes unsuccessfully sued the government at the High Court as well as the Supreme Court for claims following the abrogation of the contract. After failing to secure judgement from the local courts, StarTimes proceeded to seek arbitration at London-based International Court of Arbitration.
The current government, however, ended the arbitration proceeding which according to Deputy Communications Minister, George Andah, was “based on an advice by the Attorney-General”.
Sam George insists the government did not proceed with the arbitration even though it had a solid case because if its determination to secure loan agreements from China. It, therefore, had to “accommodate StarTimes” in the expansion of the country’s digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) platform.
“The reason to discontinue the arbitration (was) not on the strength or weakness of our case; it was on the basis of the fact that it was possibly going to jeopardise the government attempts to raise 2 billion dollars from China and the 19 billion that [Vice President] Dr. Bawumia, had gone to China for,” he said Wednesday, on the Super Morning Show on Joy FM.
Samuel George Nartey (left) and George Andah
The Chinese company is a leading digital TV-operator across Sub-Saharan Africa offering digital terrestrial television and satellite television services to consumers. StarTimes also provides digital television technologies to countries and television broadcasting industries which are switching from analog to digital television.
But the opposition MP argued that, a local player in the same industry, K-NET, with immense technical capabilities had already started work on the digital platform that has seen a number of television networks migrating onto it.
“K-Net had a solid technical expertise and gave us a novel financial proposal…the revenue from that would be able to pay off the project,” he added.
Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful
He read out five points from a June 22, 2018 letter signed by Communications Minister, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful to the Attorney-General, relating to the dispute between the government and StarTimes:
“1. On 30th November, 2017, the Ministry of Finance formally requested the Exim Bank of China to reactivate the signed framework for agreement for the concessional loan,
“2. On 8th March 2018, the Ministry secured Cabinet approval for the DTT expansion project to be executed by StarTimes,
“3. On 16th March 2018, the Ministry secured the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] permit for the DTT expansion project,
“4. On 29th March 2018, the Ministry signed a settlement agreement with StarTimes to discontinue the arbitration process at the ICC and;
“5. On 5th Aril 2018, the Ministry of Communications signed a contract with StarTimes to re-instate the original contract signed on 11th April 2018 with an amended scope.
“The Ministry of Communications has signed a contract with StarTimes and this letter is signed by no mean a person but the Minister of Communications, Mrs. Ursla Owusu-Ekuful, MP,” Mr. Nartey declared.
However, Mr. George Andah, has maintained that no contract has been signed between the government StarTimes for the expansion of the digital satellite platform. The Deputy Minister clarified that “…for certain things to happen, certain levels of approval are required…Cabinet can discuss it and Cabinet will give directions.”
“The government has not signed any contract [and] government has no intentions to get StarTimes to manage the DTT network. Indeed the DTT network is going to be managed by the Central Digital Transmission Company Limited (CDTC) which is going to be governed by a Seven-member Board,” he explained further.
He admitted government has signed a memorandum of understanding with StarTimes but said he is “not aware that there’s a contract that has been signed with StarTimes to make StarTimes the definite contractor to do an expansion”.