21 July 2011

Kenya: Parliament Probes Award of TV Signal Licence to Chinese

Parliament will block attempts by the government to award the second digital TV signal transmission licence to a Chinese company, the chair of the House committee on Energy, Communications and Information said Wednesday.

James Rege, the MP for Karachuonyo, said the parliamentary committee will meet this morning to look into the tendering process with a view to finding out how local firms were knocked out of the bidding process, paving the way for the award of the licence to a Chinese firm.

Information ministry and Communications Commission of Kenya officials are expected to appear before the committee to shed light on the matter.

Mr Rege was reacting to reports that the Public Procurement Review Committee had ruled against the National Signals Network consortium's appeal against its disqualification from the bidding process on technical grounds.

CCK threw out the consortium's bid on grounds that its bid bond, which covered 60 days, did not meet the required threshold of 120. The bidding firms say the CCK did not specify the period that the bond needed to cover.

National Signals Network (NSN) is a consortium made up of the Nation Media Group and Royal Media the two firms that are Kenya's biggest broadcasters.

NSN has questioned the validity of Pan African Network Group's (PANG) bid, pointing to a number of questionable aspects of its participation in the tendering.

The Chinese firm was registered four days to the close of the tendering period and its competitors are questioning how it got the tax compliance certificate that is required as a pre-condition in government tenders.

Kenya's media fraternity is also apprehensive over the award of the licence to a Chinese firm, a country that has never respected the freedom of expression and which conducts a regular crackdown on the media.

Mr Rege said the fact that only one company had made it to the final stages of the tendering means the process had failed competitiveness test ."If we find out that only one company has been left in the competition, we will not only put the process on hold but we will also have to find out whether or not this company has a 20 per cent Kenyan shareholding as required by law," he said.

Public procurement law requires a tendering process to have at least three bidders to be considered competitive. PANG is owned by two Chinese companies.

Digitisation of the TV broadcast is due in 17 months and is expected to maximise the use of channels by creating more players in the industry.

Mr Linus Gitahi, the Nation Media Group chief executive, has indicated that the consortium will appeal against the decision in court.

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