Zambia's govt vows to address digital migration scandal

Mounting pressure related to corruption allegations over Zambia's digital migration project has forced the government to source a new public signal distributor.

China's TopStar Technologies was selected to fulfil the role of both service provider and public signal distributor for the project, something the country's digital migration policy does not allow.

Following questioning by lawmakers, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Godfrey Malama confirmed the decision to source a new public signal distributor but failed to explain the original decision to award the project to a single service provider.

"The process of choosing a new public signal distributor has been started by our sister ministry-the Ministry of Communications and Transport in order to avoid monopoly because no single company should be both the service provider and public signal distributor," said Malama.

Last week, anti-corruption watchdog SANAC (Southern Africa Network Against Corruption) wrote a letter to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya over the TopStar deal.

"The TopStar deal is one of the worst financial scandals in modern day Zambia and we call on all those involved to be brought to book," said SANAC executive director Gregory Chifire.

The government has borrowed US$273 million for digital migration in six provinces when the cost of the project was less than US$25 million, according to submission by bidders prior to the bidding process being cancelled.

The digital migration project was later single-sourced, but the government denies there was corruption involved.

Zambia will repay the US$273 million in 25 years through TopStar, which is 60% owned by StarTimes of China and 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.