The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services said the IKAMVA National E-Skills Institute (iNeSI) Bill sought to integrate the Department’s three e-skills development-related components -- the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (Nemisa), the e-Skills Institute (e-Si) and the Institute for Space and Software Applications (ISSA). The Bill was intended to strengthen NEMISA by bringing in a component responsible for the development of e-skills in the Department. This would be a specialised institution which collaborated with higher education institutions. It would be based on partnerships, and would build on the current CoLab network. The accounting authority of iNeSi would be the Board, and the Bill provided for the procedures for the appointment of Board members and the top executives. The funding of the Bill would be different, as most of the funds would come from the fiscus, but iNeSi would be expected to invest and would also be looking for donations.
The Department took the Committee through the background of the Bill, including the refined business case and the papers that had guided the formulation of the Bill, including the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 and the information communication technology (ICT) White Paper. The various functions of the iNeSi and its workings with different stakeholders were also described. The iNeSI would build on the CoLab framework, where each provincial CoLab had a given thematic area of focus.
The Committee was also taken through the specific provisions of the Bill. Sections 6, 11, and 4 (g) of the Bill elicited much discussion among Members. They also took issue with the definition of the word ‘multimedia.’ as provided in the Bill. The major implication of the Bill would be that NEMISA would cease training, and its functions would be transferred over to iNeSI.
Members were concerned about the number of Members of the Board and why the minimum number of Board Members had been set at six. They were concerned about the ability of board members to ‘go rogue’ and frustrate the efforts of an entity. The Minister assured the Committee that the Board for iNeSi would be different and that the role of the executive and the non-executive members of the Board would be clear.
The Committee wanted clarification on why the iNeSI model was being pitched at post-school level, and not at the basic education level. The Department responded that the key component of iNesi was a post-school certificate. The short courses were accredited by the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), and the certificates issued could gradually be up-scaled. The training would be flexible to accommodate the needs of employed persons, and the bulk of the training would be done on-line, with only a few block classes which would require class attendance.
There was also concern regarding the funding of iNeSi, and the Department confirmed that it was targeting the skills development funding from Department of Higher Education and the Unemployment Insurance fund(UIF).
The Chairperson reminded Members that the Bill was the responsibility of the Committee and that discussions on refining the Bill would continue. The Committee resolved to move forward and have the Bill advertised in the media in order to invite written and oral submissions from the public.
The Chairperson confirmed that the Committee had received the IKAMVA National E-Skills Institute (iNeSI) Bill in the previous week and that it was on course to complete all the procedures and have the Bill enacted before the next Parliament.
Dr Siyabonga Cwele, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, began by giving a brief overview of the iNeSI Bill, and confirmed that it was coming to the Committee for the second time after the original consultations on the objectives of the Bill, and as part of the legislative process .The Bill was working to strengthen the National Electronic Media Institute of SA (NEMISA) by bringing in a component entity responsible for the development of e- skills in the Department. The Bill would seek to integrate the Department’s three e-skills development-related components, NEMISA, the e-Skills Institute (e-Si) and the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications (ISSA). The Department of Higher Education (DHET) had been consulted. This specialised institution would use a partnership model and would build on the current CoLab framework, where it would partner with the universities and other centres of higher education.
The accounting authority for iNeSi was the Board. The Bill also gave guidance on the appointments of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of iNeSI. The funding approach of iNeSI was different, in that a large amount would come from the fiscus, some from iNeSI’s investments, but the Department would also target donations including the Digital Development Fund.
Ikamva National E-Skills Institute Bill: DTPS briefing
Mr Omega Shelembe, Deputy Director General (DDG): DTPS, began by updating Members on the status of the Bill. He confirmed that the Department had two meetings with the Committee in the previous year and that the Bill had thereafter been approved by Cabinet on 14 March 2018. The Bill had now been sent for final certification, subsequent to tabling before Parliament.
He took Members through the model adapted for the Bill and gave the background of it. The business case for the Bill had been refined in 2015-2016, during there had been consultations with key departments, including Treasury, Public Service and Administration, and Higher Education and Training. He recalled that the national information communication technology (ICT) integrated policy released in 2016 had called for the implementation of iNeSI. The National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 also provided for improving equitable access to enhance ICT services, whereas the ICT white paper recognised the need for a new skills dispensation to drive heightened innovation in the ICT sector. The framework of the Bill recognised the need for development of basic digital/e-literacy /media literacy competencies for general society, as well as specific/advanced skills for employability, self-employment and growth.
The purpose of iNeSi was to act as a catalyst for new e-skills in SA, working in partnership with other role players within and outside government to drive the aspirations of the NDP, SA Connect and the ICT White Paper. Functions to be performed by iNeSI included:
- Strategic guidance;
- Monitoring and evaluation;
- Education and Training-Although the actual training would be done by universities
The actual functions of iNeSI would be:
- To promote and guide the development of digital and multimedia skills;
- Identify digital and multimedia skills supply and demand;
- Ensure digital and multimedia skills supply were met;
- Advocate, communicate, promote digital and multimedia skills;
- Support initiatives and promote knowledge/use of ICTs;
- Establish an e-skills research network;
- Monitor and evaluate the development and levels of digital and multimedia skills.
Mr Shelembe advised that CoLab networks had already been established in seven areas. Only one in the Free State area had not been established, and plans were currently under way to have it in place. Each CoLab had its thematic area of focus. The CoLabs were:
- Western Cape, whose thematic area was e-inclusion and social innovation;
- Limpopo -- the thematic area was connected health;
- North West – the thematic area was agri tourism;
- KwaZulu-Natal -- the thematic area was enablement of effective service delivery;
- Eastern Cape -- the thematic area was ICT for rural development;
- Northern Cape -- the thematic area was a knowledge-based economy and e-social astuteness;
- Mpumalanga -- the focus would be future digital integration and cyber security;
- Gauteng’s thematic focus would be creative new media.
The idea was to have each CoLab focus on a given thematic area, but the work developed in one CoLab could be utilized by other CoLabs using electronic platforms.
On definitions used in the Bill, he advised the Committee to note that ‘digital skills’ and ‘e-skills’ meant the same thing, which was the ability to use and develop ICT. He also explained that the reason the word ‘multimedia’ was included among the definitions was for purposes of giving assurance that broadcasting remained an integral part of iNeSI. He added that the Gauteng CoLab would focus on broadcasting skills.
The iNeSI Bill
Section 2 dealt with establishment of iNesi, which would be listed as a public entity in terms of the Public Finance Management Act.
Section 3 of the Bill broke down the objectives of iNeSI, Section 4 dealt with its functions, and Section 5 concentrated on the establishment of the CoLabs. It provided that the iNeSi must consult post-school education and training institutions to establish ICT knowledge production and coordination CoLabs. The CoLabs were to do the following:
- be accessible to all stakeholders,
- provide feedback to iNeSI;
- promote and undertake research and innovation;
- provide research capacity to postgraduate students;
- initiate and implement projects and establish ICT networks across post-school education and training institutions.
Subject to the National Qualifications Framework Act (NQFA), iNeSI could develop short courses in order to address knowledge gaps among target citizens.
Section 6 dealt with matters of corporate governance. The Members of the Board were appointed by the Minister on the grounds of their knowledge and experience in ICT, academia, research, ICT innovation, ICT management, law, digital skills, multimedia and intellectual property. Before appointing the members of the Board, the Minister must publish a notice in the Gazette and at least one newspaper, and also appoint an independent panel which must compile a shortlist of not more than 20 persons. Where candidates possessing the required expertise and socio-economic profiles were not found, the Minister may direct that an alternative process of procuring these skills be initiated.
Section 7 elaborated on the term of office of members of the Board, and indicated that the Minister may, after consultation with the Board, extend the term of office of any or all of the members of the Board for a period of not more than six months, or until a new Board had been appointed, whichever came first.
Section 8 gave provisions for the disqualification and removal from office of a Board member.
Section 9 and 10 dealt with disclosures of interest and remuneration of members of the Board.
Section 11 dealt with the meetings of the Board. It had to meet at least four times a year, but the chairperson may convene a special meeting. A quorum for a meeting of the Board was two-thirds of the members eligible to vote at that meeting. A decision of the Board must be taken by resolution of the majority of members present at the meeting and, in the event of an equality of votes, the person presiding at the meeting had a casting vote in addition to his or her deliberative vote.
Section 12 dealt with the dissolution of the Board on grounds of mismanagement, or if there was breakdown of relationship amongst members of board. It provided that within 21 days of dissolution of board, the Minister must appoint an interim board. A new board must be reconstituted within 180 days.
Sections 13 and 14 dealt with the appointment of the CEO and the CFO, and the qualifications required were listed in the Bill. The two executive officers would receive such remuneration and allowances as the Board, with the concurrence of the Minister, would determine.
Provisions concerning the appointment of an acting CEO and acting CFO were provided in section 15. An acting CEO or acting CFO may exercise all the powers and must perform all the duties of the CEO or CFO as the case may be.
Section 16 was about the employees of iNeSI. The CEO must, on such conditions as the Board may determine and appoint the employees. The CEO was responsible for the administrative control, organisation and discipline of the employees.
Section 17 dealt with the funding of iNeSI, which consisted of money appropriated by Parliament, revenue, including interest derived from its investments, donations and contributions.
Section 18 was on reporting. It provided that the CFO must annually submit a report on its activities within 90 days after the end of the financial year, with advice and recommendations to the Board.
Section 19 dealt would compliance with the PFMA. For the purpose of the PFMA, the Board was the accounting authority and the Minister was the executive authority.
Under section 20, the Minister may make regulations with regard to any matter that may be prescribed in the Act.
Section 21 of the Bill concludes with transitional arrangements and provides that the functions and concomitant resources from NEMISA, e-SI and ISSA would be transferred to iNeSI immediately after the commencement of the Act, in accordance with the Labour Relations Act of 1995, and any applicable collective bargaining agreement with organised labour.
Ms J Kilian (ANC) said the Department’s presentation confirmed that it was making a very solid case for e-skills and its role in a fast changing technological innovation world. However, she wanted to know why the iNeSI institute model was pitched at the post-school level, and not the basic education level. Unless exposure was given at basic level, the gap of unskilled youth would increase. She asked whether the short courses offered would be in line with the NQF Act and if so, whether the short course could gradually be up-scaled. She also sought clarification on the necessity of such a board, pointing out that some boards were very consuming -- for example, the SABC Board. In the SABC enquiry, the debacle had been about accountability and an example of a board going rogue. She wanted to know how the Bill would protect a CEO from a Board that would want to push him/her in a given direction -- for example, by pushing for high salaries. She also sought clarification on how the monitoring function would be done by iNeSI.
Ms M Shinn (DA) asked whether the Department had received public comments. She also requested a copy of the refined business case, and wanted to know whether iNeSI would be receiving any funding from Department of Higher Education and Training. She warned against an unnecessarily large board, and asked how the Minister would form an independent panel to assist him in appointing board members. She also wanted information on the CoLab that would be created in the Free State area, and what its thematic area of focus would be. On the accessibility of the CoLab to all the stakeholders, she asked who the stakeholders were. The Bill specified that the Minister may redirect an alternative process to be followed in appointing Board members, and she asked what that process would be. She added that the Bill should have included full time employees of government as persons disqualified from serving in the Board.
Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) asked for more clarification on the CoLab in Gauteng. She also asked whether the Bill had taken consideration of employed persons who were able to attend the classes only over weekends. She asked whether the Board members of iNeSI would be allowed to serve on other boards. She referred Members to Section 11 of the Bill, which dealt with meetings, and wanted clarification on the reasons that may necessitate a Board sitting more than the required times. On funding, as provided in section 17, she asked whether there would be any conditions for funding. She also asked whether in the field of law, the word ‘may’ holds any power, since the Bill had in certain instances used the word ‘may’ when referring to the powers of the Minister.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) referred to section 2 of the Bill, and wanted to know whether there was any age limit to enter a school, and at which level one entered the school. She also requested clarification on the number of Board members the entity would have, and on the right of the Board to fire the CEO/CFO. Could that be done without the approval of the Minister? She also made an appeal to the Department to assist Members of the Committee to visit one of the schools.
Mr C Mackenzie (DA) commented on the number of Board members, saying that the Bill prescribed that the minimum number of members was six, and asked the Department how it had arrived at that number. He referred to sections 6(6) and 6(8), and wanted to know whether those were standard clauses used in contracts -- the sections making use of the word ‘may’. He asked for clarification on section 4 (g), which almost gave iNeSI an oversight role over other educational and training institutions. He also took issue with the definition of ‘multimedia,’ and wanted clarification on the use of the term ‘computer control.’ In his opinion, one could create multimedia from a phone or an Ipad, and not necessarily a computer. He asked whether the costing of the Bill had been done and if so, what the cost of the Bill was.
The Minister confirmed that the costing and business case was complete. The costing of the Bill had been done earlier on, and after engagement with the Treasury, it had had to be tailored down because of available funding .The business case had been done by NEMISA working with the Department, and the impact of the Bill was also assessed by the monitoring Department in the Presidency and a certificate issued that the Bill would not have a negative impact on the economy and society.
He agreed that if society was to become more relevant, then coding should start at the basic school level. However, the key component of the Bill was to have a post-school certificate. Training would be done via online courses and a few block classes that individuals had to attend, and in that way the Department would have many people participating in the programme.
On the workings of the Board, he advised that the Cabinet had given guidelines on the appointment of board members, and the key was good governance. Each board had to have specific committees operating within the Board, and this was what helped to determine the numbers. He advised that the new guidelines issued by Cabinet put a limit to the number of boards a member could serve on. They prescribe that one could not be a member of more than two boards, and also address the procedures for the appointment of board members, the CEO, CFO and Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Deputy Minister, added that the Department was not targeting the youth who were at school, but unskilled and unemployed youth. It was taking into consideration that not all people had matric qualifications, thus the entry had been set at level 3. On the CoLabs which were housed at the university level, the Department insisted that training should not be purely academic but that it should be tailor-made for specific groups of people, and that was the reason the Bill in some instances made reference to customised training. She confirmed that the stakeholders of the CoLabs were the beneficiaries, the trainers, the universities and any other body -- for example, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which were working with the CoLabs. The Department had a CoLab at the University of Western Cape, but most of the courses were on-line driven.
She clarified that there was no age limit on enrolment, but the entry was set at level 3. She also confirmed that the courses were accredited.
Mr Robert Nkuna, Director General: DTPS, said that the Bill required Board members to have experience in diverse areas, including ICT management, law, intellectual property (IP) and several other areas prescribed in the Bill. This was because of the broad base of iNeSI and the issues it would be dealing with, where it would need all these competencies.
Mr Shelembe responded on the accrediting of the short courses, and confirmed that the qualifications could gradually be up-scaled since the qualifications were part of the NFQ framework.
On the size of the Board, he commented that most Boards operated through sub-committees and that these sub-committees were mandatory. This was what had guided the Department in arriving at the minimum number of six. On decision-making procedures, the Department did not distinguish between executives and the board -- executives and non-executives had equal standing on the board. In cases where the board wished to discuss issues concerning management, the board may meet in committee without the executive members.
He confirmed that public comments on the Bill had been received from various groups including, but not limited to, NEMISA, former students of NEMISA, two CoLabs -- the Eastern Cape and Western cape CoLabs had given their comments -- and the National Institute of Broadcasters and members of staff of the Department had also made their contributions to the Bill. The comments had been considered and used to make certain revisions in the Bill. No comment had been left unattended.
The Department had got an impact certificate for the business case. A copy of the business case had been submitted to the Committee last year, and that there had been no subsequent refining of it since then.
On funding, the Department had to train millions and needed to leverage some of the funding that was already available in the public sector. It was having discussions with the Department of Higher Education and Training, targeting the skills development funding. There had also been discussions with the Department of Labour, targeting the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). No specific provisions for the above possible sources of funds had been provided in the Bill.
The minimum number of Board meetings prescribed was four, but it was usually the business which determined the number of meetings to be held. When there was a need to exceed the number of prescribed meetings, guidance was sought from the shareholder compact and the governance agreement.
He confirmed that firing of the CEO could happen only with the approval of the Minister, and that this provision had been included in the Bill.
A major implication of the Bill would be that NEMISA would cease training and its functions would transfer to iNeSI.
Prof Walter Claasen, Chairperson of the Board: NEMISA, informed Members that the Eastern Cape CoLab had been focusing on teacher training to get them to a level of digital literacy which was appropriate for their functions as teachers, and the expectation was that the expertise could spill over to all CoLabs.
On the number of members of the board, he reiterated that the functions were broad and needed the expertise demanded for in the Bill.
On how Monitoring and evaluation would be performed, he said that the current level of digital literacy had to be determined first, and at the moment that information was not available. There had been one study -- the Barclays digital development index -- but the report could not be relied on since it was based on self-evaluation. A model for monitoring and evaluation would be developed by following best practices in terms of determining the level, and monitoring the effect and impact.
On the plans for the establishment of a CoLab in the Free State area, he said discussions were still ongoing and that the thematic area for that CoLab would take into account the coverage of specialist areas already covered by the other CoLabs
Mr Alf Wiltz, Legal Officer: NEMISA, gave an insight into corporate governance as envisaged under the Bill. He advised that the Bill had created enabling provisions in sections 8 and 14. Section 8 provided for the disqualification of Board members and the removal from office of Board members, whereas section 14 provided for the termination of employment of the CEO and the CFO. He added that despite these provisions being in place, due process still had to be followed and guidance sought from other provisions of the law, including the Labour Relations Act. He confirmed that the Bill did not go in to the specifics on the formulation of an independent panel by the Minister for purposes of appointing the Board members. In cases where candidates for the Board possessing the required expertise were not found, the Bill directed that the Minister may direct an alternative process be initiated. He explained that the Bill did not expound on the alternative processes for practical reasons.
On use of the word ‘may’, he explained that ‘may’ gives a discretionary meaning. It was not an obligation, as opposed to ‘must/should,’ which imposed an obligation.
Ms Kilian reiterated her earlier concerns about pitching iNeSI at the post-school level. She commented that there was a serious gap, and that the digital divide was a reality. The concept of iNeSi was good, but for it to make an impact, there was need to look at where the digital gap commenced. It looked like the Department was creating an entity with a provisional presence and wanted to know whether it was possible to develop a minimum requirement for students, since there were students who dropped out as early as Grade 7.
The Chairperson agreed, and gave an example of China which targeted introducing digital knowledge at an early age. He also asked Ms Killian to elaborate to the other Members on the wrangles of the SABC Board, for them to get a picture of what was informing the discussion.
Ms Killian gave an insight of what had transpired at SABC. It had been a case of the board relying on the Companies Act, which gives it additional powers. She cautioned that there was need to distinguish between board functions and executive functions. The board was required to give direction, but it sometimes interfered with the workings of an entity. The activities of the board needed to be regulated by law, and not just go by the King IV rules. If iNeSI was intending to get funding from the public, the Bill needed to make the Board and the executive accountable.
Ms Shinn asked the Department to confirm what the other sources of funding would be, other than the government. She also insisted that the Bill should be specific on the formation of the independent panel. She asked whether a public entity like iNeSI would be governed by the Companies Act.
Ms Tsotetsi commented that she was glad that the training would allow for flexible hours of attendance, as this would work well with people who were employed. On the minimum number of boards one could be a member of, she asked whether it was possible for one to manage being a member of two boards. She also agreed with other Members, and gave an example of an entity where the board had ten meetings, as against the prescribed four meetings.
Mr Mackenzie advised that the Companies Act did not draw distinctions, and that it had teeth to prosecute delinquent directors.
The Minister assured Members that the iNeSI Board would be different. There would be clarity on the role of the Minister, the role of the Board and the role of non-executive members.
Ms Shinn requested that the feedback received on the Bill be made available to Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson said it was the Committee’s responsibility to take the Bill forward and in that regard, he had requested quotations on the advertisement of the Bill. The Committee secretary had identified a few newspapers, but guidance from the Members was required. The list of the identified newspapers was passed to the Members.
Ms Shinn remarked that she was not certain which criteria had been used in selecting the newspapers, since it appeared that the papers were heavily weighted towards the Mpumalanga and Free State areas. She advised Members to consider on-line advertising and also to make use of the Department’s twitter account.
Ms Kilian reminded Members that there was the rural/urban divide and that only a section of the population could be reached by electronic media. They should consider what the major mode of communication in the rural areas was, and the extent of spread and whether the mode chosen would reach the target audience.
Ms Ndongeni advised that the Committee should consider using a radio station.
The Chairperson agreed, and advised that the Committee may request some Members to speak on radio in their indigenous languages.
Ms Tsotetsi commented that the Committee should check the geographic space coverage and also work to ensure that media stations which had benefited in the past were not selected again.
Ms Killian added that she had been able to access the South African media list. but that Members would need confirmation on the cap in terms of cost, She was also in agreement that the Department should use the SABC local stations so that it would reach those who had no access to print media.
Mr Mackenzie commented that the Committee needed to collect information and confirm if it would be cheaper to buy in bulk. He also agreed with Ms Shinn’s suggestion on the use of the twitter account to advertise.
The Committee’s media officer advised that the procedure had been to use two national papers and major regional papers, with the rest of the information transmitted through radio. Parliament usually used all 18 SABC radio stations. He said he would be able to develop a communication plan to guide the Members.
The Chairperson reiterated that what had been presented to Members was just a quote, but it would be for the Members to decide.
Ms Kilian said some of the decisions, such as when the Committee sat and receive oral submissions, could be made only once feedback from the public had been received. She gave an example of the Power and Privileges Act, where only one comment had been received via email.
The Chairperson confirmed that Members would be kept posted on the developments concerning the Bill.
The meeting was adjourned.
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