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Row erupts over digital TV broadcasting tender

’Marafaele Mohloboli

MASERU — A multi-million maloti tender to digitalise the country’s broadcasting industry has triggered a row among technocrats in the Ministry of Communications and Technology.
A Sunday Express investigation revealed that there is a bitter dispute over which company should be awarded a M200 million tender to supply equipment and build a transmitter for Lesotho to move from analogue to digital transmission.
The fights have delayed the government funded project which should have started in July.
It is understood that problems started in August when a three-man tender panel threw out recommendations of an evaluation team established to assess the bids.
The digital migration project is divided into three phases and is supposed to be completed in December 2013 in line with the time frame set by Southern African Development Community countries.
The first phase is construction of digital transmitters to replace the outdated analogue system currently used in the country’s broadcast sector, both radio and television.
This phase will cost M200 million.
The second and third phases of the project will be the construction of radio and TV studios compatible with the digital system.
The two phases will cost another M200 million to bring the budget of the whole project to M400 million.
In TV digital transmission provides better picture quality and has a better reach than the analogue system.
When the digitalisation project is complete radio stations will be able to increase their coverage and have better sound quality.
Lesotho TV, the country’s only television station, will also be able to reach remote areas with better picture quality.
The transmission part of the project failed to take off in July as initially scheduled because the tender process had not been completed.
Then in August when it looked like the tender process had been finalised bigger problems started.
There is now a dispute between the evaluation team and the tender panel over which company is supposed to be awarded the tender.
This paper understands the ministry had initially planned to give the contract to Harris Corporation, an American company that has previously worked in Lesotho.
The ministry had applied for waiver of the tender process so that Harris Corporation could be considered for the job.
At that time the ministry’s principal officer was Tseliso Mokela.
Mokela had agreed to take the waiver route but he was redeployed before the process was finalised.
In his place came Mamoruti Malie who, according to sources, said she preferred to have an open tender for the project.
And in April this year seven companies submitted tenders for the project.
They are Broadcast and Installation Engineering (South Africa), Rohde & Schwarz (Germany), Essel Shyam Technologies (India), Harris Corporation (USA), Telemedia (South Africa), Kyst Design (South Africa) and Africa Cellular Tower (South Africa).
A seven-member evaluation team made up of mostly engineers analysed the bids sometime in June and decided Harris Corp was the best company.
The team then prepared the financial and technical evaluations which they submitted to the tender panel together with a detailed report.
Problems however started when the three-member tender panel decided to reject the evaluation results and started writing its own report.
The panel then called the four companies that had been shortlisted by the evaluation team and asked them to make fresh presentations.
That panel is made up of Ratokela Nkoka, the director of languages and culture promotions, Dyke Sehlolo, Lesotho TV’s operations director and Tsietsi Mosae who is the head of procurement.
“Out of nowhere, the tender panel decided to ignore our recommendations and started writing their own report,” said a ministry official who was part of the evaluation team but refused to be named.
“They threw out our report and wrote a new one which they submitted to the PS. We the members of the evaluation team were shocked because we knew that it was illegal for them to do so.”
“What was particularly surprising was that this panel has the courage to overturn the evaluation of a team of experts who know precisely what is needed for this kind of job.”
The tender panel then recommended that Rohde & Schwarz, a company that had been ranked second best by the evaluation team, should be given the contract.
The report from the tender panel is now with acting principal secretary Thato Mosisili because Mamoruti Malie has since resigned.
But the evaluation team has vehemently opposed the tender panel’s report and handed its own report to Mosisili.
“The fact of the matter is that what the tender panel did is illegal and unprocedural,” said another evaluation team member who requested anonymity.
“Even if we assume that they had the power to reevaluate what we had done I don’t see how they could have the competence to do so because this was an evaluation by engineers, something which two of the three-men members are not.”
“One of them was a Sesotho teacher (Nkoka) while the other is from procurement.”
On Friday Nkoka refused to comment on allegations that his panel had pushed for Rohde & Schwarz against the recommendations of the evaluation team.
Mosisili said she knew nothing about the problems.
“This is news to me. It’s my first time to hear about it. There is no such thing,” she said.
When pressed further, Mosisili said: “I am in the middle of something; I am getting ready for a banquet.”
Another member of the evaluation team said he could not understand why the tender panel recommended Rohde & Schwarz despite its “technical shortcomings”.
He said the tender documents had specified that the company that supplies equipment for the transmitter should offer a 15-year post-installation service plan.
He said Rohde & Schwarz said they could only provide a 10-year post installation service, the official said.
“We said we needed a transmitter with a capacity of 10KV but they said they can only give us a 5KV transmitter.
“When we said we need a backup of another 10KV they said their equipment is reliable so we don’t need a backup plan. They were telling us what they thought we needed and not providing what we said we wanted.”
The source said despite these shortcomings “the tender panel has made it clear that they are going with Rohde & Schwarz”.
This paper understands that the matter has since reached Communication Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s office.

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