PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday toured the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) Montrose Studios in Bulawayo and said he was impressed with the progress made towards digitisation. The broadcasting station is at an advanced stage of being upgraded as part of the digitisation programme to achieve universal television and radio coverage. President Mnangagwa toured Montrose Studios with senior Government officials and Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) officials after attending the National Thanksgiving and Dedication Church Service in the city. "I'm pleased with the progress achieved so far in terms of migrating from analogue to digital broadcasting. The engineers have told me that they have done everything. I'm impressed that in no time there would be no part of Zimbabwe that will be left out in terms of coverage. I'm told that there are grey areas, which still need attention and I have no doubt that our able engineers will make sure they cover those grey areas," said President Mnangagwa.
Before the tour, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Mr George Charamba briefed the President on progress made in implementing the $175 million dollar project. He told President Mnangagwa that his ministry appreciates the commitment demonstrated by Government towards funding the digitisation project.
"While we lament the fact that we are behind on this investment, we are heartened by the Government's continued, consistent commitment to funding the project. It is not easy to take away that precious bond note from a maternity wing in order to place it towards building towers of sawn iron bars by way of the towers you see here.
"It is very easy to postpone investments in the inanimate in order to fend for life whose needs cannot be postponed, yet the Government has balanced these pressing needs in a way that recognises the need to keep growing the economy, itself the biggest, durable benefactor to the poor and needy," said Mr Charamba. He said the Finance and Economic Planning Ministry made two significant disbursements towards the digitisation project and paid tribute to President Mnangagwa for his support.
"We received a total of $600 000 needed to keep our satellite services up and running and $5 million in bond notes towards settling $12 million arrears to our digitisation contractor, Huawei. The contractor showed faith and commitment to this country and economy by agreeing to be part-paid in bond notes, thereby lessening pressure on our foreign exchange reserves.
"We have 32 young graduate engineers who are attached to digitisation project. We are building capacity for a national broadcast industry whose growth we foresee from 2018. Increasingly, our technological dependence on the contractor is lessening by the day as these young engineers increase their knowledge uptake so they assume full charge of the project," said Mr Charamba.
He expressed concern that Montrose Studios was a subsidiary of the ZBC on the organogram, but not functionally. "This is my daily cry to functionally make Montrose an epicentre of national broadcasting, only from the southern part of our country, the same way that Pockets Hill aims to be an epicentre of national broadcasting, only from Harare.
"It would be both ironic and a crushing indictment on us if we contradict the placeless-ness of broadcasting which technology has made possible by being parochial, place, language and region-bound. We must speak to our whole nation, both as a national requirement and as a technological reality," said Mr Charamba. He reiterated the importance of the country to speak to the whole world effectively, firmly and authoritatively, adding that the future of broadcasting is decidedly global.
"The audiences are now global, which is why ZBC and other national broadcasters must perforce lift their eyes, lift their vision, widen their vistas to encompass the whole world," he said. Mr Charamba advised other Government ministries, who are working on infrastructural projects to insist on serious skills transfer from contractors not as a matter of discretion or good-will, but as a contractual requirement.
"We incorporated that into our agreement, which is how we have been able to ripen our 32 engineers. We made sure that each milestone entailed what we termed "acceptance tests" on the basis of which payments to the contractor are done. Those acceptance tests are done by our engineering teams, which means those teams should be knowledgeable enough to do the tests. That forces the contractor to train our people in technologies during installation," said Mr Charamba.
Secondly, he added, an international company was contracted for quality inspections at every stage, removing the risk of collusion between local staff and the contractor.