Anti Corruption watchdog, the Southern Africa Network Against Corruption (SANAC) has written to the Minister of Information Dora Siliya over the TopStar Digital Migration deal.
The organisation says the TopStar deal is one the biggest financial scandals in modern day Zambia noting that whereas other Countries in the Continent have spent far less, the Zambian digital migration deal is the most expensive in Africa costing government a whopping $282 million.
The Network says Botswana has spent $18 million while South Africa, which has a far bigger population and geographical orientation, spent $78 million.
“The Govt adopted a phased approach to digital switch on and analogue switch off, phased as; phase 1, Line of Rail, Phase 2, Provincial Centers and phase 3 being Remote Sites. Phase one (line of rail) included four (04) Provinces.
These are Southern, Lusaka, Central and the Copperbelt Provinces. This first phase costed Govt $9 million. In 2017, the Govt of the Republic of Zambia, through the Zambia Information Technology Agency (ZICTA) issued a Public Signal distribution License to TopStar, a company that was created between the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and Star Times of China. It was agreed in this deal that ZNBC shall get 40% Shareholding, whereas TopStar shall get 60%. Through TopStar, the Govt of the Republic of Zambia borrowed $273 million for purposes of completing the remaining phases of the exercise,” it said in statement.
“In 2011, the Zambia Digital Migration Task force announced that Zambia needed $30 million to carry out a successful digital migration. This figure resonates well with what other countries in the continent spent. It is surprising that the figures changed after the Chinese came on board.”
The Network said the $273 million cannot be justified describing it is theft whose perpetrators must be brought to book.
“In the TopStar deal, Govt disregarded the policy guidelines and indeed the set out Laws. According to Digital Migration Policy, Govt transformed the Licensing framework into two broad licensing categories namely; Content Service Provider License and Signal distributor License. In addition, no single entity was to hold both types of License at the same time. However, TopStar was given both types of License at the same time. The implication of this is that TopStar plays both the role of carrying signal as well as providing content, against the Law. We wish to know what motivated the authority to disregard the Law with impunity,” they demanded.
It said the decision to give TopStar both Licenses without regarding the provision of the law has undermined competition and created a situation in which Local Media Houses are losing income because their operations have been adversely affected.
“ In the policy, there is a further direction that the License shall have two broad categories, namely, free-to-air television broadcasting services capable of being received without the payment of a subscription fee, and the Subscription television broadcasting services provided in exchange for payment of a subscription. Most of our local television stations fall in the category of free to air, but by 1 October, TopStar encrypted all the local channels without any agreement with the local television station owners, thus making them pay Tv stations, against the owners’ initial business intention,” it said.
“Prior to the issuance of these Licenses to TopStar, ZNBC was the interim signal carrier allowing all broadcasters to transmit their signals via free-to-air Licenses. During this period, local broadcasters were able to access end-user customers across the country and could secure income through advertisements targeted at the intended audiences.
Broadcasters on free to air channels earn their income exclusively through advertisements. Following the acquisition of the Licenses, TopStar has among others, scrambled the signal access by end users to local media broadcasters’ content, Local content providers (local TV Stations) are now required to pay monthly carriage fees to TopStar to have their content aired, TopStar is demanding K700, 000 per month; this is way above the expected standard charges for carriage of signal by a signal distributor, has encrypted the content provider channels much to the disadvantage of the local Tv stations, thereby creating unfair business practices such that TopStar is now taking away advertising meant for the local Tv Stations.”
It charged that since TopStar started charging subscription, they have been making about K24 million every month adding that it is therefore inconceivable that TopStar is failing to pay ZNBC workers on time.
“Since by implication, TopStar has transformed the local television channels into pay Tv channels, it therefore makes logical sense for TopStar to star sharing the local Tv channels, the money they are making from subscriptions,” he said.