The Portfolio Committee on Communications met to adopt its 2014 First Term Programme and three sets of outstanding reports. The Chairperson briefed the Members on the programme and the outstanding minutes of the Committee. The Chairperson noted the need to focus on a letter by a Member of the Democratic Alliance which covered numerous aspects related to the Committee’s First Term Programme.
Committee Members were generally impressed with the proposed items on the programme. Proposals and amendments were made to accommodate the schedule of the Minister of Communications and other stakeholder entities which had to present and be interviewed by the Committee.
The Committee agreed that it was suitable to have the briefing by the Minister on the 25 February 2014. A Member of an Opposition Party felt that a presentation from Brand SA was not a matter of urgency and therefore should not be included in the programme. However, a majority of the Members led by the Chairperson expressed disapproval of the suggestion and held that Brand SA had written an official letter to the Committee in 2013 asking for an opportunity to present to the Portfolio Committee.
The Members had differences of opinion in terms of how to deal with questions to be asked to the Minister. Most members, however, agreed that it was critically important for the Minister to have the questions prior to the meeting. It was also agreed that it was not important to limit the questions to be asked the minister.
The Committee considered three sets of outstanding minutes. The first set was from 18 June 2013 till the 22 of August 2013, the second set was from the 27 August 2013 to 08 October 2013, and the last set of minutes was from 08 October 2013 to 05 November 2013. After consideration, the Chairperson suggested that the minutes be adopted at the Committee’s next meeting.
Opening remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the committee members and guests. After stating that this was the first meeting of 2014, he apologized for the late starting of the meeting. The Chairperson said there were only two months left before the conclusion of the work of Parliament so as to prepare for the upcoming 2014 elections. The Chairperson read apologies from Ms S Tsebe (ANC), Ms L Van de Merwe (IFP) and Mr A Steyn (DA). The Chairperson said it was important to proceed with the meeting and highlighted the need to focus on Ms M Shinn’s (DA) letter as it focused on numerous issues so he suggested that it should constitute the main part of the remaining period of meeting. The Chairperson said the letter from Ms Shinn dealt with her proposal and views around the programme and he was of the opinion that it was not appropriate to discuss the letter separately but deal specifically with the issue of the programme.
Ms J Killian (COPE) suggested that it would be helpful if committee members could get copies of Ms Shinn’s letter so as to have a background and be able to make informed inputs. Ms Killian went further to suggest that going forward, it would be helpful if the Committee staff could try to have a proper agenda with opening minutes and items for discussion as this would assist members in the preparation for the next meeting. It also helped with deliberation in the meeting but most importantly to avoid having to deal with outstanding minutes six months after the meeting. She said this was not intended as a criticism but a proposal for sound committee procedure and advice going forward.
Consideration of 2014 First Term Programme
The Chairperson requested that all Members be provided with copies of Ms Shinn’s letter. There was time till the 11th of March 2014 for the Committee to meet and he would open up the programme circulated to be discussed and dissected by the committee members. He indicated that all the dates in the proposed programme circulated were to be corrected to 2014 to avoid confusion.
The Chairperson called on the Committee to discuss the items to be on programme and the outstanding minutes.
Ms A Muthambi (ANC) said she had received the proposed agenda and listed all the submissions to be made. She noted that the Committee was proposing that on the 4th of March 2014, instead of having a briefing by the Minister of Communications, there should be a briefing by the SABC and Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA). The reason for this switch was the unavailability of the Minister on the date stipulated. She proposed that on the 11th of March the Committee could get an oversight report about the public hearing that was conducted in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng about the cost to communicate and also invite ICASA to come and give a presentation on the progress and what they had done so far regarding the potential items on the programme. She indicated that the scheduled meeting for the 13th of February could remain on the programme. The invitation to Brand SA on the 18th of February was subject to the outcomes of the deliberation of the Select Committee of Public Enterprises. This meant that the date could be scheduled as “when necessary”. This meant that the date could be scheduled as “when necessary”. She also indicated that on the 18th of March the Committee should invite Brand SA on its activities from 09:30 am until 12:00 pm and then from 12:00 till 13:00 the Committee could deal with the short listing for the SABC Board.
She concluded by suggesting that it was suitable to have the briefing by the Minister that was proposed to be removed from the 04th March and the briefing that was on the 11th of March, by the South African Post Office (SAPO) and ICASA to set aside the whole day of the 25th of February 2014 so as to have those briefing by the Minster and also SAPO and ICASA. She said on the 26th February it will be the Budget Speech and then the 04th March should remain as scheduled. The 11th March could be used for the committee legacy report.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Muthambi on her proposal and gave the floor to Ms M Shinn (DA).
Ms Shinn expressed concern about the fact that there were still some issues that the Committee needed clarity and suggested that it was appropriate to hand over to the next Committee a snapshot of each of the major issues that were to be tackled this term and what the current status was. She stressed the fact that the Committee had only two weeks to thoroughly interrogate some of the major issues but the Committee did not have enough time to do that. Ms Shinn believed that it was critically important that the Committee be given enough time to interrogate, for example, ICASA, on where it was with the matters at hand, whether there were any new research and findings, what was happening with the set top box issues and the rollout of digital migration and the programme of installing it and how many set up boxes we needed? Who is going to make the boxes? Who was paying for that? Was there a tender process for that? She strongly believed that all these were critical issues that needed to be wisely interrogated as there was a tremendous potential for fraudulent activities and pitfalls that the Committee had to be thoroughly aware of. Ms Shinn also suggested that the Committee required the whole day to fully interrogate ICASA on all the critical information and issues to be tackled. Furthermore, she believed the Committee had to take each of the major issues, governance of the SABC, the corruption at ICASA and various other investigations that were going on, the controversial issues surrounding MultiChoice deal. She suggested that since the Committee had only two weeks, it was advisable to meet every day, not just on Tuesdays, to thoroughly go through all the issues that were outstanding.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Shinn for her contribution and her proposals and gave the floor to Ms Killian.
Ms Killian indicated that she was aware that some proposals were put on the table and these originated from the need to adjust according to the Ministers’ programme. She said the Committee had to prioritise the most critical issues as the Committee would not have its job done properly if there was no compilation of the report for tabling and the record of the House on where the new Committee should be. Ms Killian expressed her concern about the fact that there seemed to be pussyfooting around some issues, and she emphasized on the need to not limit to one specific issue. She also indicated that the Auditor General’s report on SABC needed further scrutiny and that there was no need to invite Brand SA. She expressed her views on the need to expose any form of corruption and said she found it disturbing to hear about the whistleblowers that were being axed for exposing rampant corruption. She concluded by stating the importance to get the full summary of the most critical issues in the Communications portfolio and why it had been crippled and she felt that the next Committee should continue with the issues so that it was the benefit of the Communications Portfolio and felt by the people in the most rural areas.
Mr C Kekana (ANC) advised that it was important to invite the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as the issue of manufacturing and local content was their specialization. It was important to get the DTI’s advice on the issue of the manufacturing of set up boxes. He said there were critical questions that the Committee needed to ask the DTI, on whether the country was ready to manufacture all the set up boxes or required some form of partnership with a BRICS country.
Ms R Morutoa (ANC) argued that the Committee was dealing with a programme, and was also dealing with items that should be prioritized in a given timeframe, and believed that the items that were in the letter by Ms Shinn raised the same concerns that all the Committee Members had. It was important to raise the broad band issue so there could be thorough examination of the causes of the delays. She wished the Minister of Communications could have adequate time so that Committee Members could raise their concerns and inquiries. In short, Ms Morutoa indicated that she believed that all the concerns that were raised by Committee Members were indeed crucial.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Morutoa for her input and handed over to Ms Muthambi again.
Ms Muthambi said the reason to choose 25th February as a day to invite the Minster was due to the proposal letter that was written by Ms Shinn to the Chairperson. All the proposals raised were also of concern to the African National Congress (ANC). She explained that the reason she moved the meeting from the 11th March to the 25th was mainly due to accountability issues in USAPO and SAPO and she believed there were a lot of issues that the Minister had to answer. She emphasized again that the 11th March was reserved for the committee legacy report and this was a report that needed to be handed in after the forthcoming elections.
The Chairperson thanked the members for their inputs on the proposed amendment to the programme and said The Committee would apply to work late on the 25th February so as to accommodate the Minister for the whole day. He also stressed the fact that the 25th February was appropriate to have the Minister as the 26th February was not suitable since it was a cabinet day. The Chairperson indicated that it was not appropriate to prepare for questions prior to the proceeding of the meeting as this will limit members to various questions they could pose to the Minister. However, he asked the Committee Members which approach they preferred and viewed as efficient in getting all the answers they were looking for.
Ms S Tsebe (ANC) said due to lack of sufficient time, it was appropriate to submit the questions to the Minister prior the proceeding of the meeting dates.
Ms Shinn agreed that it was appropriate to notify the Minister prior to the meeting on the issues that the Committee wanted to discuss and it was totally up to the Minister on what issues he wanted to discuss with the Committee. The Committee would be keen on all the programmes that the Minister was involved in, and the Committee would also be interested or want clarity or updates on the other issues that might not be on his programme. This was not a “prescriptive list” and the Members could ask other questions as the discussion proceeded.
Mr G Schneemann (ANC) supported the view that the Minister should be given the questions to be posed before the meeting. He also held that there was no way to confine the Minister to certain issues hence people were interested in different variety of things.
The Chairperson said the letter from Ms Shinn was carrying a lot of issues and it was also evident that when the Committee will deal with the cost of communication, it was indicated that ICASA and the Department of Communications (DOC) will be invited. Some of the issues to be discussed on the day will overlap and will not be confined to one meeting.
Ms Killian agreed with the Chairperson that some of the issues to be discussed will indeed overlap. She asked Ms Muthambi for the reason why Brand SA was identified as an important agency to focus on and if there were no other agencies beside Brand SA that could be afforded an opportunity to be interviewed and interrogated.
The Chairperson responded that Brand SA wrote to the Committee around October 2013 regarding its interest to be interviewed. The Chairperson said that since Brand SA formally wrote a letter to them, there was no way to shut the door to them.
Ms Shinn asked about the usefulness of having Brand SA now considering both the limit of time and also the fact that there was no burning reason to have Brand SA now.
The Chairperson replied that it was unfortunate that the Committee had to balance different agencies and that Brand SA formally requested audience last year and there was a need to accommodate them. He said the Committee could not make an undertaking and dishonor it because it was running out of time. He added that Brand SA was only allocated two hours to do its presentation.
Ms Muthambi said the committee had not done much justice to Brand SA considering the amount of work it were doing for the country. She agreed with the Chairperson that it was indeed fair to give Brand SA an opportunity to do their presentation.
Ms Killian suggested that the Committee could ask Brand SA about the impact of the sign language interpreter at the SABC on Brand SA.
Mr Schneemann said that the programme and the amendments that were made were fine and acceptable but he was surprised by Ms Shinn’s comment that some amendments and proposals were a waste of time, like the invitation of Brand SA. He emphasized that the process was not a waste of time and the work reminded the committee about the importance of being a public representative unit especially as the current Parliament came to an end. He also agreed that it was important for the Committee to invite and accommodate Brand SA.
Ms Morutoa indicated that the item to be discussed on the 11th March only stated legacy and believed that included every stakeholder, including Brand SA. She suggested that the Committee could include the issue raised by Ms Killian on the sign language interpreter.
Ms Muthambi asked that since Ms Killian was complaining about the lack of adequate time, when would the Committee then find time to accommodate the proposal for the impact of sign language interpreter at SABC on Brand SA?
The Chairperson said parliamentary committees often preferred to focus on the negatives and often avoided focusing on the positives, and he felt that all the members had a total responsibility on the matter. If it was good then it was good, but if it was bad then it should be viewed as bad.
The Chairperson then read through the programme proposed by the Members. He said that he believed that the proposed programme was finalized unless Committee Members wanted to another item.
Ms Killian said there was common understanding on the proposed programme but she just wanted to ascertain the date for the confirmation of the availability of the Minister. She suggested that the matter of skills audit on both ICASA and the SABC should not be limited, as those items could be expanded to issues related to the Auditor General’s report as there was a turnaround and the Committee Members needed to know the current position on correcting what was identified as serious inconsistencies in the AG’s report.
The Chairperson passed the question on the availability of the Minster to Ms Muthambi. He also indicated that judging from the time frame it might even be hard to finish the AG’s report and suggested that including the skills audit was practically impossible considering the time constraints.
Ms Muthambi argued that if the Committee Members could streamline their questions to the Auditor-General then there could an opportunity to further discuss the skills audit. She also responded that she will confirm the availability of the Minister in due course and promised that by the next meeting the Committee Members would have confirmation on the availability of the Minister.
The Chairperson thanked Members for their contribution to the proposed programme and suggested that the Committee should proceed to deal with the adoption of outstanding minutes.
The programme was adopted as amended.
Adoption of Outstanding Committee Minutes
The Chairperson noted that the minutes were separated into three sets. The first set was from 18 June 2013 till the 22 August 2013, the second set was from the 27 August 2013 to 08 October 2013, and the last set of minutes was from 08 October 2013 to 05 November 2013. It was evident that on the minutes from 18 June 2013 to 22 August 2013, there were no concerns raised by Committee Members.
Ms Killian asked if for the minutes of 20th of August 2014, it was not important to not only deal with closing remarks but also hear more on resolutions on the matter. The Committee had received proper explanation from the DG and accepted her apology.
The Chairperson indicated that there was going to be amendment of the programme to include Ms Killian’s proposal on the 20th of August 2013.
Ms Killian suggested that there was no need to acknowledge the absence of the Minister on 12 November as she was not a Member of the Committee but a Member of the executive. She believed the Minister’s absence could be captured in the minutes instead of the opening remarks.
Ms Morutoa indicated that she was in agreement with the Chairperson that there were other issues that the committee needed to deal further with. She said there were also a lot of issues that the members would like to change and she made mention of the agenda issue. In addition, Ms Morutoa said the committee section had their own way of dealing with the minutes and that the committee section would argue that this was their policy. She suggested that she did not see anything wrong with how the minutes were structured.
Mr Kekana said there were key issues that were fundamentally important and required the Minister to be present. He suggested that at least the DG, Minister or Deputy Minister should be present when dealing with those critical issues. He stressed the importance of acknowledging the Minister’s apology for the absence.
Ms Morutoa suggested that the committee should proceed to the adoption of the minutes, as all the minutes before the Committee was a true reflection of what had transpired.
The Chairperson asked the committee if there were any remaining omission of apologies, outstanding amendments and insertion to be included.
Ms Killian said it was difficult for her to give a blanket statement as she was absent from some of the meetings. She said she would be happy if the ANC members present in the committee could assist on that.
The Chairperson replied that Ms Killian’s suggestion was presenting a lot of problems to the committee members.
Ms Muthambi disagreed with Ms Killian’s suggestion as the Committee had gone through all the minutes and addressed whatever issue was missing.
The Chairperson suggested that the best way was to adopt the minutes during the Committee’s next meeting. In conclusion, the Chairperson thanked the Committee for the two agenda items that had been dealt with.
Ms Shinn expressed thanks to the Chairperson and the Members of the Committee for favorably considering her suggestions to include on the programme.
The Chairperson once again cordially thanked all the committee members for their attendance especially since it was the first meeting of 2014. He emphasised the importance of Committee Members to streamline their questions so as to get more information from little time when there was an engagement with the entities or department or whoever was engaged in that moment.
The meeting was adjourned.