Department of Communications Budget and Strategic Plan, 2008-2011

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

25 March 2008
Chairperson: Ms M Themba (ANC/Mpumalanga)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Communications briefed the Committee, in the context of “Business Unusual” and the expected rapid developments in information and communications technology that would benefit all South Africans in the next few years, on its Strategic Plan for 2008-2011. The plan incorporated that of the Presidential National Commission on the Information Society and Development. An emphasis was on providing a robust information and communications technology infrastructure, access to which would be affordable and which would assist the Government to deliver services to all citizens, including those in remote, rural areas, and which would boost socio-economic development, development of national identity and social cohesion.

The Committee expressed concern that the Department of Communications was not known to the ordinary people in the rural areas and advised it to promote itself. The Department undertook to review the matter and admitted that it faced a major challenge in informing everyone in the country, even in the deepest rural areas, of the implications of the upcoming migration to digital broadcasting set to begin on 01 November 2008.

Concern was expressed that the allocation of funds to community radio stations was insufficient, given that these radio stations were intended to benefit the rural communities which were in the majority.

The Committee requested that the Department send to the Committee a list of schools identified by the provinces to be connected by Sentech broadband wireless as part of the Dinaledi Schools network. The Department undertook to do so as a matter of urgency, as soon as the provinces had reported back to the cluster early in April 2008.

The Committee expressed considerable interest in the Presidential National Commission on the Information Society and Development’s project towards establishing
national identity and social cohesion whereby young people interviewed senior citizens over the age of 65 to collect historical account of their lives and develop websites for and with the with House of Traditional Leaders.

The Department advised that media reports about cutting Sentech’s budget, were misleading. The Committee was also told that s
oon one would see Neotel in head-to-head competition with Telkom.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed Ms Gerda Gräbe, Chief Operations Officer and Deputy Director-General: Governance and Administration, Department of Communications, who led the delegation in the absence of the Director-General, Ms Lyndall Shope-Mafole, who was unable to attend on account of illness.

Department of Communications and the Presidential National Commission on the Information Society and Development. Strategic Plan 2008-2011. Presentation
Ms Gerda Gräbe said that the Department presented its strategic plan within the context of “Business Unusual”, and rapid developments in the ICT sector that would benefit all South Africans in the long term. The strategic plan was, as in the previous year, aligned to the Government’s five key focus areas (KFAs):
• achieving higher rates of investment in the economy;
• increasing competitiveness of the SA economy;
• broadening the participation in the economy;
• improving capacity of the State capacity to deliver; and
• contributing to a better world.
The mandate of the Department of Communications (DoC) was to provide for the development of robust, reliable, affordable and secured information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure which enabled the delivery of a multiplicity of applications and services.

The mandate of the Presidential National Commission on the Information Society and Development (PNC on ISAD) was to advise the President on the use of ICTs to optimise the pace and the extent of addressing South Africa’s development challenges and enhancing South Africa’s global competitiveness; to advise the President on South Africa’s contribution to and benefit from the development of an inclusive information society in Africa and the world; to facilitate the coordinated and integrated development of an inclusive Information Society in South Africa; and to support efforts aimed at making South Africa and Africa integral and equal members of the Global Information Society.

A major emphasis of the Department would be to ensure that ICT infrastructure was robust and reliable, and to accelerate the socio-economic growth of South Africans by increasing access to ICTs through partnership with business and civil society. The Department also sought to contribute to the building of a single public service. It also sought to strengthen the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as the delivery arm of government.

The Department’s priorities for 2008-2009 were the implementation by Sentech of phase one of the APEX project for wireless broadband infrastructure, namely the 233 Dinaledi Schools; to commence construction of the joint UHURUnet/Infraco submarine cable - the biggest such project in Africa’s history; to develop a programme of action to benchmark telecommunications costs, quality, availability, accessibility and usage in South Africa with five comparable countries - Brazil, Chile, India, Malaysia, and South Korea; to complete phase one of Sentech’s roll out of new digital-ready transmitters to cover 50 % of population; to accelerate the building of the South African set top box manufacturing industry; and to develop Radio Frequency Spectrum Usage Policies in line with World Radio Conference 2007 outcomes and taking into account ICASA’s frequency plan.

Further priorities were to contribute to combating crime through the provision by the South African Post Office (SAPO) of an address identification system in the areas around the 169 priority police stations; to commence the construction process of the second Sentech teleport as part of meeting South Africa’s FIFA 2010 World Cup guarantees; to increase universal access to government information and services through building, under the leadership of SAPO, using the expanded public works programme (EPWP), Thusong Post Offices in 100 communities; to reach 50% female representation employment equity at senior management staff (SMS) level and exceed the target of 2% representation of people with disabilities at all levels.

The Department had performed well in meeting Cabinet’s targets of 50% representation of women at senior management staff levels and 2% of people with disability at all levels. The Department aimed to exceed those targets during the current financial year. Contrary to press reports, the Department did not have a high vacancy rate. The enlarged structure was approved this year. Of the new positions, only 50 will have funding and will be filled by June 2008.

The Cabinet had in early 2007 approved the national Information Society And Development (ISAD) plan for building an inclusive information society, and had established the following ISAD implementation mechanisms: the Ministerial Committee on the Information Society and Development with its corresponding
Forum of South African Directors-General (FOSAD) ISAD cluster; the ISAD inter-governmental relations forum with its corresponding ISAD Technical Support Committee.

The Department’s strategic plan also incorporated that of the Presidential National Commission, whose priorities for 2008, in terms of the Apex Priority Project, included increasing the uptake and usage of ICTs by deploying ICT equipment in 233 Dinaledi Schools, as well as in clinics, libraries, heritage sites and government offices in the coverage area of the schools. In order to contribute to building national identity and fostering social cohesion the Commission sought to engage young people interview senior citizens over the age of 65 to collect historical accounts of their lives and develop websites for and with the House of Traditional Leaders at national and provincial spheres.

As its contribution to the National Youth Service (NYS) the Commission sought to deploy e-cadres to support teaching in schools, assist with data collection in health centres, assist with information gathering in libraries and assist the public in accessing information and services in post offices. As a youth development and job creation initiative, the Commission sought to use e-co-operatives to develop websites for the national & provincial houses of traditional leaders and municipal offices. The Commission further sought to upscale the number of e-co-operatives from the current 46.

APEX Project 3 encompassed implementing the ISAD plan and increasing uptake and usage of ICTs by government and individuals. Apex Project 3 was one of the 24 apex of priorities announced by the President in his State of the Nation Address to be completed by the end of the term of the current government. The project was built around the provision of connectivity to the Dinaledi Schools through Sentech Wireless Broadband Network. There were 30 sub-projects to be implemented in the coverage area of the Dinaledi School network. With R500 million allocated, to Sentech, 150 base stations which could cover around 233 Dinaledi Schools, would be procured.

The ISAD Cluster had requested all provincial representatives to identify the schools where the roll-out would be prioritised. Therefore the selection of the initial 233 Dinaledi Schools to be connected should be governed by the potential for a high impact on poverty eradication; for large numbers of students to benefit; for large numbers of related sites, such as post offices, Thusong service centres, libraries, clinics, and police stations, in the coverage area of the school.

Mr Harry Mathabathe, Deputy Director-General, Finance and ICT Enterprise Development, Department of Communications, gave a detailed explanation of the financial figures (slides 18-21). The table on slide 18 provided the baseline allocation for the Department for the MTEF period covered by the strategy. The table compared the previous year with the current financial year and with forward projections.   The biggest allocation was to ICT enterprises – transfers to state-owned entities (SOEs), on which the Department depended for its presence in the provinces. Thus 76% of the Department’s budget was allocated to SOEs. The second biggest allocation was to the Department’s programme one, in which was included the Ministry, the Director-General’s office, and the Chief Operations Officer’s office, which had a number of functions attached to it such as human resources, communications, and IT. ICT infrastructure development, being at the core of the Department’s work, was allocated 5%.

With reference to the R254 118 decrease (slide 19) in allocations to Sentech, this decrease was because of special once only allocations to Sentech. It was not true, as reported in the media, that Sentech had suffered a total decrease in funding. Slide 21 gave an analysis of the allocation to SOEs. The largest allocation was assigned to the South African Post Office. The second largest, with which the Department was pleased after several years of lobbying for an increase, was to ICASA, the regulator.   The third largest was to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to modernise its infrastructure.  The fourth largest, of R200 million, was to Sentech for its role in carrying signals for the 2010 Fifa World Soccer Cup. Sentech also received R150 million for terrestrial digital transmitters.

The Chairperson asked for detailed information, by province, about the schools involved, in particular those in KwaZulu-Natal for the benefit of Mr D Gamede (ANC/KwaZulu-Natal). She also asked to be informed as to which police stations would be designated ‘priority police stations’ (slide 10). She asked further whether the young people engaged to interview the elderly would be employed on a permanent basis (slide 15). She asked what happened to the Department’s interns when their contracts came to an end.

Mr Mokwining Nhlapo, Chief Operations Officer, PNC on ISAD, said that the criteria for identifying the Dinaledi schools had three elements: firstly, that for a school to be chosen it must have a high potential impact for poverty eradication – therefore, given a choice between a school in a town and a school in a township, the latter would be given preference; secondly, schools with the highest number of students registered would be given preference; and thirdly, account would be taken of the number of other sites or government institutions, because, by virtue of the technology used, there was the potential to connect, via the school chosen, a number of other government institutions within a seven kilometre radius. The Department of Communications did not choose the schools. In the last cluster meeting, the Department had requested the provinces, on the basis of the above criteria, to be responsible for identifying the schools. On 03 April 2008, the provinces would report back to the cluster. The Department could provide to the Committee the list of all the schools in the provinces.

The Chairperson said that she wanted that list as urgently as possible.

Ms Rosey Sekese, Deputy Director-General: ICT Infrastructure Development, DOC, said that the 169 priority police stations were faced with a higher level of crime than other police stations. Members of staff at these police stations were complaining about a high turnaround time, and were experiencing difficulties, especially in the informal settlements, in tracing individuals, because of insufficient information about where people lived. The Department was working through SAPO to establish an address identification system. The Department could provide the Committee with a list of the police stations. 

Ms Gräbe said in response to the Chairperson’s question about using young people to interview the elderly (slide 15) that this was a matter handled by the Presidential National Commission on the Information Society and Development.

Mr Nhlapo said that the project on national identity and social cohesion was to develop a national digital repository. The Commission had identified young people who were unemployed and provided them, in co-operation with the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa, which was one of the SOEs in the Department, with basic training to interview the elderly over the age of 65. This training embraced: firstly, how to conduct research and how to identify a theme around which to build content and how to build a content development strategy; the broadcasting digital migration process was going to need young people in the country who were skilled in developing content. So the Commission was planning to take such young people for one year, during which they would be provided with a stipend, training and with skills with the understanding that, after the completion of the year’s training, some of them would see opportunities in terms of developing content but also they would have researched a number of different topics in the country. The reason for targeting members of the community over the age of 65 was gather historical data whilst the opportunity still existed: this was essential to build national identity and social cohesion. Beyond that, it was hoped that they would establish SMEs or co-operatives in order that they could be self-sufficient.

Ms Gräbe responded to the Chairperson’s question about interns in government. This involved educating and training interns, and giving them exposure to certain areas of work after they had finished school. On the completion of internship, interns could apply for employment in any department through the normal recruitment process. It was not possible simply to absorb them. Neither were they contract workers. The interns were engaged for a specific programme.

Ms Gräbe said that the Department was co-operating with all relevant government departments. The Department of Education played a key role. As soon as the provinces had reported back to the cluster, the Department would forward the required information to the Committee.

Mr W Douglas (ACDP/Northern Cape) commended the presentation and endorsed the Chairperson’s request for a further breakdown of information per province. He asked how the Department was communicating information to young people about the programmes within the Department for their benefit.  He said that it was very important to communicate to the people whom the Department aimed to benefit from its programmes. The same applied to the Department’s other services. He had found that there was a general lack of information available, especially to the rural communities. He asked how rural communities could have access to the Department’s services.

Ms Petronella Linders, Chief Director: Gender, Disability, Youth and Children, Office of the Director-General, Department of Communications, responded to the question on how the Department related to young people, and specifically to the rural key nodes. She said that one of the decisions taken by the Department in terms of its programmes and processes was to concentrate on the rural nodal municipalities.

As always the Department’s special target was rural people, especially rural young people. Secondly, as part of commemorating Youth Month each year, the Department hosted a youth and IT expo, in which it provided information about opportunities in the ICT sector and services provided to rural communities. Also the Department interacted with schools, colleges and universities.

Mr Nhlapo said that the Department was targeting the Dinaledi schools. The criteria were very specific that the schools in the rural areas would have to be given priority. The Department had held a workshop with the National House of Traditional Leaders the previous week on the subject of the national digital repository, and had raised the issue of the participation of young people from the remote rural areas.  

Ms Linders said that in all the Department’s programmes for 2007-2008 the target audience was young people, in particular young women and the girl child; the Department focussed on providing them with information about the role of the Department as a policy maker as distinct from the role of the regulator, ICASA, and what the SOEs did towards providing services in the communities. The Department would take the young people, for example, to the South African Post Office to interact with those SOEs on a one-to-one basis.

Mr D Gamede (ANC/KwaZulu-Natal) asked how the Department made communication accessible, more especially to the previous disadvantaged and rural communities.  He asked if there was any specific targeting of the rural communities; and how the Department communicated physically (other than by radio and pamphlets) with the remote communities – given that people nowadays were used to imbizos and similar gatherings. He did not recall witnessing any Departmental imbizos in his province. With reference to slide 12, he asked what the current status of the users was at present. With reference to slide 11, he asked the Department to give detailed information according to the various staff grades. With reference to slide 21, he asked about the R25 million allocated to community radio stations: he asked if it was not unfair to allocate the least to the majority communities.

Ms Linders said that a principal aim of the chief directorate was to take the programmes of the Department to people directly as opposed always to using ICTs, notwithstanding the fact that the Department was an ICT department. It realised that it was necessary also to take ICTs to the people. Recently, for example, the Department visited Mpumalanga, where the Department interacted with young women directly.  In essence the Department’s focus was young people, and, in particular, rural young people, in terms of providing them with information.    

Mr Nhlapo said that the Department had initiated a project in the past year in collaboration with the National Youth Commission. When the Department launched the Youth ISAP programme, it decided to launch it at the National Youth Festival, where all provinces were represented. However, the Department was working closely with the provincial youth commissions and with provincial youth departments in projects targeted at young people. The Department also worked with provincial departments of economic affairs and tourism. These departments identified the young people for the Department. 

Ms Gräbe acknowledged Mr Gamede’s comments about a perceived lack of communication on the part of the Department, and she was sure that the Director-General, if she had been present, would have admitted that the Department did not promote itself sufficiently. It was not enough just to use conventional methods, such as radio and pamphlets, but to be aware that in some areas people were illiterate. The Department was reviewing its approach.

The Department was launching the digital broadcasting migration programme, with digital terrestrial transmitters for television broadcasting coming into service on 01 Nov 2008, with a date of 01 November 2011 set for withdrawal of analogue transmissions. So there was a three-year period in which the Department would have to communicate with literally every person in the country, even in the deepest rural areas, and inform them of the implications of the change.

The methods chosen for informing the public about the migration to digital broadcasting would be adapted to all aspects of the Department’s public information programme and to the needs of the state owned enterprises, with which the Department held joint planning sessions. She would discuss the matter of communication with the Director-General and the chief operations officers of the state owned enterprises.

Ms Gräbe said that at the level of senior management staff, from the grade of director-general downwards, the Department the proportion of women was 38%; the proportion of persons with disability was between 1.4% and 1.8% at all levels. The Department was exceeding the targets, especially for the disabled. In the strategic plan, the Department regarded the targets as a minimum. The Department promised to provide the Committee with more detailed information on this topic and others shortly.

Mr Norman Munzhelele, Acting Deputy Director-General: Policy Development, DOC, said that the Department faced challenges regarding the under-serviced area licences (USALS). Following the review of the model that had been adopted, the Department had decided to conduct a targeted intervention to combine the semi-urban areas and the rural areas where there was no access to the services. ICASA had licensed about 15 community radio stations the previous year to operate in the rural nodes. The Department was in the process of installing infrastructure in those community radio stations.  He could provide further specified information to the Committee if required.  The Department’s role above all was to make sure that there was equipment once the licenses had been issued. 

The Chairperson said that she had been invited to the event mentioned by Ms Linders. Many teachers had visited the exhibition, expressed great interest, and requested courses that would broaden their understanding. She noted that the Department was this year going to visit KwaZulu-Natal. She suggested that Mr Gamede visit Ms Linders and colleagues at the conference.

Mr Gamede said that communication was expensive, and some areas had no access to communications, whether through cell phones or landline telephones, for lack of networks. Such was his own area. Three or four years previously the Minister had visited one such area and experienced the lack of communications. The issue of ICTs was related to the issue of scarce skills, but he did not hear in the presentation any mention of how the Department was addressing this issue.

Secondly, Mr Gamede said that he had heard the delegates talking of the National Youth Commission, and the National Youth Service, but the strategic plan did not address the merger of the two entities. He asked what the Department planned to do, for it had been silent.

Thirdly, Mr Gamede asked about the second national operator. He hoped that at last there would be some competition. 
Ms Sekese said that in terms of penetration, the Department had about 97% penetration. The issue was more about cost. The majority of people tended to use prepaid or ‘please-call-me’ services. The Department’s intervention therefore was more in terms of dealing with the costs, so that members of the public would not only own mobile telephones but also be able to use them to place telephone calls.

Secondly there was the issue of access to data. This had to do with the APEX project and ensuring that people had access to the internet. The Government had taken a decision to provide Sentech broadband wireless connectivity. The dispersed nature of rural communities justified that. Wireless communication was a technology that one could conveniently use to provide access to broadband. For the kind of services and applications under discussion, broadband was a necessity. However, it was not sufficient to be able to connect only nationally; it was also necessary to examine the issues of international connectivity. The Department was involved in a number of projects to examine the costs of such connectivity. The Department was also working with Public Enterprises to address the issue of cost and access.  This was a discussion for which the Department would need more time with the Committee. It was, above all, necessary to ensure affordable access to IT structure.     

The Chairperson noted that it was correct that more time was needed for engage. She reiterated that people in the rural areas were not aware of communication. It was necessary for the Department to present itself and promote itself in those areas.

Ms Sekese said that although people in the rural areas might not be aware of the Department of Communications, they were aware of interventions that had came about because of the efforts of Department of Communications to ensure that the mobile operators had access to the frequency spectrum. Even though people might not be aware of the Department of Communication, nevertheless the Department was impacting on their daily lives. They had the use of many innovations that had come about because of the efforts of the Department of Communications. It was important to emphasise to people that if they possessed a telephone it was largely thanks to the effort of the Department in making it possible.

There was a second network operator in operation, namely Neotel. At its inception it had focussed on providing increased bandwidth to corporate companies. It was only recently that Neotel had started to focus its efforts on residential users in terms of telephones and access to data. Soon one would see Neotel in head-to-head competition with Telkom.

Ms Linders responded Mr Gamede’s question on the National Youth Service. She said that the Department was working with the Department of Education and the IT SITA to reposition further education and training colleges as centres of information technology (IT) excellence to provide young people with skills in the IT sector. With regard to the National Youth Commission and the Youth Fund, for the Department and many other government departments, if that decision became a reality, it would in essence assist the Department to do its work in a more co-ordinated fashion. Essentially, the Department implemented the National Youth Policy, of which the National Youth Commission was the custodian, and supported young people who were financed by the Youth Fund in terms of funding in the SME sector. If there were such a merger, it would assist the Department to co-ordinate its work supporting young people in the ICT sector, because the objectives of both those entities were primarily funding and policy development in the youth sector.

The Chairperson observed that the Portfolio Committee on Communications was going on a study tour to India, and that it would be advantageous if Members of the Select Committee on Labour and Public Enterprises could be included.
The Chairperson reiterated that the Department of Communications needed to advertise itself and promote itself in the public imagination. She thanked the delegation. Although the current parliamentary year was short, because of the upcoming 2009 elections, she said that the Committee would call the Department again to hear more.  The meeting was adjourned.


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