‘Digital TV Deal with China’s StarTimes Needless’ – Sam George
National Democratic Congress [NDC] Member of Parliament for Ningo-Prampram, Sam George, has accused government of not being transparent with Ghanaians in its dealings with Chinese pay per view TV, StarTimes, over their role in rolling out Ghana’s Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) infrastructure.
The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), had raised concerns over government’s involvement of StarTimes in the deal, although local firm, K-Net, has already built the facility and is operating it.
Although the government through the Ministry of Communication has denied having any contractual agreement with Star Times, Samuel George alleged that there is documentary proof to the contrary.
Speaking on Citi TV’s current affairs program The Point of View on Wednesday, the Ningo-Prampram legislator insisted that government has no right to involve StarTimes in the deal because the Chinese firm failed to execute the project when it had the opportunity to do so under the NDC government.
Ghana has postponed migration to digital broadcasting for more than three times.
$95 million deal with StarTimes
The government of Ghana later signed a $95 million deal with StarTimes to supply and install the DTT network platform for Ghana.
Don’t hand digital migration contract to StarTimes – GIBA warns gov’t
But the contract with StarTimes was later abrogated over what the then Minister for Communications, Omane Boamah, said was due to “failure of the company to secure the necessary funding from the China Exim Bank to execute the project.”
The government later awarded the contract to K-Net, a Ghanaian-owned company.
But StarTimes sued the government of Ghana for what it described as the unfair abrogation of their contract with the state.
A Commercial court in Accra on March, 9th, 2015, threw out the StarTimes case, but the Chinese firm took the matter to the International court of arbitration.
Samuel George, who is on Parliament’s Communication Committee explained Ghana was “head for victory” in the case at the International court, but the Akufo-Addo government withdrew it from court.
He said, “in the first quarter of 2017, the ICC gave a written judgement to the Attorney General, Madam Gloria Akuffo” which supposedly meant that Ghana was going to win the case.
He noted that, the Akufo-Addo government decided to settle the matter out of court because the $19 billion dollars it was seeking from the China EXIM Bank, had a condition which directs the government to involve StarTimes in the DTT infrastructure.
“I am putting on record that the decision by the Ministry to abrogate the arbitration process which Ghana was heading to victory, was because of the $19 billion facility,” he said.
He said the two grounds on which StarTimes went to court were not strong enough because they failed to meet the timelines for the DTT project.
According to him, StarTimes had claimed that it brought in the infrastructure, but due to lack of funds, it took it to Nigeria.
Sam George again said after the withdrawal of the case at the international court, the Ghana government subsequently asked StarTimes to audit K-Net’s DTT infrastructure and see how to expand it and make it better; a development he described as curious.
According to the legislator, it was wrong asking StarTimes to audit the DTT infrastructure.
“The Ministry all a sudden comes out of the arbitration and say they want to settle. Reason being that, around the time the Vice President had gone to China for the $19 billion facility, part of the condition precedent on that was to get that case out of arbitration and settle the matter with StarTimes. So then you now have a decision by the Ministry of Communication to pull out a case Ghana was willing to get to its logical conclusion and sign an MoU with StarTimes. That StarTimes should help the Ministry to do an audit of the K-net platform and when they do the audit, the findings of that audit will help StarTimes get a new contract,” Sam George said.
George Andah defends
Speaking on the same program, the Deputy Minister for Communications, George Andah, maintained that no agreement has yet been reached between Ghana and StarTimes.
He explained that they needed more funds to pump into the DTT project and as such, they had two options – either they sell spectrum or go for the $19 billion from China.
Mr. Andah said if government goes for the $19 billion EXIM bank facility, they have no option than to bring StarTimes on-board in the DTT deal else they can’t access the loan.
He said government can only do away with StarTimes if it is able to raise more money through the sale of spectrums.
“I have told you that StarTimes enhancing the network is based on us having funding from the EXIM facility. There is no agreement. We are not there yet. If there is a documentation between the MOC [Ministry of Communications] and StarTimes, for that document or contract to become binding, it means that the StarTimes are getting the funding from the EXIM facility,” he added.
We’ll hold stakeholders meeting
On concerns by GIBA, the Deputy Minister said a meeting will be organised before the end of September to have issues ironed out.
Sam George condemns tax waiver for China’s StarTimes
Sam George also criticized the government for furthering Chinese interests through a tax waiver for StarTimes, because they have agreed to offer digital TV experience to some 300 Ghanaian villages.
Mr. George said the “waiver is the most unfortunate thing which government can do.”