Tuesday, October 19, 2021

DCEC confirms it is investigating digital migration project

The Directorate on Corruption and Economic Corruption typically doesn’t say much when the media seeks information about ongoing investigations. However, what its spokesperson, Phakamile Kraai says in only 17 words is really telling.

“The said case was under investigation and has been sent to our legal department for further advice,” Kraai says.

That is a big improvement from three years ago when all his predecessor, Lentswe Motshoganetsi, would say was “I can’t refute the allegations but I can also not confirm to you if there is anything.” While this statement was essentially confirmation that an investigation was indeed underway, it lacked the precision in Kraai’s answer.

There is indeed something and it relates to the manner in which the controversial digital migration project was handled. On its website, DCEC says that the legal department “assists by analyzing evidence contained in dossiers forwarded to them on completion of investigations and then send the files to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.” That is what the department would be doing with regard to this particular matter. The Gaborone grapevine is fraught with scary talk of how the money allocated to the project was disbursed with one insider confidently claiming, “Go jelwe rra! Banna ba epetswe didiba” – meaning palms were greased with a borehole being drilled for one of the dirty money beneficiaries. Supposing it reached them, DCEC investigators would have probed allegations like this one.

The first issue of contention is Botswana’s decision to adopt a Japanese digital migration standard over the European one that has been adopted by the rest of the Southern African Development Community. This decision went against explicit expert advice from the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority ÔÇô Botswana Telecommunications Authority as it then was. The experts recommended Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial 2nd Generation (DVB-T2) standard, which is European, over the Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial (ISDB-T) which is Japanese but were overruled by non-technical people. South Africa was also wooed by the Japanese but resisted. A delegation from the Asian country visited South Africa to demonstrate an ISDB-T transmission but the South African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA) found the technology to be “neither revolutionary nor innovative but merely confirmation that old 1st generation standards can be modified to operate in 8 MHz as it should have been able to do since 1997.”

The digital migration will entail use of a device called “talkbox” which some Botswana companies are said to be manufacturing with their Japanese counterparts. Given the amount of money involved, this is a service that should have been tendered for but that never happened. Around the time that the migration project started, government spokesman, Dr. Jeff Ramsay, said that this exercise would be an opportunity for local companies to partner with the Japanese and explore possibilities of manufacturing mobile phones and TV sets for the Botswana market.

“Already as we speak, there are local companies talking to Japanese companies to see how they can provide services here,” he said at the time.

There is the question of when and how those companies managed to seal such deals when this job was never advertised as well as whether the pre-selection of those companies was lawful.

“How did they know that Botswana was going to adopt the Japanese standard? When did they form partnerships with Japanese companies? When did they start preparing themselves?” queries a government source.

Despite assurances by then Deputy Permanent Secretary (Information and Broadcasting) in the Office of the President, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, that the project would be delivered on time (June 2015), that has not happened. A new deadline he announced was also missed. This delay will definitely have cost implications: some P260 million was budgeted for 2014-2016 and the figure would have risen. Kaboeamodimo himself has since been transferred to the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development.

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