The Director-General of the Department of Communications presented the Department’s Strategic Plan for the period 2010 to 2013 to the Committee. The briefing focussed mainly on making Information Communication Technology (ICT) services accessible to all people in the country. ICT would be used to empower the young, women and youth in conflict with the law by providing them with skills. ICT could also be harnessed as means of social mobility by setting up e-Enterprises, Hubs, cooperatives and other Small Medium and Micro Enterprises. There was an initiative to provide all households with access to postal addresses. The main vehicle for the delivery of services was the State Owned Enterprises (SOE); some of which were not in good shape. The SOE’s had to be thoroughly monitored and evaluated to detect problems at an earlier stage, in particular at the SABC and ICASA.
Members’ concerns included the unavailability of basic ICT services such as cell phone networks, broadcasting coverage and electricity. Members felt that it was unnecessary to have more than one satellite television operator and that the Department did not clearly communicate where progress had been made. Concerns were expressed over the oversight exercised over State-Owned Enterprises and the performance of ICASA. Further clarity on the Military Veterans Portal and Mobinet 4 Girls services was requested.
The Chairperson advised that the Select Committee would not discuss the Budget Vote because that was a National rather than a Provincial competency.
Briefing by Department of Communications (DOC)
Ms Mamodupi Mohlala, Director-General, DOC briefed the Committee on the mandate, vision, and mission of the Department (see attached document). The strategic plan had been formulated in line with the Medium Term Strategic Framework informed by the electoral mandate for the period 2009 to 2014. The Department had 12 key programmes. Targets had been set for the Governance and Administration, International Affairs and Trade, ICT Policy development, Finance and ICT Infrastructure Development, Presidential National Commission and Finance and Enterprise Development programmes.
Priorities for 2010/11
The Department planned to introduce the Public Service Broadcasting Bill to Parliament and enact the South African Post Office Bill into law. The Department would manage the implementation of the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy, appoint Set Top Box manufacturers and introduce an awareness campaign concerning digital migration. With regard to Policy Directions to ICASA, the Department was aiming at unbundling the local loop by the 2011 target date set. The DOC would be involved in regulating the pricing of both wireless and satellite broadband services. A reduction of the cost of access, improving the quality, availability and usage of ICT and increasing household broadband penetration were envisaged. The Department planned to facilitate providing an additional 10% of South African households with postal addresses and access to email address. The Meraka e-Skills Institute would hold an e-Skills Summit in Cape Town during July 2010.
New National Broadband legislation would be submitted to the Cabinet and municipalities and provincial authorities would be engaged. The National Radio Frequency Spectrum Plan from 500MHz to 20 GHz would be validated. Another priority was the establishment of a Cyber Security Advisory Council, in order to curb the activities of paedophiles, fraudsters and other undesirable activities in cyber space. A body would be set up to exercise oversight on the .ZA domain name and curb its inappropriate use.
The ICT infrastructure for the 2010 World Cup and the International Broadcasting Centre was fully operational. The Department would be reviewing impact assessment and consider mitigation measures for the envisaged Square Kilometre Array in the Karoo. ISSA would be capacitated and a programme launched to focus on software application development and research.
South Africa and the Southern African region were under-represented and did not contribute to or influence decisions made by international ICT, broadcasting and postal organisations. The DOC was developing Self Sustainability Funding Models for Sentec, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the South African Post Office (SAPO) and Nemisa but these SOE’s would retain their public mandate. Two ICT hubs would be established in two under-served provinces, rather than in the wealthier provinces of Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. E-Literacy training programmes would be implemented for children in conflict with the law in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and the Northern Cape provinces. Administrative programmes included improving inter-governmental relations by implementing a joint programme across all spheres of Government. Steering Committees would be tasked to implement the programme in all Provinces. The DOC had been criticised for failing to achieve employment equity quotas. Targets had been set to achieve a 50% female gender representation at senior management level and an overall 2% representation of persons with disabilities.
The Chairperson commented that certain villages in rural areas did not have cell phone coverage.
Mr Groenewald (DA, North West) said that the Committee had discovered that many people in rural areas did not have access to electricity. He asked what the Department’s relationship was with Eskom and what the development plans were for the rural areas. He questioned the wisdom of allowing more satellite television operators. He asked for clarity on the distribution of addresses and the effectiveness of the ICT training provided by the Further Education Colleges.
Ms Mohlala explained that there was an inconclusive plan to increase the penetration of ICT services in rural areas and to municipalities. Responsibility for Eskom was with another Department. Electricity and ICT services were in a single cluster simply because one could not have access to television broadcasts without having access to electricity as well. She said that she could not even charge her cell phone in her village. The licensing of new players in the pay television area was the responsibility of ICASA and the Minister did not have the power to dictate to ICASA. ICASA undertook market research to gauge the potential market penetration before new licenses were issued. The bidding companies have to present a business case that indicated that there was a demand in the market. All the Top TV decoders were sold out on the first day of operations, which indicated that the service had filled a vacant niche in the market. She acknowledged that there were challenges with the curricula of FET colleges but the Department had to engage with the colleges because of their extensive geographical spread. SAPO had been working with municipalities to physically register people residing in rural areas and in certain informal settlements. Many informal settlements were temporary and accommodated people who were waiting to be moved to an area with proper sanitation and other services.
Mr Veldman (ANC, Gauteng) decried the lack of cooperation between Nemisa, Sentech and the Universal Service Agency of South Africa (USASA). He enquired about steps taken to utilise the substantial profits of cell phone operators and what would be done to improve the performance of ICASA.
Ms Mohlala said that the Minister had jurisdiction over the licensing of cell phone operators but ICASA had to ensure that the licensees complied with their Constitutional mandate. The Department was in the process of developing amendments to the ICASA Act and the Electronic Communication Act.
Mr C De Beer (ANC, Western Cape) praised the Department’s revenue generation model. He asked about steps taken to aid struggling SOE’s so that they would be financially sustainable. He raised concerns regarding the inadequate assistance given to Community Radio Stations. He asked for clarity on the e-Literacy programme aimed at the youth in conflict with the law.
Mr Sam Vilakazila, Deputy Director-General, DOC acknowledged that there were challenges with SOE’s and gave the assurance that the Department would provide support to ensure that the entities would be self-sustainable and improve on service delivery. Attempts had been made to give equal attention to all SOE’s but some were progressing faster than others. The Department had initiated regular interventions and monitoring and evaluation processes to track SOE performance. Bilateral interaction between the Minister and the SOE’s and between the SOE’s and the Department would be a regular occurrence.
Ms Mohlala replied that the Community Radio Stations were supplied with studio equipment costing millions of Rands by the Department. Nemisa provided marketing and managerial training to improve financial sustainability. There had been success stories within the community radio sector, for example Jozi FM in Gauteng. Performance agreements were put in place by the boards of SOE’s. The Department was represented on the boards of the SABC and ICASA. The Public Broadcasting Bill included early warning systems for the SABC.
Mr R Tau (ANC, Northern Cape) said that the presentation was not clear because some things were not adequately explained. He asked about the steps taken to popularise the work done by the Department in rural areas. He enquired about the Youth Development Programme cooperatives mentioned in an earlier presentation. He reiterated the Chairperson’s concern on the neglect of rural areas in the ICT sector. In some areas of Limpopo people could not even make emergency phone calls to the police or medical rescue services. He suggested that the Dinaledi schools should not be concentrated in urban areas. He queried the 30% of resources allocated for the development of ICT SMME’s.
Ms Mohlala explained that the cell phone network was rolled out by the operators, who were constantly expanding their networks. The Department was providing career guidance in the ICT sector for young people to advise them of the different career options available within the sector. Most people think that career options in the ICT sector were limited to computer programmers or engineers. The first career breakfast would be held in the Johannesburg suburb Yeoville and was aimed at targeting the poor living in and around that area. The ICT breakfast career guidance programme was sponsored by the private sector and it would be hosted in other provinces as well. The Department wanted commitment from the private sector to provide bursaries and accommodate interns, which would lead to permanent jobs in the sector. Certain companies had approached the Department with initiatives. E-Cooperatives usually worked on one or two projects and tended to collapse after a short period because they were dependent on Government support. Provincial and Local Government authorities should adopt and allocate programmes to the cooperatives so that they would be more sustainable. The Department would approve cooperatives so that they could attract more work from other Government entities. The e-Cooperatives were manned by e-Cadres and many ended up as interns in Government Departments. She understood the challenges faced by the provinces with large rural areas as she hailed form a small village in the Limpopo province. The Government of Finland was involved in developing e-learning centres in rural areas. The Department had initiated a campaign that would refurbish old personal computers that could be donated to rural schools and poor households. Another initiative had been piloted to make emergency communication available in rural communities. The initial amount allocated for the development of ICT SMME’s would be gradually increased over time.
Mr Z Mlenzana (COPE, Eastern Cape) asked for clarity regarding on the oversight of SOE’s. He suggested that more attention should be given to monitoring ICASA and the SABC before they found themselves in deep trouble. He asked how the e-Skills programme was linked to rural areas and criticised the fact that the e- Skills summit was held in over-serviced Cape Town. He enquired about the photograph on the cover of the Strategic Plan document that depicted rural woman using a computer but felt that the illustration did not correlate to the reality.
Ms Mohlala advised that the Department had arranged a study tour to Cuba to investigate the successful Cuban model of e-University and to consider ways of adapting the concept to South African conditions. The e-Skills summit was held in Cape Town because the Department wanted to expand service delivery to under-serviced areas in rural areas as well as poor urban areas, such as Khayelitsha. The illustration on the cover of the Strategic Plan booklet was an attempt to depict the plans of the Department in making ICT accessible to rural women as the poorest section of the population.
Mr Vilakazi explained that nine out of ten ICT hubs failed within a year. The two ICT Hubs initiated in the urban areas were more likely to succeed and the lessons learnt from them would be applied in other areas.
The Chairperson enquired about the International Computer Drivers Licence (ICDL) initiative. She asked when the Public Sector Broadcasting Bill would be tabled before Parliament. The timeline for the National Frequency Spectrum (NFS) Plan had been moved. She was concerned over the treatment of Members of the Committee during a recent oversight visit.
Mr Vilakazi explained that ICDL as an internationally recognised computer qualification. The tabling of the Public Sector Broadcasting Bill had been delayed as a result of the large number of submissions received. The Department wanted the Bill to be discussed by the cluster before it was tabled. The deadline for the NFS was extended to 2014 because extensive consultation with stakeholders had to be undertaken.
Mr Tau enquired about the assistance that would be available to people to start ICT Hubs and e-Cooperatives. He asked about the criteria applied to select delegates to attend the e-Skills Summit.
Ms Mohlala explained that delegates to the Summit would be invited to apply through the media.
Mr Vilakazi welcomed initiatives and suggestions from provinces and municipalities regarding the setting up of e-Hubs. Application for finance could be made to development finance institutions and commercial banks.
Chairperson asked for clarity on the Mobinet 4 Girls and the Military Veterans Portal initiatives. She asked for a breakdown of all projects per each province and the number of jobs that had been created as a result of each project.
Ms Mohlala explained that military veterans included members of the former liberation armies. The Portal would allow for the less popular stories to be captured. She cited an example of the youngest woman to join Umkhonto We Sizwe. The “born-free” generation was not really aware of the liberation struggle and there was more to the liberation struggle than Nelson Mandela. She undertook to obtain the information on the jobs created from the Human resources unit of the Department and forward a report to the Committee. A challenge at SOE’s was the keeping of accurate data. Mobinet 4 Girls referred to an information-on-request service on areas of interest to women, such as birth control and help for teenage mothers. It was an alternative source of information to the secondary source of information provided by friends.
Mr M Sibande (ANC) asked why only three provinces were selected to offer the e-Skills programme for the youth in conflict with the law.
Ms Mohlala explained that juvenile offenders needed to be equipped with marketable skills that would help them becoming reintegrated into society. The three provinces for the pilot programme were selected by the Department of Correctional Services but the programme would be extended to the other provinces in due course.
The meeting was adjourned
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