SKA accused of shunning SA firms
A BUSINESSMAN who lost a tender to produce antennae for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) to a US firm has accused the project of reneging on its promise to boost local firms.
The international SKA Organisation decided in May that SA would share the R23bn radio telescope with Australia. Local participation, skills development and content were key arguments used to gain support during SA’s bid to host the project.
But Heinrich Bauermeister, co-founder of MMS Technology, which lost a R632m tender bid for MeerKAT antenna positioners, said South African companies would lose out on the first phase of the SKA construction because tenders were going to foreign firms.
This was the largest tender for the MeerKAT — a 64-dish precursor to the SKA, which will be incorporated into the mammoth radio telescope.
The SKA is funded by an international consortium that includes SA, but the MeerKAT is a South African project, paid for with taxpayers’ money.
Mr Bauermeister said on Wednesday: "Nobody knows that the project is going overseas. They think it will be made in SA."
He said MMS Technologies’ antenna designs and technology were part of the reason SA was awarded the SKA lion’s share.
He emphasised that the tender process was transparent, but said: "I’d like them (SKA) to be honest with the public … it is not a South African project. It is now an American thing."
A joint venture between South African Stratosat Datacom and US company GD Satcom was awarded the R632m contract instead of MMS Technologies, which designed and made the prototype XDM and KAT-7 telescopes.
SKA SA said on Wednesday it had followed tender procedures set out by the Treasury.
"The award of this contract did not go to an American company, but to a joint venture with a huge local involvement (namely Stratosat Datacom). This will leave a legacy to enhance the SKA project," Mabela Satekge, SKA SA head of procurement, said on Wednesday.
SKA SA said yesterday four consortiums, each representing partnerships between local and international companies, had responded to the call for tenders.
"While the ability to deliver a cutting-edge science instrument at a competitive price was the key consideration in awarding the contract, there was also an emphasis on skills transfer and local procurement and manufacturing," SKA SA said.
The contract required that 75% of the antenna positioners’ content be made in SA.
"This contractual condition aims to maximise the benefits and opportunities for local industry, while retaining the expertise of Stratosat and GDSatcom," SKA SA said.
"SKA SA will own the intellectual property of the antenna design, and Stratosat/GDSatcom have committed to spending a significant percentage of the contract value on skills development within SA."
Attempts to contact Stratosat Datacom were unsuccessful.