(Original title: problems with Cuba broadcast contracts) See below for my comments
By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ | AP
Congress’ investigative arm is raising concerns about contracts awarded to local TV and radio stations that broadcast to Cuba, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Office of Cuba Broadcasting beams its Radio and TV Marti broadcasts to Cuba to provide an alternative to the communist island’s government-run media. It awarded the noncompetitive contracts to the local Miami stations in 2006, following a push from the Bush administration to step up broadcasts to Cuba, as well as the announcement by former Cuban President Fidel Castro that he was stepping down due to health problems.
The contracts marked a major change in government practice, since the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees the broadcasts, is generally not allowed to air its programs within the United States to avoid the appearance of domestic propaganda.
“IBB’s approach for awarding the Radio Mambi and TV Azteca contracts did not reflect sound business practices,” the report by the Congress’ Government Accountability Office concluded. It urged greater oversight by the IBB of the contracting process.
The report found the noncompetitive agreements with local stations Radio Mambi and TV Azteca were generally completed by mid-October of 2006, but that the IBB, which also oversees the Voice of American and Radio Free Europe, did not notify its legal and contracting department until more than a month later — two days before the contract was to be signed.
In responding to a draft of the report, IBB officials said they decided against publicly seeking competitive offers because they did not believe they would get satisfactory responses from other potential providers. They also said they feared the move would alert the Cuban government, which would be better able to jam the broadcasts.
Regarding Radio Mambi, known for its virulent anti-Castro rhetoric, IBB officials said they sought the station with the strongest AM signal to reach as much of Cuba as possible. The report notes, however, that Radio Mambi is one of the most commonly jammed stations since it airs on the same frequency as a Cuban government-run news station in Havana.
IBB dropped the $438,000 radio contract for financial reasons shortly after the investigation began. The $631,000 television contract with TV Azteca, seen in Cuba through pirated DirectTV, was renewed through December 2008.
Neither IBB officials nor management from the Office of Cuba Broadcasting immediately returned messages left by The Associated Press Tuesday.
The report also found that while the Office of Cuba Broadcasting followed federal guidelines for advertising its contracts, it did not keep records of how many contractors were actually hired through that process — as opposed to simply at the recommendation of a Cuba Broadcasting employee.
“What’s important is the lack of transparency here. It’s the process itself that is disturbing,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass, who requested the review and is a longtime critic of the Martis and of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
“With millions of taxpayer dollars spent on these programs it is critical that they be managed with full transparency and accountability—to do otherwise opens the door to waste, fraud, and abuse,” he added in a statement.
The more than 30 page report is part of a broader investigation into the U.S. government’s efforts to beam news and other programming into Cuba. The efforts have long sparked controversy, including accusations of bias and mismanagement. Last year, the State Department’s inspector general conducted his own review of the Martis and generally gave them favorable reviews, but he was forced to resign months later following unrelated allegations that he impeded a Justice Department investigation.