Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo’s recent revelation that the monthly cost for the uplink and broadcast of television signals via satellite for The Learning Channel (TLC) has not changed, despite the service being moved from Television Guyana (TVG) to the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN), exposes the vicious lies that were being peddled by sections of the local tabloid Kaieteur News and key figures of the then opposition (APNU/AFC), which had been claiming that proprietor of TVG Dr Ranjisinghi Ramroop was “profiteering” from the contract with TLC.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo
This service had previously been contracted to TVG Ch 28 since 2010, since it was the only local broadcaster with the capabilities.
Nagamootoo while addressing the commissioning of NCN’s Satellite Earth Station Multimedia Teleport on Friday stated that, “We used to pay a private broadcaster ($3.6 million) a month. We still pay almost the same amount to have the service provided through the satellite.”
However, in the intervening years, there has been a persistent and vicious campaign by then Opposition figures and several media entities, especially the Kaieteur News alleging GTV’s “profiteering” from the contract with TLC.
In Saturday’s edition of the Kaieteur News, a front page banner headline announced: “Ramroop TVG collected over $225M from Learning Channel”. The implication was that massive profits were made by TVG.
Guyana Times contacted Dr Ramroop for comments, and he said it was interesting that the very entities which have been on a vicious campaign, now refused to elaborate on the Prime Minister’s statement. “They should all be apologising to me,” he stated
Dr Ramroop explained that the actual price charged by TVG was $3.08 million monthly and the remainder of the claimed $3.6M monthly went back to the government as VAT.
He also noted the Prime Minister did not factor in the depreciation costs of the equipment NCN installed, the charges from the foreign consultant they used, the cost of the personnel to run the programme, etc.
“When he does, he will discover that TVG – the “private broadcaster” – was substantially subsidising the cost of broadcasting TLC, because we felt that providing a quality education to hinterland students was the right thing to do,” Dr Ramroop stated.
In 2010, the Education Ministry approached TVG Ch 28, with a request to broadcast educational videos to several hinterland locations. The channel would be part of the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD), an agency of the Ministry and would operate as an open educational, completely non-commercial broadcaster.
The objective of the channel was to provide quality learning materials to students of all ages through its various programmes.
At the time, TVG had established a teleport with the capability of up-linking video content to a NSS-806 satellite from which it could be down linked via earth stations. This gave TVG the option of transmitting high quality video signals to consumers in remote locations outside Georgetown, in addition to its fixed land based towers from which signals could on occasion be degraded.
It entailed an initial capital outlay plus monthly recurring costs of over G$4 million in bandwidth rental and associated services.
A five-year $185 million (or $3.08 million monthly) contract was signed between the government on behalf of the Educational Television Broadcasting Service (ETBS) Channel 80 and TVG in 2010 to provide a satellite uplink facility.
In April 2011 after several weeks of broadcasting, RTBS was renamed “The Learning Channel (TLC)”. The government paid TVG $3.6 million per month in a bundled package for services inclusive of the uplinking cost to the satellite.
As was explained in Parliament by then Minister of Education Priya Manickchand, to a question from AFC MP Cathy Hughes, “The services from TVG were obtained using the single-source procurement method under the Procurement Act of 2003, Section 28 (a), which states: ‘The procuring entity may engage in single-source procurement when – the goods or construction are available only from a particular supplier or contractor, or a particular supplier or contractor has exclusive rights with respect to the goods or construction, and no reasonable alternative or substitute exists’ ”.
It was later revealed by Dr Seeta Shah-Roath, the head of TLC, that the state TV station NCN was approached first but they did not have the capability of performing the uplinking and dismissed the request as being beyond Guyana’s technical capabilities.
TVG absorbed the initial capital outlay for installing the teleport and ancillary equipment, imported foreign technical staff to train its local personnel and absorbed the cost of those personnel that maintained the transmissions.
TVG performed all the duties required contractually up to December 2015 when the contract was to expire and when the government indicated it would not renew the contract and would deploy its own teleporting equipment.
However, in December the Ministry of Education indicated it was having some challenges with its equipment and requested a continuation until the end of February 2016. TVG obliged and on midnight Feb 29, it eased broadcasting content for TLC.
Asked for a concluding statement, Dr Ramroop said, “We at TVG wish TLC all success in its work. As in so many areas of communications, we pioneered teleporting and we hope NCN can follow in our path. But we hope NCN will reveal to taxpayers its true cost for the services and what they will be billing TLC for those services rendered. I know they will not be able to do so for less than $5 million monthly.”