Department of Communications minister, Faith Muthambi, has failed to reveal exactly how much the first batch of set top box (STB) purchased for distribution in poor South African households is costing tax payers.

This is according to the DA’s shadow minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Marian Shinn, who today said that questions posed to Muthambi in parliament regarding the topic were not directly answered.

In total, a R4.3 billion tender was set aside for the manufacturing and distribution of five million STBs to households which won’t be able to afford the estimated R700 – R800 price tag that will come with each one.

Twenty six companies were awarded a piece of the tender, but three have been selected to carry out the first phase, which will see the first 1.5 million STBs distributed at a cost of R1.2 billion.

According to Shinn, Muthambi is deliberately withholding information on the manufacturing cost per STB.

“Her decision to withhold information…exacerbates suspicions of corruption around the entire manufacturing and assembly process,” Shin wrote on the DA’s website.

Shinn had directed  the following question at Muthambi:

  • How many STBs and antennae were ordered from each of the three suppliers?
  • What are the costs of each of the items ordered?
  • Whether any orders have been placed with suppliers other than the three named?
  • What is the delivery date of the orders?
  • Whether a non-disclosure agreement was imposed by her department on these suppliers?
  • What payment has been made to each of these suppliers to date?
  • When was this money paid to the suppliers?
  • What are the terms for the balance of payments?

“Today I received replies to only two of the many questions I have asked the Minister on the STB programme and its costs. Both failed to give the specific details I asked for, such as the costs involved,” she added. “Instead of supplying specific answers the Minister answered in generalities such as:“The Minister is still in the process of engagement with the Universal Service Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) regarding the purchase price of the STBs and accessories.” 

In October, the DA revealed that STBs had been unlawfully imported from China by one of the three first suppliers, Bua Africa. The report was followed by an announcement by the Department of Communications that it would be investigating the claims.

Shinn said her party will continue to search for answers and transparency from government.

[Source – DA, image – CC Government ZA]