International Telecommunication Union Conference; Ratification Request: briefing

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


22 March 2006

Ms M Thembu (ANC, Mpumulanga)

Documents handed out:
Briefing Document on the Final Acts of the Plenipotentiary Conference, Marrakesh, Morocco 2002
PowerPoint presentation by Department of Communications: Part
1 & 2

The Department of Communications summarised the aims and objectives of the International Telecommunication Union, of which South Africa is a Member State and Council member. The Union’s Plenipotentiary Conference held its last meeting in Marrakesh in 2002, and the Final Acts of the Conference, which included the decisions, resolutions and recommendations of the conference, were signed by Member States. Ms Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Director General of the Department of Communications, and leader of the delegation to the Conference, had signed the Final Acts in October 2002. Since the Acts constituted an international agreement, ratification by Parliament was required. All preceding steps had been completed. The Final Acts therefore needed to be tabled for approval by the Committee prior to ratification by Parliament.

There were no specific resolutions that impacted directly upon South Africa so that the ratification was largely a formality. Questions were posed on the value South Africa gained from its membership, and the extent of the Department’s involvement with other NGOs and stakeholders. The Department confirmed that non-government organisations did not vote. The role that South Africa played on the Council was clarified. Members voted unanimously to ratify the Final Acts.

Department of Communications (DoC) Briefing on Final Acts of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference
Mr J Paterson (Director: Multilateral Affairs, DoC) reported that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) had been formed in 1865. It was a specialised agency of the United Nations and its activities were governed by the ITU Constitution, adopted in 1992 and revised in 1998 and 2002. ITU was open to Member States and Sector Members (such as NGOs, private enterprise and suppliers). South Africa had been a member of the ITU from 1881, but had been excluded between 1965 and 1994. It had been a member of the Council since 1994. It contributed an annual amount of around R5 million, which was paid by the Department of Communications from the Multilateral Budget.

In terms of its Constitution, the ITU set out to maintain and extend co-operation between Member States for improvement and rational use of telecommunication , and to promote and enhance participation and co-operation across the communications industry. It promoted and offered technical assistance to developing count4ies, through material, human and financial resources. It promoted development of technical facilities, and extension of new telecommunication technologies to the whole world. It promoted telecommunication services to facilitate peaceful relations,. It also promoted a broad approach to telecommunications in the global information economy and society.

The Conference in Marrakesh in 2002 endorsed the Strategic Plan. Its priorities included facilitation and development of fully interconnected and interoperable networks and services; playing a leading role in the follow up to the World Summit on the Information Society; and development of tools to safeguard the integrity and interoperability of networks.

The Final Acts of the Plenipotentiary Conference were published in the form of a book. It contained the articles of the Constitution and convention, declarations and reservations by member countries, General Rules of conferences, assemblies and meetings of the union and decisions, resolutions and recommendations of the Conference. The Final Acts had been signed by Ms Shope-Mafole, Head of Delegation to the Conference, in October 2002. Signature of the Final Acts amounted to an international agreement and therefore required ratification. The Final Acts had already been submitted to the State Law Advisors of the Departments of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and Foreign Affairs. A Presidential Minute had been prepared and signed by the National Executive. The Final Acts were therefore tabled for approval by the Committee prior to final ratification by Parliament.

Mr N Hendricks (ANC, Western Cape) asked whether any decisions taken at the Conference directly affected South Africa.

Mr Paterson replied that there were no specific decisions; the Final Acts related rather to how ITU was managed and run. South Africa, through its participation in the Conference, had endorsed the Strategic Plan.

Ms S Mabe (ANC, Free State) asked how many States were members of the ITU, and what were the advantages of membership, particularly to developing countries.

Mr D Gamede (ANC, Kwazulu-Natal) asked whether South Africa had gained substantial benefit since 1994 from its membership.

Ms Mabe asked for clarification of the specific role that South Africa played in the ITU.

Mr K Shongwe (Deputy Director General, DoC) reported that there were two types of membership. All States that were members of the United Nations held membership. He was unsure of the exact numbers of sector members but undertook to send details through to the Committee. In so far as its role and benefits were concerned, Mr Shongwe confirmed that significant decisions on the future of telecommunications were taken by the ITU. Members were able to meet with the private sector, and together participate in discussions and decisions on developments to enable them to set agendas and policy frameworks. He cited the most recent Conference, which had focused on reducing the costs of communications to assist the developing world in accessing communications. A decision had been taken requiring countries to commit to reducing the cost of communications. If South Africa did not participate in the ITU, it would not have the chance to make input on these vital issues. Members of the ITU would submit proposals to the Conferences, which would be debated in full and would form part of the Final Act. South Africa had been able to make a significant impact on a request from Palestine to fund ICT in that country. In answer to opposition put up by some developed countries, South Africa had successfully pointed out that it was itself was now run by a government formerly classed as a "terrorist organisation" and that the value of contributions to South Africa had been inestimable. Members also benefited from participation in the Sector Forums prior to attending the Conferences, and were able to make input from the whole of the South African industry.

Mr Paterson added that telecommunications was a globalising service, that members of the ITU set communication standards, and that the issues discussed included interoperability, management of digital migration and increasing bandwidth, transfer to digital technology, radio frequency spectrum. As a developing country South Africa benefited particularly in shaping the international agenda. The World Summit on the Information Society had discussed governance of the internet and had agreed that it should be part of the multilateral system.

Mr Gamede asked whether sector members were involved in taking policy decisions.

Mr Paterson replied that they did not take any decision on the powers of the ITU, although they participated in meetings to facilitate closer consultation between governments and other stakeholders. ITU was proud of its multi-stakeholder approach.

The Chairperson asked how members were elected to the Council of the ITU. Mr Paterson replied that countries proposed a candidate for the Council of the ITU and it was essentially a political process as each candidate lobbied for support. South Africa was the only Southern African representative on Council and therefore held an important position as regards the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Discussions were currently being held on the ability of a single Member State to block decisions and this was particularly significant to South Africa as the only SADC representative.

The Chairperson asked about the lifespan of the Council.

Mr Shongwe replied that Council was elected for four years, from one Plenipotentiary Conference to the next. The Chairperson could hold office for only two terms.

The Chairperson asked for details on the DoC communications with NGOs, and whether DoC approached Parliament for its input.

Mr K Shongwe (DoC) replied that he was not sure about Parliament, but would check and return to the Committee. As far as NGOs were concerned, he would take personal responsibility to broaden the stakeholder participation and manage greater input.

The Chairperson asked that the Committee consider the Final Act. Mr Gamede proposed that the Final Act be approved, and this was seconded by Mr A Mkono(ANC, E Cape). The Committee voted unanimously to approve the Final Act and refer it to Parliament for final ratification.

The meeting adjourned.


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