Chairman of Parliament’s Communication Committee, Kennedy Agyepong, has blamed Communication Minister, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful for the current controversy over Ghana’s Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform, and the role of the Chinese firm, StarTimes.
He made the comments shortly after a crucial meeting between the Committee and the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) today, September 27, over the raging controversy.
“My members will say I have a slip lip, but all these are happening because of the Minister; so we have to meet the minister. We will invite the Minister to come and brief us on what happened.”
The Committee had received a petition from GIBA over concerns with the involvement of StarTimes in the country’s digital TV space.
The meeting was convened to consider GIBA’s petition, and also resolve the seeming impasse between the government and GIBA on the matter.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Kennedy Agyepong indicated that the Communication Minister must come clean on the deal.
“We don’t have a problem going to meet the minister. I think the appropriate approach is to rather invite the minister to come to the committee to brief us. We are left in the dark”, he added.
The government has postponed migration to digital broadcasting for more than three times. It, however, contracted StarTimes in 2012 to supply and install the digital terrestrial television (DTT) infrastructure for Ghana.
The infrastructure was to guarantee multiple TV channels, clearer pictures, better sound quality and offer more opportunities for advertisers and broadcasters. The project which cost $95 million was supposed to have been completed before 2015.
But StarTimes allegedly failed to execute the project within the timelines hence the contract was abrogated in 2014 and handed over to Ghanaian firm, K-NET. The termination of the contract according to the then Minister for Communications, Omane Boamah, was due to “failure of the company to secure the necessary funding from the China Exim Bank to execute the project.”
The government then awarded the digital migration contract to K-Net, whilst StarTimes sued the government of Ghana for what it described as the unfair abrogation of their contract with the state.
It later went to the International Court over the issue, but according to the Member of Parliament for Ningo-Prampram, Sam George, Ghana was winning the case until the government in 2017 decided to settle the case out of court in a bid to secure a $19 billion loan from the China EXIM bank.
Meanwhile, GIBA is accusing the government of trying to handover the DTT infrastructure to StarTimes to manage; a claim government has refuted. They’re also unhappy with the government for granting StarTimes a waiver as part of the company’s decision to extend free digital TV experience to 300 villages in the country.
The waiver covers the import duty and taxes they would have paid on the specific equipment being used for the project.