July 28, 2009

N8.2 Billion NTA Scandal

THE Federal Executive Council approval of  N8.2 billion for the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA,  to meet standards for hosting the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Nigeria, which is only three months away, is a scandal in the works.

Government’s decision  has raised many questions.

The House of Representatives Committee on Information had reminded the Ministry of Information and Communication that the budget has no provision for the N8.2 billion that would be applied to converting NTA’s standard definition equipment to high definition, but the Ministry is determined to continue with the dubious move that would waste tax payers’ money.

The Federal Government spent more than $28 million in upgrading the same equipment for the All Africa Games six years ago.

The new contract would merely fit new equipment into the carcass of outside broadcasting vans and other equipment that are bowing to changes in technology. It is an expensive and avoidable waste.

Equally alarming is the fact that the main supplier of the equipment told the Ministry that standard definition television, SDTV, cannot be upgraded to high definition television, HDTV, because of differences in the technologies.

The Ministry ignored this advice for obvious reasons.

Part of the reason is that this contract is time bound. It is tied to the hosting of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Without the FIFA event, the proponents of this scandal cannot have any basis for telling government to incur this type of expenditure.

Those who are deceiving the Federal Government know that new equipment cannot be built and installed for NTA between now and the competition.

They opted for renovation of existing equipment in order to save time. The move also creates the impression that they are prudent managers of resources, who are willing to improve existing facilities rather than buy new ones. This is another farce.

One of the two companies the Ministry of Information and Communication claims would do the upgrading, had advised NTA to buy new equipment at a cost that is 20 per cent lower than that for renovation. Its technical advice was that the upgrading from SDTV to HDTV was not technologically practicable. The Ministry is continuing with the venture into which it would sink N8.2 billion.

There are more reasons to call on government to look at this contract again. Last September, South Africa bought brand new equipment, of far superior quality and quantity for the 2009 Confederation Cup and the 2010 World Cup at N6.7 billion from the same supplier that would renovate NTA equipment.

Why would renovation of outdated equipment be more expensive than buying new and superior equipment with warranties?

Government’s preaching about financial discipline must start making sense. At a time of economic slump, and with many issues contending for the slimming national purse, it is an unacceptable waste for government to plough diminishing resources into renovation of outdated equipment.

It is worse that this is being done against expert advice on the futility of the exercise.