Minister of Communications on international treaties; ICASA and FPB removal of CEOs; Media Development and Diversity Agency; New Appointments to ICASA Council

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Communications

28 November 2017
Chairperson: Mr H Maxegwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee agreed to discuss the possibility of an investigation into state capture by Faith Muthambi, the former Minister of Communications, at the next meeting.

The Minister briefed the Committee on the outcomes of bilateral agreements held with neighbouring countries on matters of digital terrestrial television. The process had taken a long time, but the Department had a team working on a revised model, learning from the lessons of the previous work that had been done and looking to fast track the process.  Technology had changed significantly, and the Minister did not want old technology dumped on the country.

The Department of Communications briefed the Committee on agreements signed with neighbouring countries between 2014-2017.  A Joint Communique aimed at harmonising potential frequency spectrum interference implementation or rollout of the “Digital Migration” programme was signed with Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia. SADC had proposed a deadline of December 2017.

The Committee asked for clarity on the agreements the Department made with other countries, but agreed that the agreements were straightforward.

The Committee had a discussion on whether former Chief Executive Officers of the Independent Communications Association of South Africa and the Film and Publication Board should be answerable for actions that they had taken prior to their departure. The Committee was particularly concerned that they had both received pay-outs without a disciplinary process being followed. There were disagreements on whether these entities should be called to appear before the Committee. The Minister was in favour of closing the matter and that, for the sake of institutional governance, it should not be necessary to bring former Chief Executive Officers to a meeting. The Committee agreed to call the former CEOs in the new year.

The Chairperson informed the Committee that the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) Chairperson had taken leave for three months.  Her leave would take her to the end of her term of office.

The Committee determined to consider the need for an enquiry into the MDDA and the misconduct of its employees under the departing Chairperson.

The Committee adopted a report, to be tabled in the National Assembly, proposing a Chairperson and two new Council Members for the Independent Communications Association of South Africa. 

Meeting report

Ms P van Damme (DA) advised the Chairperson that she had to leave early and therefore requested permission to make a proposal. She referred to the letter received from the Deputy Speaker in August 2017 which had requested the Committee to engage in state capture investigations.  There had been further revelations during the past week, so she requested an investigation into state capture by Faith Muthambi, the former Minister of Communications. She requested that the Committee commence the investigation before Parliament commenced in 2018 so that the Committee could get that out of the way before they commenced work in the new year.  She asserted that the public was waiting for the Committee to carry out the investigation.

The Chairperson agreed that the Committee should look into the matter that she was raising at the first meeting of the new term. He said her request should be placed on the agenda for discussion when Parliament commenced in on 23 January 2018.

Ms van Damme thanked him for his decision as she believed that a full meeting was necessary to discuss the issue, terms of reference, and who to call, if they should decide to go that way.

The Chairperson assured her that it would be tabled at that meeting. The Committee would discuss and determine the way forward, but he could not foresee what decisions the Committee would take.

Mr M Kalako (ANC) agreed with the proposal.

The first item on the Agenda was a briefing by the Minister on the outcomes of bilateral agreements held with neighbouring countries on matters of digital terrestrial television (DTT).  He mentioned that the Department of International Relations had made a short presentation to the Committee on how international agreements were managed and signed. He welcomed the Minister.

Introduction by the Minister of Communications
Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, Minister of Communications, noted that she had been requested to brief the Committee the outcomes in terms of bilateral engagements, especially with the neighbouring countries on the matter of digital terrestrial television (DTT).  She pointed out that South Africa did not currently have any signed treaties, but the Committee would note, in terms of the presentation, agreements had been signed, although the agreements were not yet Memoranda of Understanding (MOU).  The process of MOUs required, firstly, a Presidential Minute and, secondly, the State Law Advisor’s Advisement in terms of the constitutionality of the agreement and under which section of the Constitution the agreement would fall.  When the Department had wanted to deal with the issue of migration, it had been alerted to the fact that the process of an MOU would take a long time and, therefore, the Department had to put together agreements for operational purposes. 

When the Minister returned to the Committee early in the following year to discuss detailed plans, she would be able to take the Committee through the details because she was quite worried about the timeframes as they had a deadline to meet.  The process had taken a long time, but the Department had a team working on a revised model, learning from the lessons of the previous work that had been done and looking at the shortcomings and where the operating model had to be improved to fast track the process.  Early in the following year she would present a detailed plan of how the migration was going to take place. The Committee had to note that the process had commenced in 2006, and since then technology had changed.  One just had to look at the type of cell phones that were available in 2006.  Advanced technologies were coming into play in the migration and they did not want to work with technology dumping, where people from other worlds came and dumped technologies that they no longer wanted in the South African environment.

The Department of Communications would take the committee through a summary of the agreements. South Africa had signed agreements with Botswana, Lesotho and Mozambique.  Agreements had not yet been signed with Swaziland or Zimbabwe but there would be follow up and the Department was talking about fast tracking implementation.  The signing of MOUs would be a process to be followed thereafter.  Signing of the agreements had taken a long time and they now had to move fast.

Briefing by the Department of Communications
Ms Basani Baloni, Acting Director General, Department of Communications, presented the outcome of the bilateral engagements held with neighbouring countries on DTT between 2015 and 2017. South Africa was a signatory of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU GE-06 agreement dictated that there would be no protection of analogue broadcasting services after 17 June 2015. At a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Communications and Information Communication Technology (ICT) Ministers meeting in November 2014 in Mangoshi, Malawi, it was recommended that countries should consider establishing bilateral cooperation on matters relating to cross-border frequency coordination. In 2015, the Republic of South Africa (RSA) noted that countries were in the process of launching Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) transmitter networks on various iterations of the ITU GE-06 Frequency Plan. Sentech conducted a study to determine possible cross-border interference with neighbouring countries on digital to digital, digital to analogue and analogue to digital interferences. Data was collected against frequency, channel number, geographical coordinates, antenna heights, transmitter powers, effective radiated powers (ERP), antenna gain, polarity, antenna directivity and frequency band considering the following:
-RSA analogue television to neighbouring country DTT and vice-versa.
-RSA DTT television to neighbouring country DTT and vice-versa.
Outcomes of the study had recommended the Minister conducted bilateral engagements with neighbouring countries.

Bilateral engagements outcomes
In all countries visited, except Swaziland, agreements were reached and a Joint Communique, Statement of Cooperation of Memorandum of Cooperation, aimed at harmonising potential frequency spectrum interference implementation or rollout process of the “Digital Migration” programme was signed. South Africa signed with Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia. The SADC Ministers committed to monitor progress on the implementation status to ensure successful Broadcasting Digital Migration of the SADC countries. Subsequent to the bilateral engagements, the SADC proposed a deadline of December 2017.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked for more clarity on the recently signed MOU by Telecoms and where the Minister “featured” in these negotiations. He asked about Namibia but noted that the agreement was straightforward.

Ms Baloni responded that the Department had only learnt two days previously that an agreement had been signed and that part of the agreement was around frequency spectrum.  She had requested a copy of the agreement from the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and it had been provided. It did not cover the other areas, only the frequency spectrum, and so there were a lot of issues that they had to engage with.

Mr Kalako commented that the agreement seemed straight forward, and the Department had evidently worked hard on deliberating the agreements.  The Minister had been correct when she had spoken about bilateral agreements.  He was satisfied.

There were no further questions.  The Chairperson said that the issue was straightforward and that he had just been concerned about the September agreement which had involved the two Departments.

Committee discussion on Independent Communications Association of South Africa and Film and Publication Board reports on the removal of CEOs
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the report on the former CEO of the Independent Communications Association of South Africa (ICASA) and the report on the CEO of the Film and Publication Board (FPB) had been circulated, as requested by Members.

The Chairperson invited discussion, but said that the Committee should not ask questions, because ICASA and the FPB were not present at the meeting and the item was merely for engagement. He expected comments and, if need be, he would call the entities led by the Minister.

Ms V van Dyk (DA) asked the Chairperson what the point of the discussion was if no questions could be asked. The Chairpersons and former Chief Executive Officers (CEO) of ICASA and FPB should be invited to appear before the Committee to explain and at least the CEOs should be given an opportunity for exit interviews.  They had received payments without disciplinary actions and so the Committee needed to know what had happened there.  The Committee could not just accept the reports. 

The Chairperson observed that questions could not be asked of the Minister and so the proposal from Ms van Dyk was that the Committee should call the entities and the former executives to appear before the Committee early in the New Year.

Mr Kalako suggested that, seeing as the Minister was in the meeting, it would be appropriate to ask her if she had received the report and could comment.  The Committee could still invite the entities the following year, should it wish to do so.

Ms van Dyk asked if the Minister was going to answer the questions that the Committee had.

The Chairperson stated that if the Minister was able to respond on some of the issues, he would allow her to do so.

The Minister noted that the issue was very broad.  She stated, however, that she would prefer that the matter be closed as there was a new CEO at ICASA, and at FPB they were in the process of recruiting a CEO and that interviews would be held soon.  She had received the reports and had looked at the reports. She had engaged the team and she was comfortable, so she was not sure what other questions could be raised.  She wanted to caution that, although she knew that in terms of the rules the Committee could summon anyone, she would prefer that they looked at the best interest of governance and running the institution.  If the Committee were to call former CEOs to come before the Committee … Because when one looked at the matter, she was not so sure which questions the Committee wanted her to answer to explain her view and how it had been dealt with so that the matter could be closed.  She wanted the Committee to wrap up process so that the entities could focus on doing the work.

The Chairperson stated that both the reports were quite straightforward.  The item had been placed on the agenda because the Committee had not had reports from the entities.  Members now had reports and the matters were very clear, except for the packages that the CEOs were given.

Ms van Dyk said she was not comfortable.  Previously, the Committee had been told to hold on as they would receive the reports and they would be able to discuss them with the Chairperson.  However, they were being told to simply accept the reports and move forward.  The Committee was tasked with oversight, but Members were being coached to accept the reports.  She had questions that she had wanted to ask, such as why payments had been made before disciplinary action had been taken.  She was not happy to accept that someone else had made a decision for her and had decided that the Committee should move forward.  She was not happy with it.

The Chairperson explained that that was not what he was saying.  He was saying that the report was very clear but there were questions and the relevant people to whom the questions had to be put were the Chairpersons of the entities and they were not there.  The perfect proposal would be, as much as they wanted to close the matter, to call the Chairpersons of the entities, led by the Minister, at the beginning of the following year.  That meeting would be the end of the matter.  He could not refuse to allow Members to ask questions. 

Ms M Matshoba (ANC) was largely covered.  She noted that Members had the summary from the Minister and they could not ask more questions because the Chairpersons were not there.  She supported the Committee Chairperson’s view 100%.

The Chairperson reassured Ms van Dyk that she should be comfortable.  The report was straightforward but there would be questions insofar as the packages were concerned and the Minister could not respond to that at the current meeting.  Therefore, the matter had to be dealt with first thing in the next term. He asked her to park the questions. He also had questions.

Ms van Dyke asked whether that was the discussion as per the agenda, now postponed for the next term.  She noted that it had taken a long time.  There had been opportunities to deal with the matter throughout the year and the Committee should have been more responsible in dealing with it sooner.

The Minister and Department were excused.

Committee discussion on Media Development and Diversity Agency
The Chairperson informed the Committee that he had received correspondence from the Minister that stated that the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) Chairperson had taken leave for three months.  There was no starting date, but the leave was until February 2018.  The Minister would inform the Committee as to who would act in the Chairperson’s place.  Her term was, in fact, finishing at the end of January.

Ms van Dyk asked what steps would be taken by the Committee.  A lot of things had happened in the time of the Chairperson of the Board and that was a lot of evidence that showed that she had acted not in goodwill.  She thought that it was still very important for the Committee to have an enquiry into the MDDA and the misconduct of its employees under Ms Nkoma.  What steps would the Committee take against her as an individual?  People had to be responsible for their actions or and not be allowed to just resign.

Ms Matshoba said that the Minister had to appoint the Acting Chairperson of the MDDA as soon as possible because the Committee knew that the term of the Chairperson was ending in January. The issue of the MDDA was long overdue, but she did not want to exhaust the Committee on the matter.  The Chairperson should respond to the letter saying that the Committee agreed with her that the Acting Chairperson should be appointed as soon as possible.  There was no point in going on about things because that would not resolve anything.

The Chairperson said that the letter further stated that the Minister had requested the President to designate a Chairperson from the three names given in the letter.  The Chairperson’s term of office ended on 22 January 2018 and Parliament only commenced on 23 January 2018 but that did not stop the Committee from looking at that person even after her term had expired.  The Committee would have to look at it and decide what to do, even if the person had gone.  She was not an employee, but a member of the Board recommended by the Portfolio Committee and the Minister and appointed by the President.  So, the matter would still be in the hands of the Committee, unlike people who were employed.  When the Committee discussed ICASA and the FPB the following year, it would also discuss the MDDA issue.  He did not want it to fall between the cracks, but to be dealt with properly.

Ms van Dyk agreed with the Chairperson. She emphasised the need to act as there was a culture of corruption in the government and all around South Africa and people were getting used to it, so no one took responsibility for their actions. The Committee had a commitment to taxpayers to prevent corruption.  People had to be held accountable for by their Committee.

Committee Report on ICASA Council Appointments
The Chairperson noted that names for three Councillors to be appointed to the ICASA Board had been adopted in the National Assembly, and the Minister had followed due processes, so the Committee had to adopt the Report from the Portfolio Committee on the Appointment of Three Councillors to the ICASA Council. Once adopted, the Report would be tabled in the House for discussion on 30 November 2017. He read out the names of the candidates to serve as councillors and that of the recommended Chairperson. It was recommended that Ms Nomonde Gongxeke-Seope and Ms Thembeka Semane be appointed to the Council for a period of four years, and that Mr Rubben Manyaba Mohlaloga be appointed to serve as Chairperson of the Council for a period of five years.

Mr R Tseli (ANC) proposed adoption of the report and Ms Matshoba seconded the proposal.

Ms van Dyk said that the DA did not support it as the party had reservations in respect of one of the candidates.

The report was adopted and the objection of the DA was noted.

Mr Tseli wanted to know if Ms van Dyk would inform the Committee about whom the DA had a problem.

Ms van Dyk referred him to the declaration made by the DA in the House.

The Chairperson noted that the DA’s decision was acceptable, as a party had a right to their reservations.

Conclusion

The Committee discussed the Committee’s schedule of meetings for 2018.

The Committee read the Minutes of 21 November 2017. The Chairperson noted that the meeting with Rachel Kalidass had been postponed by Ms Kalidass until the following year.  The adoption of the minutes was proposed by Ms Matshoba and seconded by Mr Kalako.

The Chairperson noted that it was the last meeting of the year and invited each party to make a few comments.

On behalf of the DA, Ms van Dyk noted that it had been a fruitful year.  The Committee had had its challenges, but the Members had really worked hard.  She said that not only were they colleagues, but they were also friends, even across party lines.  She wished them all a very happy Christmas season and safe driving.  She hoped to see everyone again in the New Year when they would start on those issues which she wanted to follow up and hoped for good results, which would reflect well on the Committee.

Mr Tseli was asked to speak on behalf of the ANC.  He echoed the words of the DA and thanked that the DA for attending the meetings and for their constructive opposition.  He hoped that Members would come back in the New Year and continue the same trend of working, openly and without hiding any information from any party.  He thanked the Committee staff for their hard work and their support. He thanked the Chairperson for his leadership.

The Chairperson was happy that the Committee had managed to pass the FPB Amendment Bill this year and the outstanding Bills and Amendments, particularly the broadcasting one, needed to be done by the same time the following year.  Apart from oversight, the Committee would have to do push, particularly the Broadcasting Amendment Bill.  He thanked the Committee for being so patient with him.  Although he was, by nature, somewhat impatient, he believed he had allowed all interviews to be exhausted when it had come to pass in the FPB Amendment Bill.  He thanked the staff for their hard work but pointed out to Ms van Dyk that all of the staff were males and he was working in a Conservative environment.  He wished the ANC well for the Congress in December and hoped the guys did what they had to do.  He urged Committee Members to spend time with their families as they were away so frequently.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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