Star Times deal dubious – HH
By Elly Musonda
HAKAINDE Hichilema says the joint venture between ZNBC and China’s Star Times is a dubious deal.
Hichilema, in an interview, said President Edgar Lungu and the PF have risked the country’s security by selling ZNBC to Chinese Star Times.
ZNBC has formed a joint venture with Star Times called Top Star Communications to roll out top set boxes under the Top Star brand.
Under the deal, Top Star will be collecting all ZNBC advertising revenues and tower rentals for the next 25 years with a shareholding of 60 per cent in the national broadcaster to service a US$273 million loan the government contracted from the Export-Import Bank of China to invest in a digital broadcasting network and the building of provincial studios.
But Hichilema, who vowed to revoke the deal once the UPND takes over government, said the development compromised national security because the national broadcaster at times aired vital and confidential matters that were not meant for outsiders’ ears.
“The country’s security is at risk and there is no doubt about it, they shouldn’t forget that ZNBC is also a carrier of various information. This is a dubious deal. Apart from ZNBC, they have sold Mwembeshi earth station as well. I know there is a satellite-based technology now, they have been arguing that it doesn’t matter; it does matter because there are certain things that do come through the broadcaster. Certain information is of confidential nature, they are issues of a security nature, which will now be viewed by Chinese operators, Chinese owners first. There is a serious security risk; ZNBC has remained in the hands of unfortunately a crooked government,” Hichilema said.
“When the thieves return the August 2016 election victory back to the rightful owners, the winners who are UPND, we shall correct the situation. We shall revoke the deal and do the right thing for the nation. We will protect Zambia and national security by ensuring that confidential and vital information meant for the country does not slip out of the hands of ZBNC. Obviously, we have a different approach ourselves, we will reform ZNBC and lower the cost of doing business.”
He said there was no doubt that the joint venture between ZNBC and Star Times was a dubious and corrupt undertaking aimed at benefiting President Lungu and his followers and not the poor Zambians.
“My question is: why did Lungu and PF spend US$273 million for the digital migration deal when we would have spent US$40 million? They would have saved over US$230 million. That is the difference we will bring into public office with the knowledge that we carry from our business experience. They should even be ashamed of being there and making noise because all this corruption is endangering the security of the nation, because he (President Lungu) knows that he is not supposed to be in that office, that office belongs to the UPND,” said Hichilema.
“The people of Zambia must open their eyes because the selling of shares to this Chinese firm is aimed to cripple ZNBC; ZNBC will not be able to meet its operational requirements properly. It will not be able to invest or improve the quality of its services to the customer, to the TV viewer who is forced to pay the TV levy, which has also been increased. So all this is arising from the corruption being exhibited by the corrupt PF regime.”
Star Times is currently engaged in litigation with the Ghanaian government over a cancelled digital terrestrial TV contract.
In Nigeria, Parliament last December challenged Star Times’ joint venture with the Nigeria Television Authority signed in 2009 aimed at increasing content, building a terrestrial wireless, digital television system and operating a pay television service.
The partnership saw Star Times gaining effective control of the entire NTA infrastructure and a 70 per cent shareholding in the joint venture, with the Nigerian telecaster getting 30 per cent.
Nigeria’s Parliament believed the deal was reached at fraudulently and members of parliament called for the investigation of Star Times.
The house was also concerned that the joint venture agreement was grossly lopsided against the NTA which also ceded the intellectual property of the deal to Star Times “thus endearing a master servant relationship between the NTA and Star Times”.
And in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Star Times’ operating license was revoked after the company illegally used the public frequency for its telecasts.
Uganda had mid last year equally halted a tender given to Star Times to run the digital terrestrial TV migration for the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation as the deal was giving it majority control of the country’s television space.
The Inspector General of Government later cleared the proposed leasing of the national digital terrestrial television after some of the concerns raised by stakeholders were taken into account.