The Committee was briefed by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services on the iKamva Digital Skills Institute Bill. The presentation explained the background of the Bill and the establishment of the Institute. The key functions of the Institute Model were highlighted as strategic guidance, funding, monitoring and evaluation, education and training and research. The establishment of collaboration laboratories were highlighted in all of the provinces except for the Free State and Mpumalanga. Members were also taken through each section of the Bill. The Deputy Minister was in attendance as well as members of the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa.
Members of the Committee raised concern that the Bill places too much emphasis on the functions and powers of Board members instead of projects to promote digital skills. It was raised that an over-emphasis on governance provisions detracts from the actual intention of the Bill. There was concern whether the Department in fact had a mandate to establish the entity and whether it rather lies with the Education Departments. Members asked for clarity on the term of office of Board members and which committee would nominate them for appointment. There was also concern that the Bill had been sitting with the National Assembly for many months now and the Committee had limited time to peruse and accept the Bill as it stands. Also asked was whether access to digital skills would extend to young pupils too.
Presentation by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS)
Mr Omega Shelembe, Deputy Director-General: State Owned Companies: Oversight, DTPS, explained the digital skills delivery framework. There is a need for the development of sector-specific digital skills, practitioner skills and e-Leadership skills to ensure these formal sectors remain competitive in the digital economy. The key functions of the Institute Model are the following:
- Strategic Guidance;
- Monitoring and Evaluation;
- Education and Training; and
Mr Shelembe said the Institute has established collaboration laboratories (CoLabs) in all provinces except for the Free State and Mpumalanga. 3 Departments were consulted, namely the National Treasury (NT), Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The NT raised the issues of funding and consolidation of e-Skills components. The DPSA raised the issues of the transfer of functions and committed resources. To address these issues, it was agreed there would be a Concurrence on Business Case at a Ministerial level. The DHET raised the issues of alignment to Acts relating to teaching and training, co-funding and respective roles and responsibilities regarding teaching and training. It was agreed to address these issues by a Concurrence on Business Case at a Director-General level.
Mr Shelembe took members through each section of the Bill. The appointment of Board members, vacancies and the involvement of the Minister in these areas were highlighted. Also highlighted was the term of office and conditions of service of non-executive members of the Board. The employees of the Institute would be appointed by the Board. The funds of the Institute would consist of money appropriated by Parliament, revenue, including interest derived from its investments, donations and contributions. The transitional arrangements would consist of dissolving and de-registering the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA) and the functions and resources will be transferred to the Institute. The policies and processes which govern NEMISA will be binding on the Institute until amended or substituted.
The Chairperson thanked him for the detailed presentation and asked members to raise questions.
Mr J Parkies (ANC; Free State) asked for more clarity on the potential job creation through localisation and local content development. How can the impact on the ground be measured? Why are the Free State and the Mpumalanga the provinces in which CoLabs have not been established? Are there plans in place to establish projects in these 2 provinces?
Mr J Julius (DA; Gauteng) said the Institute is an important initiative to develop and grow the economy. In the presentation, there was a lot of emphasis on the Board members and their functions. Is the aim of the Bill to create jobs? How much is the establishment of a Board going to cost South Africa? How are you going to deliver the mandate of maximizing the use of existing infrastructure and resources? What are the opinions of the Minister of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and DHET? Since the Department is stepping into their mandate, how will you work with them? Public comment is very important for any Bill to ensure there is compliance. How could there have been public comment in less than a month? Is the Committee going to allow for public comment now that the Bill is with members?
Mr A Nyambi (ANC; Mpumalanga) agreed with Mr Julius and asked what the intention of the Bill is. This is a very important piece of legislation but members are expected to peruse the Bill within a few weeks while the National Assembly dealt with the Bill for a couple of months. There should be no shortcuts. Why are there no specific digital skills assigned to Mpumalanga and the Free State? Section 7 of the Bill refers to an independent nomination committee. How is such a committee defined? Section 8 of the Bill refers to a period of 3 years, is this long enough for members of the Board to execute their duties? Section 9 of the Bill refers to an office bearer of any political party. Can you clarify this?
Ms N Koni (EFF; Northern Cape) agreed with Mr Julius and said the Bill should be taken to the level of DBE and DHET. How is the Institute going to create jobs? What is your plan in making sure of this? More than 90% of the land in the Northern Cape are owned by land thieves and workers get paid in wine.
Mr Julius asked Ms Koni to clarify what she meant by land thieves. Is she referring to a particular race? The focus of the presentation is legislation and not land.
Ms Koni replied that he knows who she is referring to and when she spoke on land thieves she was not quoting the presentation.
Mr O Sefako (ANC; North-West) asked if members will have dealt with the Bill sufficiently within the short period. He added that when scientific interventions are applied, labourers fear they will lose their jobs. This needs to be taken into account as members engage.
The Chairperson said there is nothing wrong in presenting the Bill even though members are still waiting for public inputs. The deadline for public comment is the 8th day of March 2019.
Mr Nyambi asked why the Bill focuses on structure and not actual training.
Ms Pinky Kekana, Deputy Minister (DM): DTPS, thanked members for their input. She said the Free State is a strong province but its mineral endowment is dying out. Mpumalanga is the hub of coal fire generation but there are issues of famine. The presentation should be more focused on each province and not the Board. Transnet, Telkom and Denel are specialized digital technologies that need to be looked at and proper training must be brought in. Young people can do coding and develop an application and start making money on their own. Digital skills don’t only look at matriculants but also younger students. The Institute will focus on giving people digital skills so that they can be able to become job creators themselves.
The Deputy Minister said the Institute still needs to exist because it addresses particular skills and a move to integrating all things digital. Innovation for young people is key and providing people with universal access to internet. Test labs that are relevant to technology must also be looked at. The Bill must be reformulated so that it doesn’t focus on the Board and focuses on what we want to achieve which is a digital society. The term of office being a 3-year period would require members of the Board to hold the requisite skills and this is an advantage. She asked to be excused to attend another presentation.
The Chairperson thanked the DM for her response and allowed her to be excused.
Mr Shelembe said the digital skills development is at the apex of supporting access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The ability to utilize services is addressed by a package of interventions. The reason why the Bill focuses on the Board is because there is a deregistration of NEMISA and to incorporate good corporate governance. The intention of the Bill is not lost. The Bill is located entirely into the provisions of the ICT policy which recognizes that people must be able to have effective access to services. It also recognizes that technology is becoming an essential part of life, not only in work but in social and entertainment aspects. Localisation means the ability to use our knowledge of technology to create products and applications manufactured in South Africa. Access to skills is crucial for local content development.
Mr Shelembe said the transitional measures are put in place to avoid a gap in the law. NEMISA is no longer focusing exclusively on broadcasting but all the other areas of digital skills. There was no intention to preserve jobs for the existing members of the Board. The mandate can’t be given over to the DBE and DHET because the Department is at the forefront of technology and innovation. The Department will assist other sectors in technology adoption. The Institute itself does not do any training but serves as the catalyst to prompt other relevant sectors to adopt technology. The Institute will build on existing infrastructure and resources and this is why there is a need to partner with DHET. The Bill provides for engagement with both the Minister of the DBE as well as the Minister of the DHET.
Mr Shelembe said funding was already secured from the fiscal allocation and this appropriation is from Parliament. He assured members that Parliament was not bypassed. There is a recognition that digital skills require available revenue and resources. Other funding can be leveraged from other government sectors. The public comment is ordinarily for 30 days and this is what was done with the Bill. The independent nomination committee is independent from the Department. The 3-year period has been debated in many forums but there is a possibility of re-applying to serve on the Board.
Mr Walter Claassen, Chairperson: NEMISA, thanked members for the opportunity to respond to the issues raised. All countries which advance technology have some sort of agency and multi-stakeholder interaction. All stakeholders must be involved and an agency is needed to take on this responsibility. The low level of digital expertise and data literacy impacts the issue of cyber security. The Memorandum of Agreements were signed with the Free State and Mpumalanga. A concept document is in the process of being finalised to establish CoLabs in the 2 provinces. Unemployed youth can use training services to start their own businesses and eventually be able to employ other young people. In the Free State the area of focus will be on robotic processes. Programs can’t be pushed onto a community, it must develop from the needs of the community.
The Chairperson asked if there are any follow-up questions.
Mr Parkies replied that a major concern is collapsing two organisations into one. This is not re-inventing the wheel. The content of the presentation that deals with projects has not changed and there is no progress.
Mr Julius said the Department must come back with other information to provide members with clarity.
Mr Alf Wiltz, Chief Director: DTPS, said it is an entity in the making. The transitional provision is needed to ensure a smooth transition and incorporation into the new entity. Department has the support of DBE and DHET of having the Institute informing them of the ICT needs of the country. The Institute focuses on the promotion and support of digital skills and without an intervention the status quo will persist. The Department has a mandate to establish the Institute and the Bill now includes education at different levels. Provisions on structure are necessary because there is no fallback on the Companies Act. It is important to have governance provisions to ensure a strong and effective entity.
Ms Fatima Ebrahim, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, said the exclusion of political office bearers means a properly registered party in terms of the Electoral Act. The time period was about 8 months in the Portfolio Committee and the Bill was changed considerably. It was deliberately left in a broad manner to take into account the evolving nature of technology. The CoLabs are one aspect of the Institute and mechanisms are put in place to regulate how they function. There is emphasis on governance provisions because of the past difficulties with Eskom and SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation). Ethical standards were included to make sure the Board acts properly.
Mr Julius asked if it will be an entity which makes a profit or will it rely on fiscus to provide money every year?
Mr Shelembe replied that it is an entity which needs to be supported by public funding on an on-going basis.
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the difference between Hubs and CoLabs.
Mr Shelembe said the Institute does not aim to replace the work of Hubs but rather to harness and advocate for a digital skills project. It will be strengthening the existing initiatives.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for their presentation and adjourned the meeting.
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