The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services met to deliberate on the IKamva National Bill. The discussion mainly centred on the definitions, the number of members required on the board, disqualification of politicians and public officials from the board, and the role of the Department in relation to the entity to be established - iNeSI. The Parliamentary legal adviser identified crucial gaps in the Bill that the Committee and Department needed to work on. Some of these issues were around the title of the Bill, funding model of the CoLabs, unclear distinction between executive members and board members, etc. The Committee noted that it needed to create provisions on how the Department should hold the entity accountable in terms of its mandates. The Committee resolved it would wait for the recommendations of the Department which would emanate from the engagement it would hold with the parliamentary legal advisers and its legal minds. The Department and the parliamentary legal adviser could not commit to the Committee on the date of when the Bill would finally see the light of the day.
IKAMVA Bill: deliberations
The Chairperson asked the Members to raise concerns on general issues that emanated from the last meeting regarding the Bill.
Ms M Shinn (DA) stated that she was concerned because the Committee had not seen the socio-economic impact assessment (SEIAS) on the Bill, and asked if it would be presented to the Committee. She further indicated there was no need to separate ‘multimedia’ in the definitions because it is part of the ‘digital skills’. If it was separated, it would indicate the Committee did not know what the Bill was all about.
Mr Omega Shelembe, Deputy Director-General: State-Owned Companies Oversight, DTPS, replied that the business case studies and SEIAS plans were submitted to the Committee. When they were working on the 'definitions', they had started with what they understood to be the meaning of the terms. They were persuaded or tempted to use words like 'digital skills' when they were developing the Bill and business case studies (even though they were unsure of the meaning of those words). On the use of ‘broadcasting’, he explained the Department had met stakeholders and assured them that ‘multimedia’ included digital skills and that was why ‘broadcasting’ has been included next to ‘digital skills’ though there is an element of tautology.
Prof Walter Claasen, Board Chairperson, NEMISA, informed the Committee that definitions were around digital skills and digital literacy. What is important is to “create content and share knowledge.”
Ms J Killian (ANC) said the Committee needed not to bother about the number of submissions, but what was important was to create a legal framework. It was a good thing to regulate NEMISA and transform it into something broad and good. She shared the same concerns as Ms Shinn because it was important to borrow from institutions that operate in the field, and not separate ‘multimedia’, for this was an evolving industry. It was important to have all the provisions they want in the Act because iNeSI is established as a juristic person. Section 3 (b) of the Bill, which dealt with collaboration with Post-School and Training Institutions, was necessary and should be part of the Basic Education Department. Lastly, she wanted clarity about the chairperson and deputy chairperson not attending board meetings, and what Section 6 (2) meant.
Mr Shelembe explained that their view was that the Bill was not a controversial piece of legislation and they did not expect it to elicit a lot of objections. The Bill was necessary in order to create the institute. The Bill was creating a juristic person but that person still needed to register with the ITC. Section 6 (2) is about fiduciary duties which apply to the board as well. The board is also referred to as the accounting authority. The board is trusted to oversee the institution and to act and serve in the best interests of the company, and delegate responsibilities to the management of the institution. The board would also account for the activities of the management. The terminology used in this section would be corrected. The reference to the Department of Higher Education and Training is a result of dealing with post-school education. The institute has got a role to influence the curriculum at basic level and this would be discussed with the Department of Basic Education department on how to craft this into the Bill. Concerning the presence of chairperson and deputy chairperson in board meetings, he pointed out that in as much as they encourage people to attend meetings, it happens sometimes that these two might be absent from the meeting. In such a case people have the right, if they quorate, to nominate a chairperson and deputy chairperson for the meeting. The wording would be corrected to make this clear.
Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) wanted to know what would be done in cases where a member belongs to many boards.
Mr Shelembe replied they have not yet come up with a rule of thumb to consider the number of boards that a member could serve in.
Mr C Mackenzie (DA) remarked that it appears there is duplication of something that is provided by various institutions, and asked if it was not better that the CoLabs were placed within the Department instead of an external body. He suggested the Department should ensure that employees of iNeSI were qualified people in order to run the institute successfully. He also wanted some clarity on the disclosure of interest.
Mr Shelembe elaborated that iNeSI would belong to the Department. The proposed option was to have an entity that specialises in this type of work and manned by specialists. There are three things the entity would strive for: to develop strategy for digital skills; steer the skills development agenda by assessing the environment, looking at the gaps and try directing the industry; and to conduct research and collate data while the other partners and intermediaries would provide the needed training. The section dealing with the disclosure of interests in the Bill would be beefed up by using the material that has already been developed and which has been in use.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) asked how many members should be on the board.
Mr Shelembe said 10 is the minimum and 14 is the maximum including two executives. Additional members are allowed for flexibility to be not less than six and more than ten.
Mr Alf Wiltz, Chief Director: Telecommunications and IT Policy, DTPS, added that what is important is to look at the eligibility of the members and then determine the number of members.
The Chairperson wanted to understand why politicians were disqualified from being board members but a CEO was allowed to become a board member. Politicians were exercising a certain power yet there is always an opening for powerful people who are officials to be appointed to the board. He wanted to establish how safe the Committee was to proceed with the Bill when only four people have responded and wondered if the Committee feels it has consulted sufficiently.
Ms Fatima Ebrahim, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, explained that public participation was a constitutional obligation for each House of the Parliament. The courts have indicated that public participation processes were an internal matter as long as the processes were done according to the dictates of the constitution. There is no obligation on the public or entity to participate in the process. Of importance is to bring the Bill to the attention of the public. Beneficiaries were made aware of the invite though they chose not to respond. She was confident that the process followed was legal and constitutional obligations have been met. If Parliament wants more consultations, it is free to do so.
Mr Shelembe pointed out that the issue of politicians and officials becoming board members was a matter of debate. There is no final determination in this respect and the matter has been tabled before the Public Service Commission.
Ms Shinn commented there was no need for officials to be appointed board members because the work they have been employed to do would suffer and they were getting paid on top of that.
Mr Mackenzie said appointing politicians would be a conflict of interest.
The Chairperson asked why the matter of appointing officials to board positions has not been concluded just like the way it has been resolved with politicians.
Mr Shelembe said the official does not carry the influence of the politician, but could only offer technical expertise.
Ms Killian indicated that the Bill is in the hands of the Members and they could change it. It is just that there has been an argument that public officials have got expertise to be utilised in these boards. The fear is that they would be spending more time on the boards and work in their portfolios would not be done, especially when you consider that they get salaries from the state. If the board is to be constituted by people with knowledge, then it is important to go and find those people instead of using department officials.
Ms Ebrahim raised a number of points about the Bill. First, she indicated the title of the Bill refers to E-Skills while the content of the document talks of digital skills. The Committee should choose either e-skills or digital skills, and she warned the Committee to be careful of the different interpretations given to 'multimedia' or how 'multimedia' was being interpreted. She also warned the Committee about the definition given to CoLabs as skills providers because there are many companies that were parading as skills providers. Second, she stated the role of the Minister was conspicuously absent in the Bill because nothing links the Department to the entity. Third, she pointed out that Section 5 of the Bill was not clear on the financial model of the CoLabs. If money was released from the Department and distributed via iNeSI, that would create a gap there for financial mismanagement. Clarity was also needed on the Quality Council. Fourth, she enlightened the Committee that Section 6 of the Bill does not draw a clear distinction between executive members and board members of iNeSI, and that Section 6 (8) was making use of ‘socio-economic profile’ term, something that was not clear whether it was referring to ‘demographics’ of the board or not. She advised the Committee to be careful about using ‘demographics’ because it has been interpreted broadly. Fifth, she notified the Committee that Sections 7 (3), 8 (b) and 9 (1) needed to be revised. She further cautioned that Section 10 was giving the board too much power to determine salary levels. Finally, she noted that too much work still needed to be done on the Bill, and advised the Committee to look at the King Report codes. She said the role of the Department in relation to the entity was not clear and that should be defined so that the mandates of the entity were clear.
Ms Killian stated that the parliamentary legal adviser needed to give the Committee a synopsis. It was clear that Members were on the same page and agreed that the policy was not legally binding. They do not want to create an entity that would come up with its own policies. The Committee should rather wait for the deliberations between the legal advisors and the Department and then pass a good piece of legislation. She added that the Committee has not seen the regulatory impact assessments to ensure accountability of the CoLabs.
Ms Ebrahim said lots of issues were policy related and needed to be discussed with the Department. She could not commit on the date of when work on the Bill would be concluded.
Mr Shelembe pointed out the PFMA was clear on how these entities should be reporting to the Minister. The only thing they needed to do as the Department was to transfer what was already there to the Bill.
Ms Killian said the Committee needed to create provisions on how the Department should hold the entity accountable in terms of its mandates.
The Chairperson indicated the Committee has identified the gaps and these critical things have to be resolved to avoid confusion.
The meeting was adjourned.
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