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Chinese firm poised for ZBC digitalisation

CHINESE information and communications technology company, Huawei is the front-runner in the digitalisation of state broadcaster ZBC in a tender process that is fraught with allegations of irregularities.

Herbert Moyo

Zimbabwe is among a host of countries in the southern African region battling to meet the June 27 deadline for the migration to digital from analogue broadcasting.

Government sources last week told the Zimbabwe Independent that officials from the Information, Media and Broadcasting Services ministry have indicated that they prefer Huawei to undertake the digitalisation project.

“Senior Information ministry officials are so keen on Huawei that they are prepared to flout normal tender procedures to ensure they succeed. They are even scouting for two companies who do not meet the requisite specifications to rope into the tender process so that there is a semblance of legality to the bid,” said a senior government official. “Huawei is also pulling out all stops to ensure it is awarded the tender and has even offered to carry out the feasibility study for free.”

Officials at Huawei’s Harare offices last week referred all questions to a Chinese official they identified as Lightman.
But Lightman could not be reached all week, except once when he said he could not comment because he was at the South African embassy in Harare applying for a visa.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo also did not respond to calls and messages sent to his mobile phone and email last week. Government sources, however, said the preference for the Chinese company also stems from government’s precarious financial position which has seen grants to ZBC dwindling over the years, resulting in failure to pay workers’ salaries, poor equipment and programmes, among a host of tough challenges.

Last year, then acting ZBC chief executive officer Allan Chiweshe warned of the likelihood of missing the June 2015 digitalisation deadline, saying this could only be averted if government steps in with the necessary financial support.

“We need government support if we are to meet the international digitalisation deadline of 2015. We have already missed the Sadc deadline of 2013. If we miss the 2015 deadline, we will be switched off. There will be no ZBC,” Chiweshe told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media.

Zimbabwe needs US$173 million for the digitalisation project.

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