Universal Postal Union Constitution Amendments: ratification

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Discussion

LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISES SELECT COMMITTEE
31 August 2004
UNIVERSAL POSTAL UNION CONSTITUTION AMENDMENTS: RATIFICATION

Chairperson:
Ms N Ntwanambi (ANC)

Documents handed out
Department PowerPoint presentation on ratification
Chief State Law Advisor (International Law) to Department of Foreign Affairs: Opinion on ratification

SUMMARY
The Committee were briefed by the Department's Postal Business Unit. The Committee asked about how South Africa's membership of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) benefitted the general public. The Chairperson proposed that the Department's Annual Report include this and more detailed information. The Committee then unanimously agreed that Parliament ratify the amendments to the constitution of the Universal Postal Union. The proposed election of the Committee Chairperson stated on the agenda, was postponed until further notice.

MINUTES
The Chairperson asked for the Committee's permission to postpone the election of the Committee's Chairperson until further notice. She then explained that the ratification report from the Communications Ministry had been delayed because it had first gone to a wrong Committee. The Committee should ideally finalise the matter today to enable South Africa to vote in the upcoming UPU Congress to be held in Romania from 15 September to 5 October 2004. The Chairperson also advised the Communications Department of the NCOP process that ratification be handed over to provinces.

Postal Business Unit briefing
Ms Brenda Ntombela, Department General Manager of the Postal Business Unit, provided background on the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and its Plenipotentiary Council. The UPU was founded in 1874 as a specialised agency of the United Nations to encourage collaboration and development within the international postal sector. South Africa had joined in 1964, but had only been actively involved since its re-admission in 1994. The Union's Plenipotentiary Council met every five years to consider proposals for amendments to the UPU constitution, and supervised Union activities.

Amendments had been made to the Union's constitution and were subject to ratification by South Africa. The amendments were as follows:
- Article 22 had been amended to ensure that general regulations were binding on all member countries.
- Article 25 revision provided for the people responsible for the signature, authentication, ratification and other forms of approval of the Acts by the Union.
- Article 27 gave member countries the right to accede to any additional protocols and to other Acts of the Union at any time.
- Article 29 gave members the right to present proposals concerning the Acts of the Union to congresses.

The Department had consulted the State Law Advisers of the Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as Foreign Affairs, and no conflict with domestic laws had been identified. They had supported South Africa's ratification.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked why the Department had spoken of the South African Post Office (SAPO) as well as Postnet when referring to South Africa's postal agencies? Why should South Africa vote if they were bound by majority decisions anyway?

Ms Ntombela responded that SAPO fell under the Department, whereas Postnet was a private company, but there had been recommendations that they enter a consultative forum with the private sector. It was important that South Africa express its opinion in a vote as it was seen as the hub of the postal sector within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Ms M Temba (ANC, Mpumalanga) asked if the Foreign Affairs Portfolio Committee had been consulted. She questioned which Department staff would attend the UPU congress, and how South Africa monitored UPU Acts.

Ms Ntombela explained that postal services fell under the Labour and Public Enterprises Select Committee and the Communications Portfolio Committee, not the Foreign Affairs Portfolio Committee. South African delegates for the coming conference included the Minister of Communications, the acting Director-General, Chairperson of the Presidential National Commission, the Postal Regulator and herself as General Manager. Representatives from SAPO, postal business, SADC region and Africa would also attend.

In terms of implementation and monitoring, Ms Ntombela explained that at each Congress, strategic objectives were adopted and each country had an obligation to implement them within five years. During this time, annual meetings were held and countries presented progress reports in terms of implementation. The Department also oversaw a postal business unit that came up with national objectives.

Ms Ntombela stated that UPU had two types of reports. The South African Position Paper comprised of thorny issues discussed in the entire country. All the conference delegates had received this paper to inform them about South Africa's position on terminal dues, security issues, etc. The second report was compiled after each conference in which new national obligations were discussed.

Mr K Sinclaire (NNP, Northern Cape) asked the price of subscription fees and who paid it. What had been the benefit for South Africa belonging to the Union? He also asked about the origin of the mandate to present to the Council.

Ms Ntombela was not sure of the subscription figures but knew it was an enormous amount. She promised to email the figures if needed. The Government was responsible for paying the fee but SAPO and the Department assisted in paying for interpreters at the conference. South Africa benefitted from informative updates on new technology trends within the postal sector. Their mandate came from Postal Services Act 102 of 1998 (amended in 2000), as well as the Postal Policy of 1998.

Mr M Sibiya (ANC, Limpopo Province) asked who voted and how many votes were allowed per country. He enquired if UPU operated only at international level or at the continent level as well. He then questioned how the Department ensured that public viewpoints gathered from community participation were incorporated before attending the conference.

Ms Ntombela stated that one vote per country was allowed. The Minister or Minister's representative voted. The UPU was a specialised agency of the United Nation that operated only at international level. Continental postal concerns were dealt with by Pan African Postal Union. She could not respond to the community participation question. The Chairperson recommended that such questions be directed to SAPO when briefed the Committee.

Mr D Gamede (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) wanted to know the role played by UPU in job creation within South Africa from 1994 until 2004. He also asked for figures on job creation prospects from 2004 to 2009. He also questioned the UPU budget in terms of benefits to South Africa.

Ms Ntombela was not able to address prospects of job creation, but mentioned that the Department had worked with SAPO in ensuring that jobs were generated within the postal sector. The public, especially women, had been encouraged to buy 'Citizen's Post Offices' that offered additional facilities such as faxing machine, photocopying machines and scanners. The Department had also worked with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to produce 'infropreneurs' that would use public internet terminals to collect community data to be sold to businesses.

Ms M Temba and the Chairperson questioned whom the Department accounted to, and what the Committee's role was regarding mandates.

Ms Ntombela said the Committee deliberated on the Department's budget (Vote 27) regarding money spent on telecoms, multimedia and postal divisions. The Department had a budget for Universal Services Obligations, and had subsidised some postal services.

Mr D Mkhono (ANC, Eastern Cape Province) suggested the Committee recommend South Africa's ratification of UPUs constitutional amendments, as this country needed to be more globally connected.

The Chairperson proposed that the Department's Annual Report include how the UPU benefited the public. In future, the Department should provide more detailed information to Members. The Committee then unanimously voted in favour of ratification.

The meeting was adjourned.

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