How UBC, communications agency dispute derailed digital migration
Posted Saturday, March 23 2013 at 02:00
UBC raised several complaints, key among which was its apparent exclusion from UCC’s procurement process for the equipment.
The digital migration deadline for Ugandan airwaves had initially been set for December last year, but that was not to be. Instead a new date for the switch has been set for July.
An investigation by the Saturday Monitor reveals that a fight over control of details and cash between Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) which, was awarded the contract of National Digital Signal provider for public broadcasting (free to air) channels and the Uganda Communications Commission—the regulator and infrastructure builder, derailed the project.
On May 29 2012, UBC and UCC signed a memorandum of understanding in which UBC contracted the later to provide “turn-key” digital equipment under the Digital Terrestrial Project for Greater Kampala.
But even before the ink literary dried on the agreement, UBC was already getting jittery, information accessed by this newspapers through documents and interviews with various people indicate.
One person familiar with the exchanges talked of a barrage of “hostile, tough, irrelevant memos” from UBC to UCC.
On June 18, UBC acting Executive Director Paul Kihika wrote to his UCC counterpart, Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, raising a number of complaints. Key among which was its apparent exclusion from UCC’s procurement process for the equipment.
“UBC demands that from today it must be involved at all stages of the process of executing this partnership. Therefore UBC’s representatives MUST (emphasis in the original letter) be present at the time of opening the bids and evaluation of the bidders.”
UBC’s jitters, according to Mr Kihika’s letter, originated from UCC adverts in the media that seemed to encourage perceived competitors which Mr Kihika believed would have both “a direct and indirect bearing on national and global security.”
On August 15, Kihika followed up with yet another letter to Mr Mutabazi, announcing that because of UCC’s apparent failure to coordinate their activities, as contractor UBC would not grant it access to Kololo hill where the national broadcaster has its main transmission equipment and where the Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT) equipment was to be installed.
But sources both at UBC and UCC have confided in this newspaper that the real fight was not over involvement but control over the $2 million (about Shs5.3 billion) budgeted for the project.
Under the agreement, UCC was to invest its own money in purchasing and installing the equipment and UBC would pay later.
Individuals familiar with the deal revealed that trouble came out of a misconception by some managers at UBC that some cash would come the broadcaster’s way and thus the push for more involvement in purchases.
Mr Mutabazi was cagy when contacted for comment but said any misunderstandings had “now been resolved and project was moving on smoothly.”
“Yes, there have been some delays but we are on course. I can’t make further comment because for me I prefer to look into the future than the past.”
The digital migration plan is being pushed as a global agenda to try and free up more space in what is being termed as ‘computerisation of the airwaves.’