South African Post Office Bill [B2-2010]: ANC proposed amendments; ICASA briefing on its 2011 Strategic Plan: cancellation

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Communications

21 March 2011
Chairperson: Mr S Kholwane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Communications presented its drafting of amendments proposed by the ANC to the South African Post Office Bill. Amendments were proposed to clauses 3, 8, 18, 22 and 23 to remove the need for the concurrence of the Minister of Finance. Clause 12 was amended to give the Minister the discretion to appoint a nomination committee.

The DA and COPE disagreed that the concurrence of the Minister of Finance had to be removed from these clauses, as they felt that it allowed for more transparency and accountability. They also thought that the Minister should not have a choice whether to appoint a nomination committee or not, and that a nomination committee should be mandatory. It was agreed that Members should have more time to analyse the proposed amendments. Formal deliberations on the Bill would be on 25 March 2011.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) was supposed to brief the Committee on its strategic plan. The Chairperson explained that ICASA had sent a second document concerning its strategic plan to the Committee. He said that ICASA, as an institution, did not have the right to submit a document directly to the Committee. The document had to be sent to the Speaker’s Office which would then refer the document to the Committee. The Department of Communications had written a letter to ICASA saying that it was aware that ICASA had sent a supplementary strategic plan to be tabled by the Minister in Parliament on 17 March 2011. However, as far as the department was concerned, the Department of Communications had already tabled ICASA’s strategic plan in Parliament. It would be difficult for the Minister to table another document in Parliament. Any other document submitted by ICASA was to be considered as supplementary to the already tabled strategic plan. Further, the Minister had said that he was not in any position to analyse another strategic plan of ICASA’s and, therefore, would not accept any additional documents for tabling.

After a brief caucus the Committee agreed that despite the financial implications of turning ICASA away, ICASA had to “go back to the drawing board” to simplify its high level objectives. This was critical, as Members needed to understand the core of ICASA’s strategy and the Key Performance Indicators. ICASA also had to explain to the Minister its intention for submitting the second document to Parliament. The Committee accepted ICASA’s apology, but still wanted ICASA to simplify its high level strategic plan without shifting away from what it had submitted to Parliament the first time.


Meeting report

Opening Statement
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the Department of Communications (DoC) would be making a presentation on the South African Post Office Bill. The presentation from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) would be taken afterward.

Ms J Killian (COPE) asked if this was a formal deliberation on the Bill.

The Chairperson answered that it was not. The intention was to deliberate formally on the Bill on Friday, 25 March 2011.

Mr Willie Vukela, Acting Chief Director: Postal Policy and ICT Development, said that the DoC’s job was quite easy this week as the Committee had given the DoC a mandate of what it wanted them to do. Today’s meeting was merely to present the proposed amendments made by the Committee to the SAPO Bill in last week’s meeting.

Ms Killian clarified that the amendments were not proposed by the entire Committee; they were recommendations that were tabled by the ANC study group. It was not a Committee decision to propose the amendments.

The Chairperson added that he, on behalf of the ANC, had asked the DoC and the State Law Advisers to record the proposed amendments and to present them to the Committee today. He asked the DoC to present the proposed amendments so the other parties could have the benefit of hearing them.

South African Post Office Bill: briefing on ANC proposed amendments
Mr Vukela stated that the presentation addressed a proposal emanating from the meeting held with the Committee on 18 March 2011. The proposal recommended that the provision in the Bill that dealt with concurrence be amended to remove concurrence by the Minister of Finance. The Committee further proposed that clause 12 be amended to provide for matters relevant to the appointment of the Board. The State Law Advisors were requested to prepare draft amendments for consideration by the Committee. These were:

Clause 3: Continued Existence of the Post Office
The concurrence of the Minister of Finance to be removed from clause 3(5).

Clause 8: Government Support to Post Office and Loans by Post Office and Subsidiaries
The concurrence of the Minister of Finance to be removed from clauses 8(3) and 8(4)(a).

Clause 18: Conditions of Appointment of CEO, CFO, COO
The concurrence of the Minister of Finance to be removed from clause 18(5).

Clause 22: Personnel of the Post Office
The wording “and the Minister of Finance” to be removed at the end of clause 22(1)(a).

New Clause 23: Subsidiaries and Accountability
The wording “and the Minister of Finance” to be removed from both paragraphs (a) and (b) of clause 23(3).

Clause 12: Appointment of Non-Executive Members of Board
The clause was amended to give the Minister the discretion to appoint a nomination committee. The amendment introduced the role of trade unions in the nomination of non-executive Members of the Board. It ensured that at least one and a half times the number of board members were nominated.

It was proposed that clause 12(2) be amended to state: “The Minister may appoint a nomination committee to make recommendations to the Minister for the appointment of the non-executive members of the Board contemplated in subsection (1)(a)“.

Clause 12(3) was amended to state: “If a nomination committee is established, the Minister must…”.

Clause 12(4) was amended to state: “The Minister, and if applicable, the nomination committee…”

Clause 12(5) was amended to state: “The Minister must ensure that the non-executive members of the Board…”

Discussion
The Chairperson noted that those were the amendments proposed by the ANC.

Ms Killian stated that some of the proposals were good. However, she was concerned that the concurrence of the Minister of Finance was removed from clauses 22(1)(a) and 23(3). COPE would not support this as they were concerned that Parliament was creating yet another parastatal where the organogram and escalating salary costs would be able to “run totally out of hand”, and ultimately, the state would have to bail it out as it has done with other parastatals in the past. This could be avoided if they had the concurrence of the Minister of Finance up front.

Ms N Michael (DA) said that it was quite frightening that the suggestion had been made to remove the concurrence of the Minister of Finance. She was sure that the Minister of Finance would disagree with it too. She also did not like the amendment made to clause 12(2), which said that the Minister “may” appoint a nomination committee. She thought that there should not be a question of whether there should be a nomination committee or not. There had to be a nomination committee. It made things transparent, fair, and it allowed for accountability.

Ms N Magazi (ANC) wanted to allay Ms Killian and Ms Michael’s concerns about the removal of the concurrence of the Minister of Finance. If one looked at the nature of the Bill, one would see that it was not a technical Bill. It was a Bill that enabled Parliament, the Minister or the South African Post Office (SAPO) to exercise “whatever issue they wanted to implement”. The Minister of Finance was also a Member of the Cabinet. When issues were being proposed or dealt with in Cabinet, every Minister had to be on board. The Minister of Finance was part of the Cabinet and would be part of the decision-making process.

Ms T Ndabeni (ANC) addressed Ms Michael’s concern about the nomination committee. She explained that the ANC had looked at all the implications of replacing “must appoint a nomination committee” with “may appoint a nomination committee”. The ANC had agreed that it did not want to confine the Minister to having to establish a nomination committee that would have to attend to matters of urgency at times, as its establishment would take a long time. The intention was not to give the Minister a means of escape; the ANC wanted him to be able to attend to urgent matters efficiently. 

Ms Killian replied that she was not convinced by the ANC’s explanations. If anything, allowing for the concurrence of the Minister of Finance would allow for greater accountability and transparency.

The Chairperson noted that there were some areas where the concurrence of the Minister of Finance was needed, but there were other sections of the Bill that had nothing to do with finance. The acceptance of the general removal of the concurrence of the Minister of Finance from the Bill would not be helpful. He suggested that the Committee go through the Bill again and focus on proposed areas where the concurrence of the Minister of Finance was to be removed so Members could understand the gravity of the proposed amendment.

Ms Killian said she agreed. In some respects, it made good sense to remove the concurrence of the Minister of Finance, but there were a few clauses that COPE would not be comfortable amending. She would appreciate some more time to analyse the ANC’s proposed amendments and would return to the Committee on Friday, 25 March 2011, with a formal answer of her own.

Ms Magazi said that the ANC agreed with Ms Killian’s proposal.

Ms Michael also agreed with the proposal.

The Chairperson thanked the DoC and the State Law Advisors. Formal deliberations would take place on Friday, 25 March 2011.

Deliberations on ICASA’s Strategic Plan for 2011-2014
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that the deadline for submitting strategic plans by departments and entities was 9 March 2011. ICASA had complied and sent theirs in on 9 March 2011 as required by Parliament. On 18 March, the Committee had received a second document from ICASA. A letter from the DoC followed immediately after this, saying there were timeframes and deadlines that entities had to adhere to. ICASA, as an institution, did not have the right to submit a document to the Committee. The document had to be sent to the Speaker’s Office which would then refer the Document to the Committee. The Committee was not supposed to receive the Strategic Plan directly from an institution. This had prompted the DoC to write a letter to the Chairperson of ICASA which said that the DoC was aware that ICASA had sent a supplementary strategic plan to be tabled by the Minister in Parliament on 17 March 2011. As far as the DoC knew, they had already tabled ICASA’s strategic plan in Parliament. It would be difficult for the Minister to table another document in Parliament. Any other document submitted by ICASA was to be considered as supplementary to the already tabled strategic plan. The Minister was not in any position to analyse another strategic plan of ICASA’s and, therefore, would not accept additional documents for tabling.

Ms Ndabeni agreed that ICASA did not have any right to send their strategic plan to the Committee as it had to go through the Speaker’s Office first. She did not know what it said about an institution’s relationship with the Minister if they could do this. The ANC did not take it lightly or kindly that ICASA could just ignore deadlines given by Parliament. ICASA had to go back to the Minister and explain to him why there was a second strategic plan document. After this, they had to return to the Committee, led by the DoC. She also could not understand how the DoC could approve the first strategic plan if it had been flawed.

Ms Michael added that she completely agreed with Ms Ndabeni. The correct procedure was not followed. This was insulting to Members of Parliament and the Committee could not proceed with the presentation. The DoC had a responsibility to ensure that documents were correct before they were tabled.

The Chairperson said that ICASA would only be able to present the first strategic plan document, not the second one that was submitted without the DoC’s approval. 

Ms Ndabeni added that she did not understand why there were two documents in the first place.

Mr Stephen Mncube, Chairperson of ICASA, apologised for the confusion that arose from the submission of two documents. The intention was good, but it seemed that ICASA had been over-zealous and had not followed the correct procedures. ICASA valued the Members’ views on the matter and ICASA’s relationship with the Minister was extremely cordial. ICASA had submitted a strategic plan at a very high level and thought that the Committee would want a more detailed version of the document. To err was human, but ICASA acknowledged its mistake. They wanted to apologise to the Minister, the government, the Committee and the stakeholders. He offered to withdraw the second document and present on the first document tabled in Parliament.

Ms Magazi spoke on behalf of the Committee saying that Members accepted ICASA’s apology. They understood that ICASA’s intention was not malicious. ICASA had a new chairperson and CEO, and it did take time to understand government’s processes and procedures.

Ms Ndabeni added that even though the Committee accepted ICASA’s apology it did not excuse the fact that ICASA wanted to present a document to the Committee different to the one they had submitted to the Speaker’s Office. The important thing was that the Committee should be able to understand the Strategic Plan and whether it was aligned to the State of the Nation Address and the Minister’s priorities.

Ms S Tsebe (ANC) suggested that the ANC hold a brief caucus to decide on whether to proceed with the presentation.

After the caucus…

The Chairperson asked Ms Ndabeni to speak on behalf of the ANC.

Ms Ndabeni informed the Committee that the ANC had agreed that it was important to ask ICASA to “go back to the drawing board” to simplify their high level objectives. This was critical, as Members needed to understand the core of ICASA’s strategy and the Key Performance Indicators. ICASA also had to explain to the Minister its intention for submitting the second document to Parliament. The Committee already accepted ICASA’s apology, but they still wanted to “release ICASA to go back to the drawing board”. The Committee wanted ICASA to simplify its high level strategic plan without shifting away from what they had submitted to Parliament.

Ms Michael (DA) stated that she was happy to go along with the ANC’s decision. She did not think the Committee would be able to analyse the document properly. She acknowledged that ICASA was merely over-zealous and their intention had not been malicious.

The Chairperson warned that in the future, all entities that reported under the DoC, had to familiarise themselves with Parliament’s processes so situations like these could be avoided. It was not easy for the Committee to tell entities to go away without presenting their documents because it had financial implications. He asked ICASA to engage with the DoC to discuss the rules of Parliament. He hoped that everything would be in order when the Committee and ICASA met again.

The meeting was adjourned.

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