In a virtual meeting, the Committee met to consider and adopt its 2021/22 budget vote reports for the departments and entities. In amending observations and recommendations, Members noted their great concern for the future sustainability of the SA Post Office (SAPO) and its going concern status.
On the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Members disagreed on the reflection of the Department regulate all streaming services as alternative or additional TV licence fees collection streams. There was ultimate consensus that the SABC must improve TV licence collection processes.
The Committee was concerned about the proposed timelines for the Electronic Amendment Bill noting the national election in 2024.
Concerning the Film and Publications Board (FPB) the Committee recommended that the Minister continues to deploy adequate systems to ensure wellness of employees due to concerns of their mental health
The Chairperson introduced the Portfolio Committee on Communications to the virtual meeting.
The Committee Content Advisor took Members through the reports
Further Reporting on the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) from SABC, USAASA and SAPO to the Portfolio Committee on Communications
Mr C Mackenzie (DA) asked for clarity regarding the statement reading; “Set-Top-Boxes at qualifying households were 0.37 percent installations under the quarter under review”. He asked what the targets were for quarter under review.
Mr Z Mbhele (DA) said that the phrasing regarding national funding for 2019/20 should have read “for the amount of R340.4 million.”
Mr Mackenzie suggested that an observation be crafted noting the great concern of the future sustainability of the SA Post Office (SAPO), in light of the Auditor-General’s (AG) emphasis of the entity’s going concern basis.
The Chairperson corrected the point that the R2.9 billion funding allocation was for the 2018/19 financial year, rather than the stated 2019/20 financial year.
Ms N Khubheka (ANC) stated, under Committee recommendations for the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), that a driving force for action should be given. The wording should reflect that the SABC must improve internal control measures in all procurement processes.
Ms P Faku (ANC) said that the word ‘must’ should be included into all of the Committee recommendations for the SABC. Ms Faku questioned the oversight role of the Committee when requesting that the Minister must interfere in these matters.
Mr T Ngoma, Committee Secretary, indicated that recommendations are given to the relevant Minister being the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT). The word ‘must’ should be used only when making recommendations on a legislative level. He suggested that ‘must’ should not be included in each recommendation.
Mr M Maleka, Committee Content Advisor, suggested that Members indicate where the term “must” should be indicated.
The Chairperson understood the weight that the Members are adding to the recommendations made. The weight should be within compliance when editing the draft report to ensure that it happens over time.
Mr Mbhele raised concern on the point that the Department regulate all streaming services as alternative or additional TV licence fees collection streams. He said that the recommendation was not reflective of the opinions of the Committee as a whole which were deliberated and discussed. The position of the wording did not reflect that the Democratic Alliance (DA) does not support imposing license fees for streaming services. The DA felt that no value was added to the product for the SABC to add levies.
Ms P Van Damme (DA) agreed that the DA did not agree to these alternate TV licence fees when considering the Audio-Visual White Paper. She felt that there was no resolution on the matter. She suggested that the wording rather enforce that the SABC must improve the TV licence collections process.
Ms Faku said that she supported the point as it was part of the proposals of revenue for SABC.
The Chairperson said that it will be based on record that the party reserved their rights regarding the matter whilst agreeing with some of the issues made.
Ms Van Damme said that the report is to be accurate and reflective of the Members’ input in meetings. The DA did not agree or come to a resolution that there should be alternate TV licence fees. There was a misinterpretation regarding collecting TV licence fees for revenue and the Department did not mean it as such.
Mr Mbhele responded to the Chairperson’s point on the Committee report scrutinising the APP, saying that the Committee should support the current report as a reflection of the discussions around the annual report. On account of the view not being unanimous, it cannot be framed as a Committee recommendation through the wording. The DA objected to the report as it stands framing that there was a unanimous agreement regarding streaming licence fees.
Mr L Molala (ANC) said that the DA is stifling the debate. The DA should rather comment with its objections to the report, rather than whether the discussions occurred in the meeting or not.
Ms Faku said that the Committee should engage each other where they have contrary views. She recommended that the Committee should focus on TV licence collections and the issue of streaming services can be debated at a later point.
The Chairperson indicated that there is unanimous agreement that the SABC must improve TV licence collection processes.
Mr Mackenzie added to the Committee resolutions for SAPO stating that the Minister should urgently address the issue of SAPO’s funding and the going concern issue.
The Chairperson corrected that measures should be put in place to improve SAPO performance for 2021/22 as the action plan was not implemented in 2020/21.
Mr Maleka provided clarity on the set-top-boxes issue by saying that the wording came from a report given by USAASA. The point will further be clarified with the relevant departments.
The report was adopted with all relevant amendments.
Draft Report of the Portfolio Committee on Communications on its deliberations on Budget Vote 30: Communications and Digital Technologies
Regarding introducing the Electronic Amendment Bill in Parliament by March 2024, Mr Mackenzie doubted that Parliament would be sitting during this time as elections are in May 2024. He felt that the Bill may be tabled only to fall off once Parliament concludes its term.
Ms Faku shared the same sentiment and asked whether the timeline could be moved forward to 2023.
The Chairperson said that these observations should fall into the Committee recommendations.
Concerning Committee observations of the Independent Communications Agency of South Africa (ICASA), Mr Mackenzie said that rather than condoning criminal sentences, Members expressed that the wished to make the public aware of the substantial sentences that are meted out.
The Chairperson said, regarding ICASA budgetary constraints, that the Committee noted ICASA faces budgetary constraints, however the Department was able to assist with additional funding.
Mr Mbhele indicated that the SABC conducted a comprehensive audit of all properties and received approval for disposal of all non-core assets.
Mr Mackenzie stated that the Committee supported the work of the interim Board in its turnaround strategy.
Concerning SAPO, Mr Mackenzie noted that the universal service obligation was received by the SAPO in addition to trying to enforce a postal monopoly.
Ms Faku said that morale among SAPO staff was below 60%, it was beyond ‘low’ as stated in the report.
Ms Faku recommended that the SABC submit a detailed report on the disposal of assets.
Mr Mbhele asked for clarity as to whether the SABC is stating that it will be a service or content provider when exploring streaming services platforms ecosystems. He felt that the phrase was ambiguous.
The Chairperson explained that the SABC plans to take the opportunity to produce content as a streaming service rather than leaving it to competitors.
The Chairperson commented on the recommendation of a detailed SABC report stating that it should be an audit on the disposal of assets as well as an indication in terms of adherence to the laws of the country in carrying out those processes.
Mr Mackenzie amended the point of SAPO improving its financial status to reflect that SAPO improves its financial position and urgently addresses the going concern issues.
The Chairperson removed the point that SITA works with SAPO to provide a smooth flow in the ICT systems and further improve service delivery. He also added to the point of SITA automating all processes that it should include reporting on cancellation of tenders so that there is online profiling specifically for public scrutiny.
The Chairperson moved the point of reducing irregular expenditure with intent to eradicate malpractice in the near future to under the subheading of USAASA.
Mr Mackenzie said, concerning the Film and Publications Board (FPB) the Committee recommended that the Minister continues to deploy adequate systems to ensure wellness of employees due to concerns of their mental health.
Mr Mbhele said that the DA reserved their rights regarding the Budget Vote Report.
The Report was adopted.
Draft Report of the Portfolio Committee on Communications on its deliberations on Budget Vote 4: Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)
The Democratic Alliance reserved its right to adopt the Budget Vote report.
The Report was adopted.
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