NEPAD ICT Broadb& Infrastructure Network Protocol: Minister & Department of Communications briefing

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Meeting report

LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRIISES SELECT COMMITTEE
19 June 2007
NEPAD ICT BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE NETWORK PROTOCOL: MINISTER AND DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS BRIEFING

Chairperson: Ms M Temba (ANC) [Mpumalanga]

Documents handed out:
Protocol on Policy and Regulatory Framework for NEPAD ICT Infrastructure for Southern and Eastern Africa ( see Appendix)
Presentation to the Committee on the Protocol on Policy and Regulatory Framework for NEPAD ICT Infrastructure for Southern and Eastern Africa

Audio Recording of the Meeting

SUMMARY
The Minister and Department of Communications briefed the Committee on the Protocol on Policy and Regulatory Framework for NEPAD ICT Infrastructure for Southern and Eastern Africa. This had been signed by twelve countries, and needed to be ratified by the end of June. The purpose of the Protocol, the principles underlying the establishment of the Network and the broad objectives were set out. The NEPAD network was to be predominantly African owned and led, and would use Special Purpose Vehicles to develop, own and maintain the networks. Emphasis was placed on African ownership, data integrity, affordability and reliability and the reduction in cost of communications. The protocol would further create employment opportunities and empower women in business. The Minister stressed the need to connect Africa for trade purposes. The Chapters of the Protocol were set out and described. Members asked questions on what would happen if a United States of Africa was formed, issues of security and fraud, participation in the decision making process, the voting procedures and sanctions for breaches. They further enquired about the reduction of costs, empowerment of women and the disabled, the benefits of the Protocol and reporting mechanisms. The Committee would recommend ratification of the Protocol.

MINUTES
Protocol and Regulatory Framework for the NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure Network for Eastern and Southern Africa: Department of Communications (DOC) briefing
Mr Keith Shongwe, Deputy Director General: ICT International Affairs and Trade, DOC, introduced the Committee to the NEPAD ICT Programme and the development of the Protocol. He indicated that when the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) was established ICTs were one of the five priority programmes. The NEPAD e-Africa Commission had identified the NEPAD broadband network and the e-schools projects as the two top projects. He briefly spoke of the objectives, the principles underlying the Protocol, mainly linked to good governance and the forging of new international partnerships. The characteristics of the NEPAD ICT Network were fully set out. He emphasised that the network would be predominantly African owned and led, and would use Special Purpose Vehicles to develop, own and maintain the networks. Public / private partnerships would be used to connect African countries to each other and to the rest of the world. The network would consist of both terrestrial and submarine components. The principles governing the network included non discriminatory access, open access by any authorised licence holder, separation of ownership from use, regulated return on investment and same investment irrespective of wealth and size. Mr Shongwe tabled a map showing the cables installed and planned.

Mr Shongwe then outlined the development of the protocol. This was developed against the background of several previous treaties in the region which enjoined Member States to work towards harmonisation of ICT policies. The Protocol’s main aim was to provide a common framework for cross-border, high quality, high speed and reliable electronic communications at an affordable price. It set up a public private partnership between the governments of the region and the private African telecommunication companies. Twelve countries had signed. The protocol needed to be ratified by June 2007 and to harmonise their national policies to the Protocol by March 2008. The Honorable Ivy Matsepe Casaburri, Minister of Communications, explained how the network operated. She stressed the need to connect Africa for trade and the importance of the network being African controlled. She noted that co-owners would acquire shares at the same price. Non-African countries and companies would be able to have access to landlines by applying for access to the cables.

Mr Shongwe then outlined the various Chapters of the Protocol. He indicated that the State Law Advisors were satisfied that the Protocol was consistent with South African legislation and did not infringe municipal, international or foreign policy. Rates were not to be dependent on distance, and participating countries would be treated equally. He briefly explained how participating companies would be incorporated. The Protocol recognised the uneven balance of forces in international connectivity internationally and therefore sought to prioritise the NEPAD network, ensured collective responsibility for the development of Africa and ensured that the bulk of the money generated by African traffic remained in and contributed to development of Africa. 
 
Discussion
Ms N Ntwanambi (ANC – Western Cape) said that she understood the benefits of the network. She asked what would happen if Africa became a United States of Africa.

Mr Shongwe replied that the concept of a United States of Africa had emerged and that the Network would actually enhance this concept. He said that the economic side would be a challenge and that often there was a need to overcome disparities. There would be a need to ensure regional economic integration in a United States of Africa. Research had shown that one of the first steps to organising this would be to have a fully connective communication system, and even without such a formal United States connectivity was important for trading in a reliable and robust way.

Ms Ntwanambi  also asked about the reference to 51% of countries in Africa.

Mr Shongwe replied that the Protocol would be effective only when 51% of the countries that had signed the Protocol ratified it in their parliaments. In other words, if 7 out of the 12 signatories ratified, then it would be effective.

Ms Ntwanambi was worried about issues of security and wondered whether technologically advanced countries would steal the cables. She was worried about fraud with regard to landlines and how to ensure security with the network.

Mr Shongwe replied that in general problems in network computer systems could be fixed from control centres,  without the need to physically touch the computer. Similar systems would apply to this network, so that the owners would have complete views of and access to the network, and there was a oversight on what could be done. It would be possible for the network operators to have access to personal information and e-mails. This was why it was preferable to have it as African owned, to avoid compromising sensitive Government information if foreign operators could tap into networks. With regard to fraud, it was mostly foreigners who were implicated in such crimes, and there was a need to educate the public to immediately report any fraud.

Mr J Sibiya
(ANC - Limpopo Province) spoke of security as part of the structural level, and the need to guard against sabotage. He asked whether companies who bought capacities and Special Purpose Vehicles would participate in the decision making process and whether there was any weighted voting power. He further asked how charges could be harmonized for end users. He also asked whether there were possible sanctions over violations of the Protocol and if there was an overall monitor.

Mr Shongwe replied that there would be equal shareholding and there would be no weighting power with regard to voting. There would be a consideration of equity with regard to general and geographic shareholding. The Board of Directors of the companies would be separate from the managing company. This ensured transparency. The SPVs would be told how to charge capacity, and therefore fees would also be regulated and could not be changed without due process, so that end users could not be charged more than standard rates.

The Minister said that it was accepted that the companies must make profits, but that in doing this they must not suppress developmental agendas. They would be limited to charging what would be reasonable.

Mr N Hendricks (ANC- Western Cape) asked whether costs would lessen with regard to the networks.

Mr Shongwe replied that the overall cost would decrease

Mr D Gamede (ANC - Kwazulu-Natal) asked about existing computer infrastructures in his municipality and who owned it. It had been said in the objectives that there had been a concentration on networks in Africa. He asked where South Africa was in the east coast sector. He asked how women would be empowered and whether there was provision for the disabled sector.

Mr Shongwe replied that he did not know who owned the existing infrastructure in Mr Gamede’s municipality, but it was most likely that it was owned either by the municipality or by Telkom. He said that most municipalities would buy and lay down their own fibre. He said in the future, Neotel would own more regional fibre.

The Minister said that women would be able to connect to other women of Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland and Tanzania, and would be empowered through being able to trade with one another at much cheaper rates. There was allowance for spreading of networks in various countries and they could establish websites to sell their products. Email would make things much easier as women would be able to place orders in other countries without having to travel. Women would be able to buy from anywhere in the world at a cheaper price. This helped in the reduction of poverty and the infrastructure was bringing all these possibilities to fruition. She added that trade would open up where it was previously impossible, and people, particularly in the rural areas, would be able to have access to such information. Women played a prominent part in these areas and opportunities would thus be opened up to them.

The Minister also noted that those who were disabled could often still use computers, and would thus be able to work and receive information. Even those who could not type could use voice enabled software, and would still be able to function.

The Minister added that e-schools were a demonstration of the connectivity, and that this concept allowed schools to connect to one another and share educational content. They could also sell software to one another at cheaper prices. She said that South Africa had already launched the e-schools, so had Uganda, Lesotho and Ghana.

Mr Z Kholweni (ANC-North West) said that one of the objectives was to eradicate poverty. He asked how job opportunities would be created and how South Africa would benefit from the Protocol.

Mr Shongwe replied that most of the countries who had signed the Protocol would not agree to the network if South Africa was not part of it because it would not be viable. South Africa would therefore play a major role and it had critical connectivity. The Protocol would be economically empowering. It would lead to the creation of employment and the eradication of poverty. He said that there had been development indicators that proved how technology made a difference to poverty.

The Minister added that studies were done in Tunisia and Chile about poverty reduction, but there was as yet no way in South Africa of seeing whether poverty was being reduced. The grant system, coupled with free basic water, health and electricity should help in poverty reduction. The communication roll out of computers in schools would have a good impact on learning.

The Chairperson asked who would represent the region, how the reporting back would work and what would happen if a country breached the Protocol.

Mr Shongwe said that the Inter Governmental Assembly, made up of senior government officials, would ensure that there was adherence to the Protocol. Companies that would be shareholders in SPVs would also be monitored, as their Boards would include representation by an intergovernmental assembly seat, and there was also a “golden share” to be exercised if there was any deviation from the principles.

The Committee agreed to support the ratification of the Protocol.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

 

 

APPENDIX:
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF STATE LAW ADVISER

FORM: JN MCLACHLAN/ W J J NEL

TO: C H STASSEN

PROTOCOL ON POLICY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR NEPAD ICT INFRASTRUCTURE FOR EASTERN AND SOUTHERN AFRICA: YOUR Pening 39 (141/2006) DATED 26 OCTOBER 2006

1. We have scrutinized the "Protocol on Policy and Regulatory Framework for NEPAD ICT Broadband Infrastructure for Eastern and Southern Africa" and no provision of the Protocol Is, as far as we could ascertain, in conflict with the domestic law of the Republic of South Africa.

2. The Department of Communications' attention is in particular drawn to the provisions of Articles 3, 6(2) and 13 of the Protocol, which, inter alia, provide that new legislation must be enacted where necessary for the implementation of this Protocol. Such legislation will of course have to be in line with our domestic law and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (hereinafter referred to as "the Constitution").

3. The Department's attention is drawn to the provisions of section 231 of the Constitution which must be adhered to.

CHIEF STATE LAW ADVISER: JN McLACHLAN/ W J J NEL

 

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