Convergence of entities reporting to Department & appointment process of SOE board members: briefing; with Minister

This premium content has been made freely available

Communications

03 March 2020
Chairperson: Mr B Maneli (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Communications was briefed by the Minister of Communications and senior management of the Departments of Communications and Telecommunication and Postal Services regarding the process of merging them into one, as well as the reconfiguration of their entities. The name of the new department would be the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT).

The Department addressed the reconfiguration of two of the entities, Broadband Infraco (BBI) and Sentech; the repurposing of the State of Information Technology Agency (SITA); the establishment of the Digital Development Fund (DDF); the reconfiguration of the National Electronic Media Institute of SA (NEMISA) into the iKamba Digital Skills Institute; challenges regarding the Postbank and the Post Office; the merging of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), the Film and Publication Board (FPB) and the .za Domain Name Authority (ZADNA); and finally the turnaround strategies for the Post Office and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

The Department also provided details of the constitution of the above entities’ boards, and updated the Committee on the current state of affairs with regard to the executives and senior management, such as vacancies and acting positions, within each entity.

Members expressed concern at the continual change in the composition of executives of state entities, commenting that there were too many dismissals, suspensions, allegations of misconduct, vacant positions and acting personnel. They contended that this was what gave rise to instability within state-owned entities (SOEs).

The issue of unfair and unequal election coverage by the SABC was raised, but it was decided that a pending report from ICASA on this issue should first to be received before any action would be taken. It was clarified that the Minister could not interfere in the news and editorial decisions taken by the public broadcaster. Questions were posed as to whether the SABC qualified for the final R1.1 billion tranche of its government bailout of R3.3 billion, but it was the Minister’s view that it had in fact met all the set pre-conditions requisite for the disbursement. It was also proposed that the Committee seek legal advice over the legality of the merger of the ICASA and the FPB regulatory bodies.

The Minister responded to allegations of misconduct concerning unauthorised international travel with her spouse. She cleared up a miscommunication in this regard, but denied the underlying allegations.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the Committee had received correspondence from the Competition Commission indicating that they were finalising some matters concerning a report they were to issue to the Committee. The Commission chairperson had indicated that the conclusion of these matters would receive priority, and made a commitment that the Commission would thereafter come before the Committee.

Minister’s overview

Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Communications, said that the Department would update the Committee regarding its work, taking into consideration that in the sixth Administration, the President had made an announcement that the Departments of Communications (DoC) and of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) would be unified into a single department, forming the ‘Department of Communications and Digital Technologies’ (DCDT) by April 1. For this reason, a ministerial directive had been issued for the examination of the staffing arrangements of the two departments, and for the performance of a skills audit in order for the Ministry to establish the current position of personnel capabilities, as this was not a mere merging of the Departments, but rather a “reconfiguration” due to a new mandate. This would also help establish new measures required for capacitating the DCDT to achieve its new mandate, should a shortfall of skills be discovered.

The Minister informed the Committee of the Ministry’s intent to embark upon the rationalisation of certain state-owned entities (SOEs) as they looked at the reconfiguration and consolidation of the State, and to identify those SOEs which did not add value in order to do away with them and to introduce new, more functionally effective entities in their stead. This was in order to respond adequately to the mandate of the sixth Administration. She pointed to the Ministry’s White Paper, in which the process to establish one infrastructure company to encompass various existing entities’ functions had already commenced, which included, for instance, the directive that Broadband Infraco (BBI) and Sentech must be combined.

The Minister added that this also included the dissolution of both the Universal Service Access Agency of South Africa (USASSA) and the Universal Service Access Fund (USAF), both of which would be replaced with the Digital Development Fund (DDF). For this purpose, a Bill had initially been put forward but subsequently withdrawn, both to deal with all Bills in a holistic manner and also to conform to the requirements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) report currently before the President.

As regards the State of Information Technology Agency (SITA), the Ministry had had some challenges emanating not only from SITA, but from other departments as well. For this reason, SITA would be “remodeled” and “repurposed” into a new agency meant to “drive the digital transformation” in the government, and be able to provide digital services in general. She also referred to the separation of the Post Bank and the South Africa Post Office (SAPO), about which the Department would presently provide a more detailed discussion in their presentation.

The Minister introduced the team to take the Committee through the briefing, but cautioned that since the rationalisation process was not finalised, points raised in the briefing were all still subject to change.

Mr Shelembe advised the Committee that he would be giving the presentation on the reconfiguration of the entities within the Departmental portfolio, as well as the appointment process of board members.


Reconfiguration of Entities

Broadband Infraco (BBI) and Sentech

Mr Shelembe said the first reconfiguration, which was already under way, concerned BBI and Sentech forming a new state information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure company. This was strictly speaking not a merger, but rather a consolidation to enhance the state’s capacity -- incorporating broadband and infrastructure capacities under one new entity. Additionally, the Department would look at utilising the capabilities of other state-owned entities (SOEs) which had a relevance to broadband. The Department projected that by the 2020/20201 financial year, they would submit the legislation requisite for this reconfiguration to Parliament, by which time the Cabinet would have already given its approval for public consultation and its submission to the legislature.

BBI and Sentech had appointed a third party to perform due-diligence and to determine the value of the resultant reconfigured entity. The Department had received initial certification for the state ICT infrastructure company as a result of its consultation with state law advisors, who had counseled on the best practice for achieving such a reconfiguration, such as perhaps amending the existing Bill instead of submitting a new one.


Repurposing of State of Information Technology Agency (SITA)

Mr Shelembe clarified that what the Department called the “repurposing” of the SITA was informed by the fact that since the entity’s inception, its purpose was not exclusively meant to involve an IT procurement function for the government. Instead, SITA would be better suited to be a fully-fledged state IT company, in accordance with its original mandate concerning research and development, and the innovation of novel products and services. Such innovations would involve at least two issues -- reducing the import content of IT goods and services, and contributing to the improvement of the economy by producing these products locally. This would not only contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP) but also to the development of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) as a service sector. The Department hoped to position SITA to play a stronger role as an agency for digital transformation in the government, as well as cyber-security, which was a function currently diffused throughout several entities within the state. However, SITA would continue to facilitate the procurement of IT goods and services for the government, although not in the manner in which it currently does.

The draft business cases had already been development, and the Department would recruit a third party to oversee and redraft the business cases requisite for consultation with the Treasury, the Presidency and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), among others clusters of the government. 


Establishment of Digital Development Fund (DDF)

Mr Shelembe advised that the establishment of the DDF, whose business case and draft Bill were not at as advanced a stage as the preceding reconfigurations, involved the dissolution of both the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USASSA) and the Universal Service and Access Fund (USAF). Both the business case and the attendant draft Bill would be submitted in the 2020/2021 financial year.

Reconfiguration of NEMISA into iKamba Digital Skills Institute

The development of the National Electronic Media of South Africa into the iKamba Digital Skills Institute had received much attention and work from the Department. The Bill, which had initially been submitted in 2018, had had to be withdrawn in order to be reconceptualised in accordance with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) recommendations from the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

Postbank and Post Office

Mr Shelembe said two factors had delayed the finalisation of the application for Postbank’s banking licence. The first, which had since been resolved through the amendment of existing legislation, related to the authorisation of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to grant such licenses to SOEs. The second concerned a corporate governance issue, where the Post Office was the controlling company of the Postbank, according to existing legislation. However, existing proposals for legislative amendment hold that only entities which were in a sound financial position may apply for banking licences or control any entity deemed to be a bank. For this reason, and given the financial position of the Post Office, it could no longer be a controlling company for the Postbank. To deal with this, the Department was therefore in the process of formulating an amendment to allow the government to be a direct shareholder in the Postbank.

Mr Shelembe hastened to add that such direct ownership did not dispose of the strategic and synergistic relationship which needed to be maintained between the Post Office and the Postbank, in that the Postbank would continue to utilise the infrastructure of the former. The Post Office’s infrastructure was universally available throughout the country and, with certain improvements, would provide a firm platform upon which the Postbank could operate. In other words, the relationship was broken from a governance viewpoint, but would be maintained from a structural and functional point of view.

Merging of Regulatory Institutions

There would be a further reconfiguration exercise related to the merger of three regulatory bodies – the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the Film and Publication Board (FPB), and the .za Domain Name Authority (ZADNA). While this reconfiguration was in its early stages, there was synergy and coordination between these bodies which could be taken advantage of. This merger, which would constitute a new economic regulator, was already envisaged in the attending White Paper, and was informed by the Presidential Commission on the 4IR and its recommendations.

Current Turnaround Initiatives

Mr Shelembe advised that in addition to the reconfiguration of various entities, the Department would do well to brief the Committee on two turnaround strategies pertaining to the Post Office and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).


Board Appointment Processes

SABC

Mr Shelembe presented the executive and non-executive constitution of the SABC board and advised that there were currently no vacancies at either the board or senior management level. The newly appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) had started in November 2019 after the resignation of the preceding COO earlier in the year.

ICASA

He presented the constitution of the ICASA board, and advised that the Committee was in the process of recruiting for the five vacant positions. There were no vacancies at the senior management level.

FPB

Mr Shelembe presented the constitution of the FPB Council and the Appeals Tribunal, and advised that the former had no vacancies and the latter one. Moreover, the chief executive officer (CEO) and chief financial officer (CFO) positions were currently vacant, and were being filled in an acting capacity.

Sentech

He presented the executive and non-executive constitution of the Sentech board, which was fully constituted, and whose terms ended on 31 March 2021. There were no vacancies at the executive management level. The CEO’s term would end in mid-October 2020, and the Memorandum of Incorporation required the Board to submit a performance assessment of the CEO six months prior to the end of the term in office. The terms of office for the CFO and COO would come to an end on 20 November 2021 and 28 February 2023, respectively.

NEMISA

Mr Shelembe presented the executive and non-executive constitution of the NEMISA board, which was fully constituted. There was a vacancy for the CEO position, which was currently held by a senior official from within the Department itself until such time as the vacancy was filled, and the Board was currently involved in the recruitment process. The CFO’s term would end on 31 March 2021.

ZADNA
 
He presented the executive and non-executive constitution of the .za Domain Name Authority board, which was fully constituted. The CEO had been dismissed in July 2019 and had subsequently opened a case of unfair dismissal with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which was still currently under way pending the next appearance on 23-27 March 2020. In the meantime, there was an acting CEO unit such time as a new chief executive was appointed, the process for which was currently in progress, albeit tentatively.

BBI

Mr Shelembe presented the executive and non-executive constitution of the BBI board, which was fully constituted and whose term ended on 31 March 2021. There were no vacancies at the executive level, and the terms of the current CEO and CFO would end on 31 October 2022 and 31 August 2020, respectively.

Postbank

He presented the constitution of the Postbank board, whose chairperson’s term would end on 31 March 2020. He pointed out that the process to appoint a non-executive board member to the Postbank board was a long process “almost” by design, due to the stringent screening process. The CEO of the Postbank -- former group CEO of SAPO, Mr Mark Barnes -- had subsequently resigned and the process to recruit a new chief executive had since commenced, as well as for a managing director (MD) and CFO. These positions were presently occupied by people in acting capacities. The prior MD and CFO had both been suspended in August 2019.

Post Office

Mr Shelembe presented the constitution of the Post Office board. He said that the process to appoint a new CEO and CFO was under way, and also that the acting CEO had been suspended due to a whistleblower report alleging misconduct, mismanagement and supply chain irregularities. The COO had also been suspended, and the board had appointed an acting COO.

SITA

He presented the constitution of the SITA board, whose term had ended in December 2019. The term of the CEO had ended in March 2019, and the CFO’s had been rescinded in 2018. The organization had had an acting CEO until the Executive Caretaker was appointed on 28 January 2020 for a period of 24 months, subject to a satisfactory annual performance assessment, to fulfill the role of both CEO and Accounting Authority. The appointment of the Executive Caretaker was to assist with the transition to repurpose SITA, which would partly be informed by an assessment of the systematic challenges faced by the organisation which had led to  some departments and provincial administrations requesting to be exempted from procuring ICT goods and services from SITA. There was currently an acting CFO until the new CFO was appointed.

SITA had also been accused of service delivery failures, and several government departments and provincial administrators claimed to no longer trust its service delivery capabilities. The workforce was also highly demoralised. Mr Shelembe then presented the legislative obligations to show the process followed which allowed the Department to effectuate their repurposing goals.

USASSA

Mr Shelembe presented the constitution of the USASSA board, and pointed out that an Executive Caretaker had been appointed for 24 months for similar issues to SITA, which included performance challenges as they related to the broadband rollout, and well as the management of the digital migration within the government. The term of the CEO and CFO had expired in May and October 2019, respectively. There was currently an acting CEO. A similar legislative process to SITA was being followed.


Reconfiguration of Departments: Update on progress

Ms Mathope Thusi, Chief Director (CD), Corporate Services: Department of Communications, commenced her update on the reconfiguration of the Departments and its reporting entities by advising that she was going to present only the milestones, since the Department was in the last month of the process to which she would refer.

In November 2018, the President had decided to reconfigure the ministries of Communications and of Telecommunications and Postal Services into a single ministry of Communications. The move was to ensure enhanced coordination on matters critical to the country’s economic future in the context of the 4IR.

Currently, both Departments were working in seamlessly, synchronising initiatives in terms of relevant governance structures, and were also sharing both human and financial resources through a joint service level agreement (SLA). The Departments had commenced with the National Macro Organisation of Government process, led by the DPSA and the Presidency.

Human Resource Management, Organisational Design, Labour Relations

Regarding the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) start-up organisational structure, the Minister had approved the organogram on 14 November 2019, and the Ministry of Public Service and Administration (MPSA) had concurred the day after. The project management office was to be removed from the structure, as it was project based.

With regard to matching and placing employees in the DCDT organisational structure, a 2019 resolution between the employer and labour had provided guidelines for the identification, transfer and placement of staff in a transparent, fair and inclusive process. The process of matching and placing officials had commenced.

As far as the preparation of transfers and transfer letters was concerned, the transfer date had been set for 1 April 2020. Human resource (HR) policies would be consulted on with the unions after the establishment of the DCDT departmental bargaining chamber (DBC).

Ms Thusi then presented the organogram for the new department.

Finance and Infrastructure

With regard to the determination of the budget needs of affected departments, the progress logged was that relevant officials had undergone training by the Treasury with regard to the merging of two budgets, and that the population of the relevant templates from Treasury had been finalised.

As regards the submission of the results of “ring-fencing” to the Treasury and Department of Public Works, the status indicated was that the ring-fencing of the budget had been completed, the analysis of two fixed asset registers had been finalised, and the disposal of redundant assets was to commence. Submission in this regard was in progress.

Progress on the determination of the need for shared accommodation was that an accommodation needs analysis had been conducted, and all Department officials would be accommodated in the Iparioli Office Park in Pretoria. The Department of Public Works had been requested to renew the lease, but further delays were expected in respect of a new request to also accommodate ZADNA.  

The progress of the audit was that it was currently in process.

Information and Communication Technology
 

The work on ICT completed thus far included users connecting to emails using the w-mail web option; the telephone instruments and connection had been provided; alternate DTPS e-mail accounts had been created for internal communication; SITA had conducted desktop and server assessments; and user requirement specifications had been approved and sent to SITA.

Work still outstanding included the creation of a DCDT domain. The Department was awaiting the migration proposal which covered migration of the DTPS and the Department of Communications to a DCDT domain. Microsoft licences had already been paid for from January to December 2020 by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). Ninety users would be added from Year 2 of new Microsoft Enterprise licence agreement.

Legal

The audit of all legal instruments guiding service delivery in the departments had been finalised. The draft proclamation inputs had been submitted to the DPSA, and the proclamation on transfers and powers had been issued on 23 August 2019.

Communication
A communication strategy had been developed to keep staff informed about developments on the reconfiguration process, and had been shared with staff through the National Macro-Organisation of Government (NMOG) newsletter and the internal communications documents and resolutions.

As regards integrated strategic planning, there had been deliberation on the strategy of the DCDT on 25 February 2020, and a submission was made to the Minister on 2/3 March 2020 for consideration and comment. The tabling date was still outstanding. The Department estimates that Ministerial approval would be granted by 9 March 2020, for tabling by 10 March 2020.


Discussion

Ms A Mthembu (ANC) conveyed her appreciation of the Department’s progress in obtaining a Section 16 banking license for Postbank. She admitted that she was initially worried that Postbank would be one of the institutions the government would consolidate, but expressed her relief that it was not.

Ms P Faku (ANC) enquired whether unions were part of the decision-making and consultation processes regarding the mergers and reconfigurations, since sometimes the Department may indicate that they were taking one direction, whereas the unions might take a different view.

She asked whether the nine vacant positions were at senior or junior levels.

She referred to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), particularly the pre-conditions to be achieved by the broadcaster as set out by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) in order to qualify for its incremental bailouts, of which R1.1 billion was still forthcoming. She asked if the SABC was following the required steps, and whether reports had been received from the broadcaster in this regard.

She said the Department should look into whether the appointed executive at the SITA had followed the new strategy guidelines set out by the Department, and also whether there were timeframes for the reconfiguration of SITA for purposes of due diligence.

She also wanted clarity on the separation of the SAPO and Postbank.

She queried the issue of suspensions in the SAPO raised by the media, and asked the Minister to take the Committee into her confidence about this and whether the correct procedures were being followed in this respect.

Mr T Gumbu (ANC) commented that there were no clear timelines in terms of the vacancies as regards officials who had resigned and those who were now engaged in an acting capacity, as listed in the briefing, particularly in SAPO. He asked the Department to improve on this point.

Ms P van Damme (DA) wished the Department success in the work they were doing and acknowledged the scale of the task before them. She also urged the Committee to play its part and provide proper oversight in support of the Department. She observed that what usually happened was that the legislative process took a long time, and was sure the Minister wished the Committee to hasten the approval of all pending legislation brought forward by the Ministry and the Department. This speed on behalf of the Committee in support of the Department was in acknowledgement of the important work the Department was doing on behalf of the country, particularly as regards the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

She acknowledged that the merger of the entities would be a complex procedure, and therefore urged the Committee to embark on very close supervision.

She expressed her concern about the ICT Infrastructure Company, and the fact that the entity would require its own Act in keeping with the manner in which other SOEs were governed. Mr Shelembe had made mention in his presentation of the amendment of existing legislation or a new bill altogether, and she wished to know which of the two was preferred.

Ms Van Damme then requested of the Committee Chairperson to obtain legal advice regarding the mergers of the SOEs, particularly regarding the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), which was a Chapter 9 Institution. There might be unforeseen legal implications, and it was therefore preferable that the Committee had that information before it.

Besides the legislation, the Committee needed to receive full details about the ICT Infrastructure Company, since much of the information upon which the Department depends hinged on the Presidential Commission’s report on the 4IR. She asked the Minister when the 4IR report would be finalized, and conveyed that this process of finalisation had to be expedited. One reason was that the Committee needed a sense of which direction the President wanted to take regarding the 4IR, and particularly the merger of the SOEs. These two items would be the most important tasks in the coming year.

Ms Van Damme then raised the issue of the appointment of a Chief Reorganisation Officer at the SABC. She queried whether or not this had been done, and who the appointee was. In order to receive the last tranche of its bailout (R1.1 billion), the Broadcaster needed to meet certain pre-conditions. She wanted to know what these preconditions were, and whether these were new pre-conditions or pre-existing conditions.

She brought up the fact that SITA, unlike the other SOEs raised in the briefing, remained unstable, and acknowledged that the Minister therefore wished to place SITA under curatorship. She requested that SITA come to account before the Committee.

She then asked about the media reports concerning the Minister’s alleged honeymoon trip with her husband. The Minister had indicated that there was an investigation into this issue, and she wanted to know who was conducting that investigation.

Mr W Madisha (COPE) called on the Department to implement the proposals as a matter of urgency. He indicated that, having sat on the Committee for many years, reports were submitted but were not implemented as a matter of urgency -- or even at all. At times the bureaucracy appeared to be more powerful than Parliament, and even Ministers -- they supplied reports, wrote speeches and then failed to implement. For this reason, atn the next Committee meeting, the Department must identify what they had actually implemented.

He raised the issue of the merger and the reconfiguration of entities, such as the Postbank. This was also something that had been reported on in the past, but also had not been actualised. This therefore had to be implemented as a matter of urgency.

He referred to the SABC issue as a “major problem”. His main contention here was that there was unequal and selective coverage of all political parties, big and small, by the broadcaster. He called on the Minister to assure him, in her response, that this would be remedied by the SABC.

Mr L Molala (ANC) said that Mr Madisha’s concern regarding the SABC was a genuine one, except to say that the Minister did not have the power to intervene in the editorial independence of the SABC. However, Parliament did have that power, and the question would then be how Parliament exercises that power: If the SABC was not performing their function correctly, they had to account before Parliament. Mr Madisha’s point should perhaps be rephrased to state that since the SABC was appointed by Parliament, they should therefore account for their actions.

Mr Madisha responded that he agreed.

Mr Molala raised the question of the implementation of the SABC’s turnaround strategy. The quarterly assessment of the broadcaster’s turnaround strategy was key, since at the last session the Committee had agreed that Treasury should give them the required bailout funds on condition that they implemented the stipulated conditions. The meeting of these assessment criteria by the SABC therefore needed to be followed up by the Minister.

He was concerned about the amount of changes in the executive composition of the various SOEs described in the briefing. This spoke to the stability of the institutions, as many were suspended, and many were in acting positions. This constant change contributed to the difficulty in the implementation of the turnaround strategy.

Mr Molala referred to the transitional measures with regard to SITA, and asked how it was to be reconfigured: Even if a curator was appointed, there needed to be the retention of institutional knowledge of the people within the organisation, to avoid an “ever-changing situation.” This was because it may take some time for the new caretaker to settle in and understand the institution’s situation. There was therefore a need for members of the administration and of the board to assist the curator and take him/her through the niceties of the organisation, and not to leave the curator to his/her own devices, unaided. This kind of support was needed for the proper exercise of the caretaker’s powers.

Ms N Kubheka (ANC) expressed her appreciation of the officials within the Department who, she said, were trying their “level best” to improve their work, which could be seen in comparison with the preceding year.
 
She requested that a “workshop” be undertaken to consider the bills that were to be tabled by the Department, there were more than 10 of them. The Committee could not be relaxed in this regard.

Regarding SAPO and SITA, she asked the Committee to focus and take seriously the proposals put forward by the Department, since the dynamics of these entities, such as the leaking of information and the continual suspensions, etc, made it hard to effect change. She urged speedy appointments in order to fill vacant positions within the Postbank so that the institution could properly manage their internal affairs and achieve the desired outcomes.

The Chairperson addressed the Minister, and said there was a general sense of acceptance of progress within the Department from the Committee. What the Committee had been presented with during the current session had been a correction of what had previously been received from the Department.

He asked for clarity on the presentation as regards the SABC, where the Department’s coordination with the Treasury had been referred to, particularly in respect of verification and whether the SABC had met all the stipulated pre-conditions. One issue was that the turnaround strategy was dependent on funding, so it was possible for the SABC to indicate that they had not met the desired targets due to lack of such funding. A status update regarding the funding was therefore required, and also the conclusions which had been reached by the Department and National Treasury.

What South Africans wanted to hear with regard to SAPO, irrespective of the movement of people and the actions that were taken, was that there was still a sense of stability in the rendering of public services, without any associated problems.

The Chairperson then made reference to the law in relation to the actions that were taken by the Department -- a point raised in the presentation by way of an accompanying legal opinion -- and expressed the need for the Committee to be empowered so they could make reference to such legal aspects in the public sphere without the possibility of contradiction. He acknowledged the number of bills proposed by the Department, but urged prioritisation.

Minister’s response

The Minister responded first on the “perceived instability” within State entities, particular in SAPO, the Postbank, SITA and USASSA. The thing about alleged corruption was that it could not be asserted that no one should be suspended if supporting evidence had come to light. She said she directed her attention in each case to determine whether or not there was sufficient evidence to take such action. Constant suspension and consequent instability did not apply to SITA and USASSA, since they both had no board in place to begin with, and were entities in the transitional process. Moreover, the people who were always in SITA remained in SITA, so that the strategies formulated in that entity were still being implemented by the same people. The problem would be how the Department went about appointing smaller teams to deal with departmental challenges, as discussed at a prior meeting. Furthermore, the caretaker that is employed at SITA is not the only person there, and thus receives administrative support. The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) had made it clear that at least three directors were required. The process of vetting was pending. Where officials had failed to implement due to lack of capability, the Department was “beefing up” those capacities. This brought them back to the mandate of SITA to supply the relevant services required of them by bringing in the requisite skills.

The Minister indicated that there had been instability at USASSA, and because of the broadband challenge and the digital migration process, they had had to appoint people with the necessary skills do to that work. She was not certain of how many boards she had seen, but acknowledged that there had been a number of them. She was not seeking to replace the board as yet, since the law required a long process, but rather to achieve stability. The necessary lower-level officials had to be appointed to achieve their functional mandates as prescribed by the law. Therefore they had not removed the CEO or any board.  

As regards the speeding up of the process at the Postbank, the Minister acknowledged the importance of this point. The DG would respond to the amendments required by Parliament. The ministry had met with the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to resolve any outstanding issues, because if it did not approve, effectively no appointments could be made.

She addressed the issue of the SABC, and said the technical teams from the Treasury, the SABC and the Communications Department had all agreed in October 2019 that the SABC had met the remaining four pre-conditions. The Ministry was therefore satisfied that the turnaround bailout criteria had been met by the broadcaster, and for this reason had dispatched a letter to the Finance Minister in the preceding week (ending Friday, 28 February) to convey this satisfaction. She was awaiting concurrence from Treasury, after which the remaining R1.1 billion may be transferred.

She referred to the point made by the Chairperson that the briefing given at the current meeting had been a correction of a preceding briefing, but contended that it was not a correction. What had happened was that at the preceding briefing, the Department had presented on a prior quarter, and at this one they were reporting on the current quarter and were attempting to illustrate the progression of the work undertaken by the Department.

Responding to Ms Van Damme’s question regarding the 4IR report, she said the report had to undergo consultation with Parliament, the provinces and the public, after having gone to the Cabinet. She had written to enquire when the consultations would commence, and was waiting to receive the schedule. This would be announced in the forthcoming week.

Department’s response

Ms Nomvuyiso Batyi, Acting DG: Department of Communications, confirmed that of the nine vacant positions, five were senior and four were below senior level.

In response to the question regarding whether the Department was in consultation with the unions, she said that in fact there was a Departmental task team specifically devoted to ensuring proper consultation with unions.

As regards the legality of the merger of the three institutions, the section which was relevant to this process was Section 192 of the Constitution which had, in this case as in all prior cases, been respected.

The name of the Chief Reorganisation Officer (CRO) would be announced by the Minister in due course.

Ms Batyi indicated that the Department had instituted a task team with regard to the SABC, but said it did not replace the oversight role currently in place. It is merely a monthly reporting structure to indicate how far the SABC is in achieving its turnaround strategy; it is more of a reporting framework and less of an intervention mechanism.

On the question of the SABC providing the equal coverage of all South Africans, she said the issue of the news and editorial content lay within the broadcaster. It had control over what it showed -- that power did not lie with the Minister, and therefore she could not interfere..

Mr Robert Nkuna, DG: DTPS, said that when they separated the SAPO from Postbank, the balance sheet of the SAPO was going to be “severely” affected. It had therefore been necessary to go to Treasury and make it clear that the implication of the decoupling was such, that issues of sustainability would be raised about the SAPO. In addition to the monetary issues which the DTPS had always assisted with, they had also asked the SAPO to assist with other innovations that they could introduce. This was in accordance with all other SOEs which had been asked to consider cost-saving mechanisms other than government bailouts. He wanted to add, therefore -- in agreement with the Minister -- that the DTPS was not downplaying the challenges that face the SAPO.

Regarding SAPO’s payout of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) grants, the Department would report back on the issue as to whether the correct values had been disbursed.

Mr Nkuna advised that in regard to the prioritisation of legislation, the Department could fairly quickly put out information which indicated which issues correlated with which bills. These “issue papers” may be used to streamline the prioritisation of legislation.

He addressed the matter of due diligence, and said that what the Department had done with regard to SOEs was to look at the business case for the merging or reconfigured entities concerned, and identify which officials they had at their disposal and what skills existed within the entities. A report regarding the due diligence would be issued at the end of March.

The Department was filling vacant positions. In the last two weeks, the Minister had approved no fewer than six appointments in the Department, and those approvals were not yet reflected in the current briefing. The Department’s presentation was not categoric in terms of the separation of the Postbank from the state bank.

Election coverage

The Chairperson reminded the Committee that there was still an outstanding report from ICASA concerning the coverage of the elections. This matter had been postponed twice because ICASA was not yet ready. This presented an opportunity to engage the Regulator and to resist propagating the narrative that there was interference in editorial policy, which was indicated in some media reports and at the Zondo Commission. He assured Mr Madisha that he was not downplaying his question, but that it was preferable to first receive ICASA’s report on election coverage.

Mr Madisha conveyed his dissatisfaction at the way the Department had framed his question in their response with regard to election coverage. He understood that the Minister could not intervene in editorial matters at the SABC, since this would give the appearance of censorship. This was not what he was saying. At the same time, however, something had got to be done, and to this end, it was useful to note that the Minister’s duty was to “give direction.” In addition, Parliament did have power and had to ensure the SABC was doing what it was supposed to be doing.

The Chairperson acknowledged this response from Mr Molala.

Mr Molala said that the issue Mr Madisha had raised was a very sensitive matter, and the Committee needed to engage with it at some point, since the issue of coverage was related to the independence of the editorial section of the SABC. The point was not to pit the Minister against the broadcaster, but rather to hold the latter to account through Parliamentary means. He suggested that the Committee needed to do a follow up on all outstanding reports, in order to raise pertinent points such as Mr Madisha’s.

Overseas trip: Minister’s clarification

The Minister responded to Ms Van Damme’s question regarding her alleged honeymoon trip.

She replied: “As I said in my statement, yes, the Minister went to Geneva and New York. I went there for departmental work, and yes, I was accompanied by my husband. As the Ministerial Handbook says, we are entitled to two international trips with a spouse -- it was in accordance with that.” Additionally, it was “reported that my husband further undertook a trip to Paris, which is what actually I found myself responding to when I was interviewed by the news reporter, which was a blatant lie.”

Both the DA and EFF had then issued statements, and the latter had called for an investigation by the Public Protector. The Minister had responded in a previous statement saying she “welcomed” the investigation. On the second allegation concerning the “issue of the car,” that was “not true” and if evidence was available, it should be brought forward.

Digital Terrestrial Television

The Minister said that the Department had met with manufacturers in the preceding week in relation to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). The Department would not be seeking a tender, but instead boxes had to be manufactured and be put on rotation, and the Department would look into the subsidisation of those that qualified. The manufacturers were positive in terms of supporting this programme. The manufacturers and the Department agree that they are waiting on ICASA and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), which is working on revised standards. For this reason, ICASA had asked for a delay of three weeks, until the week ending 27 March.

The Chairperson said that minutes had been forwarded to the Committee Members, and that they should go through them.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

Share this page: