Source: Charamba bemoans digitisation budget cuts | The Herald November 2, 2017
Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
The Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services is agonising over the meagre allocations it has been promised for digitisation in the 2018 Budget, saying this will impact negatively on the completion of the programme. Appearing before the Portfolio Committee on Information, Media and Broadcasting Services for consultations on the ministry’s 2018 budget yesterday, permanent secretary in the ministry Mr George Charamba said the allocations were disappointing.
“There are no surprises, absolutely, in terms of the budget. What we have in abundance are disappointments. We are in the process of carrying out our digitisation project, which is our major capital expenditure and if you check on what has been granted to BAZ (Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe) under capital transfers, you will see that the Ministry of Finance, which has given us targets, has trimmed the budget from $125 million to a mere $4,205 million – and this against a situation we are lagging behind in terms of payments to the contractor; thereby, attracting a penalty of about $2,5 million. So essentially it means we are left with less than $2 million to work with on the digitisation project for 2018 and with that amount, definitely there is little that we can accomplish beyond simply tidying up what we already have been doing,” he said.
Mr Charamba said this was exacerbated by the shortage of foreign currency as the bulk of the equipment used is procured abroad. He said setting up one site required at least $700 000, meaning the allocation was only enough to digitise two new sites.
“Basing everything on our experience we have had in the past three years, we have observed that the figures promised are more observed in breach that in compliance, and this on grounds that the fiscal space is limited. So this is a very pessimistic moment for the ministry,” Mr Charamba added.
He, however, noted that local engineers had benefited from the contractor (Huawei) through skills transfer and they could now erect the transmitters on their own. Mr Charamba said financing content production to meet demand that will be created once the digitisation process has been completed was also proving problematic.
“The second component which is linked to the broadcasting digitisation programme and which is a real worry to the ministry and its parastatals and enterprises relates to costs that are related to production of content for those channels.
“The demand on content would be quite enormous. We have done, so far, 100 broadcast hours in terms of content production using production teams coming from different provinces to make sure that our content offtake represents the make-up of our society. If you consider that this is within a short period, it means the capacity to produce content is enormous in the country. What would be short is funding for that process and motivation for those creative Zimbabweans who are keen on participating in content production. It means we have a zero allocation for content production because the $2 million is for infrastructure,” he said.