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Zambia's govt under pressure to explain StarTimes contract

Zambia's govt under pressure to explain StarTimes contract

Civil society organisation demands answers from authorities on single-source approach and breakdown of US$273m loan.

The Zambia branch of global civil society organisation Transparency International has demanded an explanation by the government as to why it single-sourced China's StarTimes to work on the country's digital migration process as allegations of corruption continue to pile up.

In a statement issued by Transparency International Zambia, the organisation's president Reuben Lifuka said his organisation wants the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to thoroughly examine the matter and ensure that all those involved appear before it for questioning.

The anti-corruption watchdog has also demanded a breakdown of the US$273 million loan received from China for the digital migration project and details on how this resource is going to be used.

It has further challenged the Zambian government to explain if the law had been changed to allow one entity (TopStar), 60% owned by StarTimes, to be the content carrier and signal distributor at once.

Zambia's President Edgar Lungu is accused of directing the single-sourcing of StarTimes and inflating the cost of the country's second and third phases of the digital migration project.

Former Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Chishimba Kambwili alleges that Lungu cancelled the bidding process of the project in order to personally benefit from it.

Last week, president Lungu said he will not respond to the allegations as they are meant to derail his effort of implementing developmental projects.

The country's law allows single-sourcing but only in the event of an emergency.

"Single sourcing is not illegal but it should be justified. There should always be good reasons for single sourcing and it is evident that none exists in this deal and this raises a lot of lingering questions about the whole transaction," Lifuka said.

Chief government spokesperson Kampamba Mulenga acknowledges that the digital migration project was single-sourced but denies there is corruption involved.

Zambia will repay the US$273 million in 25 years through TopStar which is also 40% owned by the national broadcaster, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).

According to the deal, TopStar will collect all ZNBC advertising and tower rental revenue for the duration of the loan agreement.

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