Chairman of Parliament’s Communication Committee, Kennedy Agyepong, has blamed Communication Minister, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful for the current controversy over Ghana’s Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform, and the role of Chinese firm, StarTimes.
He made the comments shortly after a crucial meeting between the Committee and the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) today, September 27, over the raging controversy.
My members will say I have a slip lip, but all these are happening because of the Minister; so we have to meet the minister. We will invite the Minister to come and brief us on what happened.”
The Committee had received a petition from GIBA over concerns with the involvement of StarTimes in the country’s digital TV space.
The meeting was convened to consider GIBA’s petition, and also resolve the seeming impasse between the government and GIBA on the matter.
Speaking to the media after meeting, Kennedy Agyepong indicated that the Communication Minister must come clean on the deal.
“We don’t have a problem going to meet the minister. I think the appropriate approach is to rather to invite the minister to come to the committee to brief us. We are left in the dark”, he added.
Tensions at the meeting
However, the meeting was almost disrupted by a brawl between the Chairman and Ningo Prampram MP, Sam George, who has been very critical of government over the deal with StarTimes.
The two nearly traded blows in an altercation, which was said to have almost turned physical.
Citi News’ Parliamentary Correspondent, Duke Mensah Opoku, reported that the meeting was suspended for a moment “following a near display of fisticuffs between the Chairman of the Committee, Kennedy Agyapong and Sam George.”
However, calm was restored, allowing the meeting to take place. Explaining further the circumstances leading to that misunderstanding, Mr. Agyapong said he had to query his colleague for putting into the public domain, a matter that had been discussed solely among committee members on the raging issue.
He, however, noted that they have settled their differences and that the Committee would continue with their work.
The government has postponed migration to digital broadcasting for more than three times. It, however, contracted StarTimes in 2012 to supply and install the digital terrestrial television (DTT) infrastructure for Ghana.
The infrastructure was to guarantee multiple TV channels, clearer pictures, better sound quality and offer more opportunities for advertisers and broadcasters. The project which cost $95 million was supposed to have been completed before 2015.
But StarTimes allegedly failed to execute the project within the timelines hence the contract was abrogated in 2014 and handed over to Ghanaian firm, K-NET. The termination of the contract according the then Minister for Communications, Omane Boamah, was due to “failure of the company to secure the necessary funding from the China Exim Bank to execute the project.”
The government then awarded the digital migration contract to K-Net, whilst StarTimes sued the government of Ghana for what it described as the unfair abrogation of their contract with the state.
It later went to the International Court over the issue, but according to the Member of Parliament for Ningo-Prampram, Sam George, Ghana was winning the case until the government in 2017 decided to settle the case out of court in a bid to secure a $19 billion loan from the China EXIM bank.
Meanwhile, GIBA is accusing government of trying to handover the DTT infrastructure to StarTimes to manage; a claim government has refuted. They’re also unhappy with government for granting StarTimes a waiver as part of the company’s decision to extend free digital TV experience to 300 villages in the country.
The waiver covers the import duty and taxes they would have paid on the specific equipment being used for the project.
I’ve pardoned GIBA for ‘misinforming’ Ghanaians on DTT deal – Ursula
The Minister of Communication, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, later took a dig at the GIBA for supposedly misinforming the public.
She however said she has pardoned members of GIBA for the supposed error.
“There was a bit of confusion on their minds on what we were doing, and so I will pardon them and I hope that the clarification that has come will set their minds at ease. I think there was a bit of dis-ingenuity in the GIBA statement and the impression that they were creating that we were handing over the platform to StarTimes to manage when they knew that, that was not the case.”
Local firms will get tax waiver for similar ‘StarTimes’ 300 Villages Project’ – Ursula
She also assured that tax waivers await local companies that are also able to take up significant initiatives like the ‘300 villages satellite TV project’, being undertaken by StarTimes.