Electronic Communications Amendment Bill: withdrawal, with Minister; Committee Legacy and Annual Reports

Telecommunications and Postal Services

12 February 2019
Chairperson: Mr J Mahlangu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Available here once published: Legacy Reports

The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services withdrew the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill.

The Minister indicated that while the Department would address concerns made by stakeholders in their submissions, it also had a responsibility to develop legislation and regulations for the sector and it also had to take into account the broader needs of the whole country. Therefore, sufficient consensus needed to be developed with industry so that the Department and industry could work together without comprising the principles that were driven by the Department. The Department had thus reached out to industry and requested that the Bill be withdrawn.

Members thanked the Minister on her decision to withdraw the bill. They indicated that it was the view of the Committee that the bill should be withdrawn and subsequently the Minister made an announcement that the bill would be withdrawn. They added that it was not right for the Department to bring legislation to Parliament at the end of its term and expect it to be passed.

Members further asked if the WOAN and the Rapid Deployment Program would be withdrawn entirely and whether ICASA’s independence and resources would be strengthened. Members said that when the Committee had dealt with the bill industry had made commitments regarding investments, jobs and transformation and he did not expect that these commitments would fall away. Members asked if the Minister could ensure that transformation of the industry would continue.

The Committee approved its Committee Report on the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill as well as its Legacy Report and 2018 Annual Report.

Meeting report

Remarks by the Minister
Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, said while the Department would address concerns made by stakeholders in their submissions, it also had a responsibility to develop legislation and regulations for the sector and it also had to take into account the broader needs of the whole country. Therefore, sufficient consensus needed to be developed with industry where the department and industry could work together, as industry were the main drivers of the sector, without comprising the principles that were driven by the Department. The Department had thus reached out to industry and therefore requested, if Parliament agreed, that the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill be withdrawn.
 
She apologised to the Committee for time it spent working on the bill.
 
Ms M Shinn (DA) thanked the Minister on her decision to withdraw the bill and for recognising the role of industry as the main driver of the sector. She asked if the wireless open-access network (WOAN) and the Rapid Deployment Program would be withdrawn entirely and whether ICASA’s independence and resources would be strengthened.
 
Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) thanked the Minister for being considerate, as the bill had not covered what Members wanted covered and also for not rushing the processing of the bill.
 
Ms J Kilian (ANC) welcomed the Minister’s approach to the bill in withdrawing it, as what was needed was a proper bill that could transform society.
 
The Chairperson said that when the Committee had dealt with the bill industry had made commitments regarding investments, jobs and transformation and he did not expect that these commitments would fall away.
 
The Minister said the Department was still engaging with all stakeholders on WOAN and feedback would be given to the Committee once a decision had been made.
 
She said the Department was engaging with COGTA on Rapid Deployment and there was also a need to reconfigure the Department.
 
On ICASA, she said it was a question of timelines and resources. ICASA, as it was currently, did not respond to certain challenges and was not helping the Department attain its objectives. The Department needed to identify what it needed to do to empower ICASA to meet the challenges posed by the fourth industrial revolution. Previously, ICASA had focussed on voice and now needed to focus on data. The Department had agreed to have a skills audit so that it could have the capacity to provide direction to the country and this also related to the resources required as organisations could not be regarded as independent if they were not sufficiently funded. The Department had requested the President to appoint an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to ensure connectivity. The President had appointed a Commission which would ensure that South Africa had a coordinated plan to respond to the fourth industrial revolution and in this regard the Department would be hosting a Digital Economic Summit sponsored by Telkom.
 
Ms Tsotetsi said that there was an outcry during the public hearings on the lack of transformation and asked if the Minister could ensure that transformation of the industry would continue.
 
The Chairperson said that South Africa was in many respects similar to Thailand, but that Thailand was more advanced in terms of internet penetration and South Africa could learn from them.
 
Committee Report on the ECA Bill
The Chairperson said the draft report was fair and true, except for the recommendations where substantive adjustments needed to be made.
 
Ms Shinn said the report needed to reflect clearly when the notices were sent out. She queried whether the ECA bill was written in the 11 official languages.
 
The Chairperson said it was his error and that it was the advertisements soliciting public comments that were made in the 11 official languages.
 
The Committee Content Advisor said the advertisements were on the parliamentary website in 11 official languages and letters to editors were sent out. He had written a report on the coverage that was received.
 
Ms Shinn said that the Committee needed to be accurate about where and when adverts were placed to solicit public comment if mention was going to be made in the report of how public comments were solicited via adverts as she could only find mention on the PMG website of the announcement.
 
The Chairperson confirmed that the advertisements were placed in 11 official languages to solicit public comment for a period of four weeks. He said the PMG website could not be used by the Committee as it had no authority over the website.
 
Ms Kilian queried the line on p4, saying that two submissions were received ‘early’.
 
The Chairperson said that it should read that two submissions were received during the hearings and two after the hearings.
 
Ms Shinn said eThekwini Municipality was one of those that had made submissions late and asked if ICT SME Chamber was the other late submission.
 
The Chairperson said Acacia was a submission received during the hearings and eThekwini municipality and ICT SME Chamber were the late submissions.
 
A discussion then ensued on whether the report should include a mention of the DA as being instrumental in the changing of the tagging of the bill to a section 76 bill.
 
Ms Shinn felt that this was an accurate record of what happened.
 
The Chairperson countered and said it would set a precedent to put a party’s name for a report that represented the whole Committee.
 
Ms Kilian said that the report should show that the matter arose from an error made by the parliamentary tagging service.
 
It was agreed to leave it as it was.
 
The Chairperson said that given the withdrawal of the bill, no recommendations could be made.
 
Ms Shinn said mention should be made that the bill was regarded in such a serious light that it had to be withdrawn based on the conclusions the Committee came to.
 
The Chairperson said that a serious insinuation was made that could not be tested. The Committee then discussed the wording of the concluding paragraph.
 
The report was adopted.
 
Ms Shinn took the opportunity to acknowledge the Chairperson’s role and his refusal to rush the bill through and his attempts to properly resource the Committee to do its work. It was the view of the Committee that the bill should be withdrawn and subsequently the Minister made an announcement that the bill would be withdrawn.
 
Ms Kilian echoed Ms Shinn’s comments and added that it was not right for the Department to bring legislation to Parliament at the end of its term and expect it to be passed.
 
Committee Legacy Report
Ms Shinn said a section needed to be reworded to reflect key areas for future work.
 
The Chairperson said references to the ECA bill as well as the recommendations needed to be reworked.
 
Ms Shinn said that a table in the report talked of 29 meetings, yet the annual report talked of 30 meetings and this discrepancy needed to be resolved.
 
The report was adopted.
 
Committee 2018 Annual Report
The Chairperson asked when the period for the yearly report started and ended.
 
The Committee Secretary said it started in January and ended in December.
 
The Chairperson said that this might be why there was a discrepancy in the number of meetings because of the discrepancy in time periods between the yearly report and the annual report.
 
Mr C Mackenzie (DA) said that the only time the Committee engaged with SMILE was at the public hearings and he would have liked to engage more with SMILE. He added that RAIN was also a large operator.
 
On the study tour, Ms Shinn said that the Committee needed to look at something future looking rather than the ECA bill as the ECA bill had been withdrawn.
 
In this regard, Mr Mackenzie said the Chairperson’s comments on Thailand were appropriate and that Thailand be included in the visit.
 
The report was adopted.
 
Ms Shinn recommended strongly that the meeting on the update on digital migration be brought forward on the Committee’s programme as there had been only one meeting since 2016 on the matter.
 
The Chairperson was sceptical that it could be done but he said he would give it a go to try and arrange a joint sitting, but the DA would have to play its part in trying to make this happen.
 
The meeting adjourned.
 
 

 

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