State Information Technology Agency Amendment Bill: hearings & deliberations

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PUBLIC SERVICES AND ADMINISTRATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

PUBLIC SERVICE AND ADMINISTRATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
31 July 2002
STATE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AGENCY AMENDMENT BILL: HEARINGS & DELIBERATIONS


Chairperson: Mr PJ Gomomo (ANC)

Documents Handed Out:
Presentation by Transtel and Eskom on the SITA Bill
Proposed Amendments by the Public Service and Administration Portfolio Committee
State Information Technology Agency Amendment Bill [B24-2002]

SUMMARY
The purpose of the meeting was to enable Telkom and Transtel to present their amended submissions. They were presumed to have met or corresponded with the Department of Public Service and Administration on the concerns raised at the last meeting on the Bill.

The Chairperson noted that representatives from the Post Office had approached him stating that they had no problem with the Amendment Bill as such but wanted to raise a technical point. He had advised the Post Office to first raise the point with the DPSA.

After a brief adjournment, Telkom, Transtel and the Department held discussions and agreed on the Bill as it is. Members of the Portfolio Committee then also agreed, without reservation, that the bill should be passed.

Submission by Telkom and Transtel
Phatang Nkhereanye (Transtel) stated that they were unable to meet with the DPSA but they had exchanged correspondence. They would therefore be presenting their amended presentation from the last meeting following their correspondence. They stated that the State Information Technology Agency had the right to roll out their Wide Area Network (WAN) independently of the fixed line operators. This being a private telecommunications network for the business of government though in that case the Telecommunications Act, Section 41(2) (b) (ii) would have to be amended to grant SITA that power. In the Telecommunications Act as it now stood that right had been granted to Telkom and Transtel. Eskom and Transnet had a network that had been rolled out over the years and the Act provided for it, which was different from their Private Telecommunications Network (PTN) licences.

Telkom stated that they had a concern with Clause 23 of the SITA Amendment Bill, which would have the affect of countering the service agreements between them and the various State Departments. They had proposed an alternative reading to that clause but the DPSA had stated that they would rectify it accordingly.

The Chair the asked the Director General of the DPSA to comment on the submissions made.

Response by the Department
Mr Robinson Ramaite: Director General, DPSA, stated that to be as systematic as possible he would have to start at the beginning, with the objects of the SITA Amendment Bill. The rest of the legislation was already operational and they were only dealing with the amendments, there being no problem with the rest of the SITA Act.

The SITA Act, in its current form, allows SITA to do a whole variety of services for government. The reason for amending the Act was to limit the focus of the SITA to specific functions, those being compulsory and those being non compulsory. At the moment SITA could do all that it wanted, including networking. The Amendment Bill stated that it wanted the SITA to be directly responsible for certain services, therefore limiting rather than adding its services.

Secondly he stated that there were legal issues and business issues that had to be dealt with. While SITA is allowed to establish a private network whether it does so alone or through partnership is a business decision. What was at stake was the government's R3 billion business with Telkom, though they needed to separate the business decision from the legal. The network coverage is only limited to government departments. Organs of state are included but only because they would have been asked to do so. The organs of state were not compelled to approach SITA.

On the conflict with the Telecommunications Act he stated that they would not go into it. If it conflicted they would need to get legal advice on it but it was not pertinent to the Amendment Bill.

On the issue raised by Telkom relating to Clause 21 and 22 Mr Ramaite stated that when the SITA Act became effective there had been a requirement that the SITA enter into business arrangements with every government Department in terms of the Act. Once this Bill is passed Departments will no longer be compelled to get all their services from SITA. This clause therefore aims to say that the business and services agreement entered into and already operational will remain in effect for a period of time to prevent a disruption and allow for a smooth changeover. This provision therefore, has nothing to do with Telkom but with the service agreements between the Departments and SITA.

The Chair asked Telkom whether they still wanted to pursue the matter.

The Telkom representative stated that in view of the Director General's comment they would review their position, but they still had a concern as to the effect of the standing agreements.

Mr Phatang Nkhereanye (Transtel) stated that they still had an issue with the validity of SITA to provide its own networks. They were in agreement that SITA had a VPN (virtual Private Network), but they were not agreeable to the comment that SITA could provide on their own. S 41 of the Telecommunications Act and Clause 47 of the Amendment Bill did not go together but they needed to say the same thing. If the Bill was passed in the current position there may be a challenge to this.

A representative of Transtel added that the facilities of VPN are leased from another operator that is the reason why it is virtual. With respect to the Telecommunications Act, if a Department was to lodge a compliant about the services by SITA the service provided by the VPN, action could only be taken through the Telecommunications Act which the SITA Act would have to bring itself in line with. This was why they were concerned with the apparent lack of consistency with the two pieces of legislation.

The Chair asked whether by these two Acts they were referring to the existing Acts of Telkom and SITA.

The Transtel representative stated that the Telecommunications Act had to allow or state that SITA itself could provide a network.

Mr Ramaite stated that some of the issues raised were of a nature that required the Executive Authorities to resolve them. He submitted that there was nothing they could do on the current amendments, but that they would endeavour to get together with the Department of Telecommunications.

The Chair, with the consensus of Members, stated that the meeting had turned into a two way discussion between the DPSA, Telkom and Transtel. It was therefore obvious that they still needed to meet and iron out some issues. He proposed the adjournment of the meeting to enable the parties to meet and then bring forward concrete resolutions, so as to enable Members to deliberate on the Bill.

Afternoon session
All participants in the discussion agreed that the proposed amendments should be effected. It was agreed that since the definition of an organ state might be too limiting it would be proper to replace it with 'public body'. It was also agreed that in order to redefine and clarify some other issues all proposed definitions should also be passed. The Bill proposes that SITA should be the Authentication Service Provider. It was suggested and agreed that in the event of SITA not providing the services and deciding to procure from an outsider, the Agency should act in terms of the Electronic Communications Act. This is necessary to protect the interests of the post office as preferred authentication service provider in terms of the Telecommunications Act.

Since there were no disagreements on any issue the Portfolio Committee agreed to pass the bill.

The meeting was adjourned.

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