Hansard: Appropriation Bill : Debate on Vote No 24 – Communications
House: National Assembly
Date of Meeting: 22 Jun 2009
No summary available.
EPC – COMMITTEE ROOM: E249
Tuesday, 23 June 2009 Take: 352
TUESDAY, 23 JUNE 2009
PROCEEDINGS OF COMMITTEE ROOM E249
The House met at 16:44
The House Chairperson Mr M B Skosana, as Chairperson, took the Chair and requested members to observe a moment of silence for prayers or meditation.
START OF DAY
Debate on Vote No 24 – Communications:
The MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS: Chairperson, hon Cabinet colleagues, hon members, captains of industry, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, in acknowledgement of Youth Month I wish to salute our youth and to recognise the sterling role they played in our past. I deliver this Budget Vote against the background of the challenges put forward by the President of our country in his state of the nation address.
With the adoption of the Medium-Term Strategic Framework, which is based on the electoral mandate, the path that government must travel is spelt out clearly. In the state of the nation address the President made it clear that the fight against poverty remains a cornerstone of government policy. The question that we have to answer is: How do Information and Communications Technologies, ICTs, assist as a tool to support national imperatives as outlined by the President?
The policy choice we made as a country with regard to Broadcasting Digital Migration will ensure that the process is not only about modernising technology, but that it also addresses key socioeconomic, developmental and infrastructure challenges that face us. Despite of the complexity of the digital migration process, significant progress has been made to meet the analogue switch-off date of 1 November 2011.
I am happy to inform the House that on 30 October 2008 the digital signal was switched-on. This milestone marks the commencement of the dual illumination period for South Africa. During this period, both the analogue and digital signals will broadcast simultaneously. I have been informed that the pilot which is currently running is progressing well. In line with government's decision to support poor TV-owning households, we are finalising the details regarding the implementation of the scheme for ownership support for set-top boxes for submission to the Cabinet soon.
As part of building excellence in the electronic industry, we are at an advanced stage to finalise the Set-Top Box Manufacturing Sector Development Strategy. This strategy will promote collaboration between government and the industry, and among others the various industry players in the manufacturing of the set-top boxes. It is envisaged that the migration programme will assist in reskilling, job creation, and the transformation of the sector.
However, much still needs to be done to ensure that the broader South African public understands this process. How it will impact on them, and what they will have to do? During this year, the implementation of the public awareness campaign, though underfunded, will be intensified. I am aware of the challenges of meeting some of the targets, due in part to the funding constraints and the economic downturn. I will, however, appeal to all role-players to continue to work together through the Digital Dzonga to realise the goal of this critical programme.
Although this Budget Vote is delivered against the backdrop of the economic challenges facing the world, one of government's priorities is to ensure a massive programme to build economic and social infrastructure. We need to respond to this reality cognisant of our people's expectations of a better life. We dare not fail them. Like other sectors of the economy, the ICT sector has to respond appropriately to ensure that we continue delivering better services to all people.
During the past 15 years, the ICT sector contributed close to 7% to the gross domestic product of the country, which is a significant contribution given its size. The policy choices we made as a country enabled the development of a robust, vibrant and competitive ICT sector that has seen the emergence of strong mobile technology companies; the roll out of wireless broadband service offerings; and an increased diversity in ownership.
To consolidate these gains, the country needs to constantly review its policy and regulatory environment to assess whether it appropriately supports the future growth of the sector. I believe that the time has come to outline the country's long-term vision for the sector to direct future interventions by all spheres of government and relevant role-players, and to provide policy certainty for the industry and investors. We will therefore develop an integrated national ICT policy framework, which will be ready by the end of the financial year. This policy framework will seek to promote the convergence of technologies and to stimulate the growth of the economy, in line with the objectives of the National Industrial Policy. It will furthermore encourage e-commerce activities and expand ICT infrastructure, linking rural and urban communities, as well as uplifting the poor.
The Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa, Usaasa, is currently concluding a 10-month consultative process, in terms of its mandate, on the definitions of universal service and universal access. Together with suggested targets for the achievement of these goals. The process that Usaasa has undertaken also includes definitions of underserviced areas and needy persons, which will serve as recommendations to Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa, and the Ministry. The outcomes of the definitions process will lay a firm policy foundation going forward in addressing the challenges of the digital divide.
This will also enable a review of the Universal Service Obligations as imposed by Icasa on communications licence holders to be more cognisant of national priorities, achievements of the Millennium Development Goals and targets of the World Summit on the Information Society, which seeks to have community ICT access and content development. It is anticipated that the recommendations will be tabled with the Minister during July 2009.
The policy framework will also assist in the full utilisation of the Universal Service and Access Fund in support of the deployment of ICT infrastructure and connectivity to needy people in underserviced areas. To date, access to electronic communication and network services, especially broadband and the internet, remain unaffordable and thus beyond the reach of large sectors of our people.
Much work has been done to implement the key objectives of the ICT policy as enshrined in the White Paper on telecommunications. Among the policy objectives has been the need to create and increase the equity ownership of the telecoms market share by the previously disadvantaged groups. In this regard, the Underserviced Area Licensees, Usals, were awarded licenses to provide telecommunications services within designated districts. To date, however, none of these operators are providing these services fully, due to various challenges. This despite the subsidies received.
The Usals programme and business model will therefore be reviewed in line with the current realities of the ICT industry and the developments taking place in a converged environment. A policy directive will be issued from the office of the Minister in due course to provide direction on the Underserviced Area Licensees.
Most of us did not foresee the profound impact that the roll out of electricity would have on our lives. Digital technologies too, will have a major influence on our lives and on generations for many years to come. The availability of and access to broadband services can be of great value to the developmental programmes of many countries.
The availability of universal and affordable broadband brings with it a number of benefits. It improves the delivery of public services through the transformation of the public sector by increasing access for citizens to online information, and services in areas such as e-health, e-education and e-government. It enables and drives the development of entirely new technologies and content, thus providing opportunities for job creation such as website design and new content development. It revolutionises the delivery of multimedia services to households, for instance: new telephony; entertainment; internet; and education. In essence, broadband acts as a catalyst to a more robust economy, thus contributing towards increasing the gross domestic product.
While the number of new broadband subscribers continues to grow, the rate of broadband deployment in urban and high income areas outpaces deployment in rural and low-income areas. Markets are not likely to deliver to the majority of the population in the near future without some form of government intervention. Government will, therefore, be required to ensure coverage, particularly to rural areas.
Many broadband initiatives exist on national, provincial and local spheres. To ensure co-ordination of these initiatives, we have commenced consultation with provinces and municipalities, regarding the roll out of broadband infrastructure in those areas. In this regard, a national broadband policy will be finalised by March 2010.
The policy will provide a holistic, co-ordinated national approach to the provision of affordable, realistic and secure broadband infrastructure and services. It will also outline targeted interventions to encourage the uptake and usage of broadband services across the country, particularly in remote, rural and underserviced areas. I believe this is in line with our President's call to contribute, more than ever before, to the development of rural areas in our country. To this end, we also have to ensure that, as the country moves to the information society and knowledge economy driven by modern technologies, the poor are not left behind. In particular, we must ensure that remote rural communities and underserviced areas are an integral part of the planning from the start and not as an afterthought. People need access to information and services, irrespective of their social and economic status, without them having to travel long distances to access this. We will work together with other government departments and spheres of government to achieve this goal.
For the sake of brevity, I just want to say that government supports both the New Partnership for Africa's Development, Nepad, broadband, as well as the Infraco initiatives. We cannot speak about access to information and services by all the people of our country, without addressing the issue of the costs thereof. South Africa's high telephonic cost has been a subject raised consistently in the recent past. In 2008, the department commissioned an independent benchmark study to look at cost, access and usage with comparative countries, namely Malaysia, India, Chile, Brazil and South Korea. The study confirmed that our telecommunication prices are still too high compared to those countries.
The department will be developing a programme of action aimed at improving in cost, quality, availability and usage of ICTs. In addition, I will be appointing an independent panel of experts, whose recommendations will assist me in designing appropriate interventions to address the cost to communicate effectively. We will also continue to develop policies which will contribute to, among other things, reducing the cost to communicate.
One of the ten priorities that inform the basis of the Medium-Term Strategic Framework is sustainable resource management and use. In this regard, I wish to inform the House that, within the ICT sector, we deal with the radio frequency spectrum, which is a natural and finite resource just like land and water. It is, therefore, important that this resource is managed efficiently for the development of the country. The department will finalise the radio frequency spectrum usage policy by March 2010. The Policy will provide guidance on the allocation of frequencies to the different radio communication services in the country. The allocation will prioritise issues of national interest, security, and spectrum for public use. As part of this process an audit on the spectrum occupancy and usage will also be conducted.
As we embrace a plethora of new technologies, which by their very nature and design are globally interconnected and interdependent, we must remain vigilant to the inherent risks associated with the usage thereof. The enhancement of cyber security and the protection of critical information infrastructure is essential to our country's economic and social wellbeing and the maintenance of national security. A national cyber security policy will be finalised before the end of the year. This initiative is our contribution towards combating crime in our country - another government priority.
The department is committed to improved service delivery. The state-owned enterprises in this portfolio will remain important delivery arms for the department. It is, therefore, critical that there is alignment between their programmes and the activities of government and its programme of action. Where disjuncture exists, measures will be put in place to ensure policy coherence and programme alignment. Sentech remains a national strategic asset. I congratulate them on their achievements in signal distribution and the excellent work done with regard to the ICT guarantees for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Sentech was able to deliver timeously to the Local Organising Committee, despite very trying circumstances.
I will accelerate the corporatisation of the Postbank to provide a wider range of affordable financial services for the unbanked, particularly the marginalised and the poor. In this regard, the Postbank Bill will be tabled before this House before the end of this year. The Bill aims to provide for the establishment of a stand-alone public company to be known as the South African Postbank.
I want to use this opportunity to commend the South African Post Office Board and Management, whom, under difficult trading conditions, have managed to produce positive financial results. I also wish to congratulate the South African Post Office, Sapo, on winning the Centre for Public Service Innovation Award, for the innovative deployment of systems in government. [Applause.]
I have looked at the challenges facing the Public Broadcaster, which include governance, management capacities and financial management challenges. A new vision and mandate for public broadcasting services in line with South Africa's developmental agenda is required and the governance of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, SABC, needs to be strengthened. The department will therefore amend the Broadcasting Act, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders and rename it the Public Services Broadcasting Act. The amendment will bring the charter in line with international best practice, and ensure that the public broadcaster is best suited to our young democracy. The amendment will also introduce an appropriate funding model to ensure that the public broadcaster is not left to the vagaries of the markets.
At this point, I would like pay tribute to my predecessor, the late Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri. Dr Matsepe-Casaburri served on this portfolio for close to ten years, with true dedication and commitment. This House would be faulting history if it failed to recognise formally the foundation established by the late Dr Matsepe-Casaburri.
In conclusion, let me remind everyone in this House today that the world is moving on and the nature of ICT production is changing. Increasingly, ICTs are being imbedded in many products and services and we must ensure that South Africa gets a share of this market. I would, therefore, like to invite all stakeholders to work together in making ICTs relevant to our people. I wish to express my appreciation to my Deputy Minister, as well as the acting director-general and the top and senior management, as well as the staff. I request this House to adopt this Budget. "Ngiyabonga." [Thank you.] [Applause.]
Mr I VADI
END OF TAKE
The MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS
Mr I VADI: Chairperson, it is my pleasure to introduce on behalf of the committee, the Budget debate on communications. My colleagues in the ANC will speak on the specific entities linked to the Department of Communications, such as Sentech, the SABC, the South African Post Office and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa. So, I will focus mainly on the department itself and some broader policy challenges facing our country.
Let me firstly extend a hearty welcome to Minister Nyanda and Deputy Minister, Mrs Dina Pule. In the short while that I have worked with them, I found the Minister to be as straight as an arrow and intellectually alert, and even in his physique he resembles an arrow. [Laughter.] [Applause.] He displays a quiet disposition, but he is extremely focused in performance delivery. Likewise, the Deputy Minister is an assertive leader, an effective communicator and an excellent team player. Together they have certainly brought new vigour and vitality in the ministry and the Department of Communications. This bodes well for the broader information and communications technology, ICT, sector, which for sometime has been lacking in overall political and strategic leadership.
In my past experience with the department, I found it to be administratively tardy. Government policy formulation trailed behind the private and academic sectors, and it lacked in overall coherence. It was overly concentrated in the feeble hands of the former director-general. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised two weeks ago when the department appeared before the committee to submit its strategic plans and budget. There was a greater clarity of purpose, better focus and a more incisive statement of strategic objectives. The acting director-general and her team were also more forthcoming in their responses to the questions and queries raised by members of the committee than was the case previously.
I wish to thank the department for its new sense of transparency and openness, and I hope this will be the trend which will be strengthened in future. There are, however, a few areas of concern that I wish to raise. At a broader level, the ICT sector, which can play a decisive role in stimulating economic growth, has been in distress for some time. It has literally loomed from crisis to crisis, from the governance debacle at the SABC to a muddled regulatory process at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa. And while telecommunications operators and private shareholders have made super profits and billions more is being spent on urban-based fibre infrastructure, the vast majority of our citizens are left behind on the dirt tracks of the information highway. Many of our people do not enjoy ICT services and have to pay high costs for the use of their cellphones and internet.
In last year's debate, I had raised concerns about the obscenely high cost of telecommunications and internet access in our country. I pointed out that the same obscenity is evident in the current interconnect fees. More recent research, as the Minister has indicated, has once again confirmed that, when compared to other middle-income developing countries, such as Brazil, Peru and Mauritius for example, we are falling way behind in cost reductions. The nasty effects of this are a drag on our economic growth, losing out on offshore business processing opportunities, absence of real innovation in the sector and a lack of field competition in the market. In the face of the growing poverty in our society, the time has come for us to act against conduct in the private sector that is not morally and socially defensible.
The second issue I wish to raise is the issue of digital migration. What we've heard from the Minister is that Cabinet resolved last year that the digital switch-on will commence 1 November 2008 and the switch-off will happen three years later. The committee has gathered from Sentech that it now anticipates a longer period for digital migration. It does seem that the original three-year plan might not be sustainable here. Should we not be more realistic about our deadlines, given the challenges that we face in this country? I'm just posing a question; I'm not saying that we should. I say this as the challenges and the tasks are huge: Firstly, we will have to roll out a new terrestrial broadcasting network and Sentech has not met its targets to date; secondly, digital migration increases costs considerably as we have to relay a signal on two, as opposed to one network; and thirdly, there is an added cost to consumers, who have to purchase the set top boxes without which they will not receive the digital signal. And we already know that more than half the existing television households will require subsidy for these boxes.
The department will have to embark on the set-top box subsidy scheme for some five million needy households. The logistics of this operation will require careful planning, strong project management and the co-operation of various state and governmental actors. It is likely to be one of the biggest social help schemes that government will ever embark on. The department, which hitherto has no real experience in providing services on such a large scale, has to plan very carefully. As in a project of this magnitude, failure will be costly. Under these circumstances, it might be advisable for the Ministry, together with the department, Sentech and other stakeholders, to carefully review the timeframes and to assess their validity. Ultimately, all of us will have to throw our support behind this national project to ensure its success.
Finally, I wish to indicate that we believe, as a committee, that we are poised at the moment of new opportunities. The impending arrival of the Seacom undersea cable will increase our international bandwidth fivefold. The unanticipated granting of telecommunication licenses to all internet service providers opens the possibility for some of them at least to build their own networks. It is probable that the new generation of service providers will be able to introduce business models that were not possible before. Small and medium enterprises are also rapidly migrating from slow dial-up connections to faster ADSL lines. And preparations for the Fifa 2010 World Cup have spurred mega investments in broadband networks, which can be used in future, for a range of municipal-based e-services in health, education, commerce and local economic development. On the horizon the Meraka e-Skills Institute will offer more specialised training opportunities for our youth so that they are better able to link with the world of work.
Our committee believes that with the new team in the Ministry, the imminent appointment of a new director-general, and a reinvigorated portfolio committee, it is possible to take significant advantage of the opportunities that stare us in the face. What we now need is a new paradigm and a new way of delivering on our public service mandate. We need sharper vision, absolute clarity on our policy objectives and the sheer will to implement these policies efficiently and effectively. A qualitative change and leap is possible and government must intervene to ensure that we ride the new wave. The question that I want leave the House with, is whether other role-players in civil society and the private sector can rise to this challenge? The ANC supports this Vote. [Applause.]
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG
END OF TAKE
Mr I VADI
Mnr N J VAN DEN BERG: Voorsitter, agb lede van die Nasionale Vergadering en dames en here. As iemand ooit gedink het die Departement van Kommunikasie se portefeuljekomitee is maklik, dit is inderdaad nie lekker en sommer net "easy and relaxing" [Maklik en ontspannend.] nie. In die eerste plek spreek ek graag waardering uit vir die besondere wyse waarop die agb Dene Smuts die DA se standpunt in die Portefeuljekomitee oor Kommunikasie uitgedra het.
Een van die kern dinge in elke mens se lewe is sy vermoë om te kommunikeer. Deur te kommunikeer kan die mens sy behoeftes, sy verlange, waardering en dank uitspreek. Kommunikasie loop soos 'n goue draad deur elke mens se lewe. Deur sinvolle kommunikasie kan misverstande uit die weg geruim word en kan verskillende bevolkingsgroepe leer om mekaar te begryp en begrip te hê vir mekaar, om mekaar beter te leer ken.
Gebrekkige kommunikasie lei ook tot misverstande met tragiese gevolge. Die vrye vloei van ongefiltreerde inligting tussen die onderskeie regeringstrukture, individue en gemeenskappe lei tot kennis en begrip. Die individu word die kans gegun om ingeligte besluite te neem. Die inligting moet helder, duidelik en die waarheid wees. Die inligting moet só oorgedra word dat misverstande nie kan ontstaan nie.
Kommunikasie is in enige regering se hande 'n magtige instrument. Indien 'n regering telkens net uit 'n hovaardige, arrogante posisie van mag met die bevolking praat, word dit 'n destruktiewe mag wat vernietigende gevolge inhou – nie net vir die regering nie, maar ook vir die mense van die land.
Die Departement van Kommunikasie se bestuur van dié strategiese instrument is 'n toonbeeld van die besluitloosheid en magsbeheptheid van die ANC. Die verdeeldheid in die ANC vóór Polokwane is net so sterk as wat dit was ná Polokwane. Wie neem die besluite in die Departement van Kommunikasie? Die ANC en die Parlement, by name die Portefeuljekomitee oor Kommunikasie, of sommer net Luthuli-Huis?
Die ANC was vir 'n lang tyd in beheer van die Portefeuljekomitee oor Kommunikasie. Waar was die leierskap van dié komitee? Hulle was seker te bang om iets te doen, omdat hulle bang was dat dit hul posisie in die ANC sal benadeel. [Tussenwerpsels.]
Almal het gewag vir die gebeure by Polokwane. Sê jy iets, is jy aan Thabo Mbeki se kant. Sê jy niks, is jy aan Jacob Zuma se kant. Laasgenoemde dink die DA is die rede vir die wanordelike situasie in die Departement van Kommunikasie. Die swye vóór die gebeure by Polokwane en die watertrappery ná Polokwane het Suid-Afrika verlam. 'n Verlamming wat die ANC nog duur te staan gaan kom.
The DA wants to state it very clearly: The Budget Vote on the Department makes for disturbing reading material. I spoke in previous parts of my speech about the lack in decision-making. They did not know which ANC cadres to deploy in the Department of Communication. The proof of it lies within the Department of Communications itself: The high vacancy rate, especially in critical positions. As at 31 March 2008 the vacancy rate was at 44,6%. A figure that increased over a four-year-period from 13,4%.
The director-general also resigned earlier this year before her term ended. Furthermore, out of a leadership team of eight people, four of them are acting, including the acting director-general, Ms Gerda Grabe. This indecision in the ANC sends the wrong signal to the broader communication world.
In the internal audit committees there were problems with the internal audit plan. In 2005 the Auditor-General described the internal audit committee was described as ineffective. The internal audit report for 2008-09 will only be available towards the end of 2009. And this raises questions about the effectiveness of the internal audit committee. If the Department of Communications cannot manage its own internal financial situation, it is clear why entities like the SABC – an entity reporting to the Ministry – struggle to make ends meet.
Reading Vote 24, the Communication's budget summary, is like watching a horror movie. [Laughter.] The aim of the Department of Communications sounds so wonderfully idealistic:
The aim of the Department of Communications is to develop ICT policies and legislation that creates favourable conditions for accelerated and shared sustainable economic growth that positively impact on the wellbeing of all South Africans.
You need leadership to do that and take the appropriate action at the right time. As I said, the aim is wonderful. To make it visual: If the aim is showing that they must go south; the Department of Communications is heading west, then east, or even north. Over a period of five years the Department of Communications has restructured its programmes about four times. Continuity is poor and this makes it difficult to track changes made in these programmes over a period of time.
Oh, my word, what a comedy of errors! [Laughter.] It is like dropping the ball at first slip within three consecutive balls. It should have been a hat trick. They change direction and nobody knows when and where and by whom the decision was taken. Where are they heading now? Where to now? Is it east, west, south or north?
In a document of Parliament, dated May 2009, it reads:
Therefore Parliament should assess the effectiveness of this constant restructuring and recommend that the department adopt broader changes that will accommodate new developments without major restructuring of programmes and subprogrammes.
The DA supports this initiative. But, as we know, the Department of Communications has the ability to change direction within broader parameters. The Department of Communications cannot keep spending the taxpayer's money on policy developments. The Medium-Term Expenditure estimate for 2009-10 on policy development is R94,2 million. Somewhere they must start to use that huge amount of money on implementation, so that the people of South Africa can be rewarded. They have to see, hear and feel the results.
Another awaiting factor that is characteristic of the insecurities in the Department of Communications is the outsourcing of its core activities: R96,3 million is allocated for the 2008-09 financial year. Maybe the Department of Communications sets an example for the other state-owned entities. A total of R96,3 million for consultants and professional services, business and advisory services, legal cost and contractors, because the ANC cadres within the Department of Communications cannot do their jobs. [Interjections.]
I have spoken on the matter of the development of policies for all the different programmes of the Department of Communications. We all know that the communications fraternity is a fast-developing sector. All said, you can do nothing without infrastructure to make your plans work. The Department of Communications stated in Vote 24 that a department's expenditure on infrastructure is limited to its transfers to public entities, which undertake development.
On the other hand, entities like Sentech and the SABC said in their presentations that they can only give a few steps forward according to the allocated budget. The entities are now in a checkmate situation. The Department of Communications wants to deliver to the wellbeing and advantage of the people, but without a broad-based infrastructure delivery it will be limited. The DA is concerned that vast areas of South Africa is without radio and television coverage, especially in the remote rural areas. The DA urges the Department of Communications to give special attention to this matter. I thank you. [Applause.]
Ms J D KILIAN
END OF TAKE
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG
Ms J D KILIAN: Chairperson, Cope undertook to defend the Constitution and the founding principles on which our democracy was established. That includes zero tolerance of political interference in independent public bodies. We also articulated our opposition by fiercely opposing the abuse of public resources, be it through corruption, the squandering of public money, or the politicisation of the public service and independent institutions.
Cope therefore raises the following issues: In a debate on the department, which is a key custodian of specific state-owned institutions, of which the independence is of critical importance to our democracy, a disconcerting trend of political interference in public institutions has unfortunately unfolded in recent months.
We have witnessed several examples of how the ruling alliance moved this country closer to a totalitarian state: Firstly, the Scorpions were abolished because some investigations were too close to people in high political office. Persistent political interference in the judiciary took place from cases of drunken driving to lobbying for political outcomes of judgements.
Secondly, the National Prosecuting Authority was reined in to find a political solution for the ANC's leadership problem. That was not all, and that is now coming closer to this department. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa, board members were directly instructed, if not intimidated, to rethink their earlier decisions on the Vodacom listing.
Thirdly, the SABC board has been undermined and sabotaged over the last 18 months as part of a post-Polokwane purge to replace it with a pro-new order interim board, [Interjections.] under direct control of Luthuli House.
Cosatu House and the SACP headquarters in Braamfontein, after hearing the alarming evidence before the portfolio committee last week and today, it is indisputably clear that the SABC crisis and inevitable hardship for producers and their families in this trying time that we face today could have been averted, if the ANC were not so preoccupied with their own internal battles. [Interjections.] Why was there no effective budgetary oversight last year, when it became apparent that the SABC management presented a R600 million deficit budget? Instead ANC members in the previous portfolio committee took sides and moved a motion of no confidence in the board. The same board that tried to have management conduct a review process for the budget and to affect the necessary cuts to a bloated escalating personnel budget. They chose to ignore the inevitable consequences of a public broadcaster with an unrealistic, partly-funded mandate and serious management deficiencies.
The financial management crisis at the SABC is therefore to be laid full square with the majority party in this House. We belief all is not lost, however, we again call for a forensic audit to get to the bottom of what went wrong. Allegations have been thrown to and fro between management and the nonexecutive board members, but Cope would like to call for this forensic audit. We want to get to the bottom to rescue this organisation, because the SABC is the public broadcaster and belongs to all South Africans.
We need to ensure that we depoliticise it and that we once and for all get efficient, accountable management structures in place. New faces on the board will not correct bad habits and restore sound financial management principles in the institution, only firm action in terms of the PFMA will.
Similarly, hands-off other state-owned entities such as Icasa. The Icasa board apologised profusely for their indiscretion to block the Vodacom listing - very loyal, thank you. But, clearly, the embarrassing folly was a direct result of blatant political interference by top leadership of the SACP, Cosatu and the ANC and that information was placed before the committee. Even worse, the ruling alliance recklessly ignored the impact on the market. We want accountability back in this House. We want to keep the ruling alliance and all bodies, as contained in the Constitution, public entities and independent bodies. We want to protect those bodies and that is what Cope is setting out to do. Thank you. [Applause.]
Mr K M ZONDI
END OF TAKE
Ms J D KILIAN
Mr K M ZONDI: Chairperson, the mandate of the Department of Communications is crucial for the improvement of the quality of life of all citizens of our country, and in particular in narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor through empowering the underprivileged communities with the necessary Information Communication Technologies, ICT, skills. In the interest of time I will confine my contribution to this debate to three critical areas that affect the poorest of the poor who live in the rural areas of our country, such as the district of Inkandla where I come from: Firstly, matters connected to our beleaguered public broadcaster, the SABC; secondly, the South African Post Office; and thirdly, the poor ICT infrastructure in rural areas.
With or without the problems currently besetting the SABC, the people of most rural areas, who are not lucky enough to be located near major urban areas, do not enjoy equitable access to and service from SABC TV, let alone other channels like e.tv. This will, no doubt, leave them out of the loop for enjoyment of the 2010 World Cup matches. I urge the department to take steps to live up to the parameters of its mandate.
The second issue relates to the poor service provided by the South African Post Office. I am aware that its mandate has been expanded to include the role that it can and should play in the ICT industry and in expanding the banking services to the rural areas in particular, even its very basic function of delivering letters is far from satisfactory and we know how crucial this service is, especially in the rural areas of our country.
The third and the last issue is that of poor servicing of rural areas when it comes to telecommunications, in particular telephony. Telkom, which is a state-owned enterprise, appears to have almost abandoned its mandate to provide this service throughout the country and in particular in rural areas, even cellular phone companies do not prioritise installing masts in these areas to improve connectivity.
When I'm at home, for example, I still cannot use my cellular phone, unless I walk a distant of 3 to 5 km to climb the nearest hill in order to access a very erratic network to download messages and to make a quick phone call. Use of the internet and e-mail is still a pipedream - this also applies to schools and clinics in the areas.
As long as the people of the rural areas are left out of the basic services of telephony and access to TV, they will not be able to benefit from the democracy dividend and will not participate effectively in the furtherance and entrenchment of our democracy. However, the IFP support this Budget Vote. [Applause.]
Ms M R MORUTOA
END OF TAKE
Mr K M ZONDI
Ms M R MORUTOA: Chairperson, hon Minister, hon Deputy Minister, hon members and guests, I feel honoured to participate in this debate, Budget Vote 24. I will be speaking on the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa; communications; and gender development.
Icasa is the national regulator for the South African communication sector responsible for the regulation of broadcasting, postal and telecommunication services. It is charged with the responsibility to licence telecommunications, postal and broadcasting service providers, monitoring compliance of licences against their licence conditions, developing policy managing the frequency spectrum and protecting consumers within the communication environment.
Icasa was established in July 2000 as a merger of the telecoms regulator, a Telecommunications Regulators Association of South Africa and the broadcasting regulator, Independent Broadcasting Authority. Icasa's vision is to be a catalyst in the transformation of the country into an information-oriented society and knowledge-based economy. Its mission is to create a competitive environment for delivering a wide range of high quality communication and postal services at affordable prices in order to assist in the overall economic growth and social development of the country.
Over the five-year period Icasa has achieved the following: it launched the mobile number portability in November 2006, which enables subscribers to switch from one service provider to another without losing their original numbers; the ten digit dialling system was also launched. This system and the new international dialling code have increased their number capacity by two million numbers per exchange area in order to meet the needs of existing and new operators; the licensing of the Second National Operator, SNO, Neotel; it has collected the Universal Service Fund from the licence operators and imposed obligation on operators to address the socioeconomic needs of the country. Money from the Universal Service Fund will be used during digital migration process as a subsidy to buy set-top boxes for poor households.
Despite the abovementioned successes over the five-year period, the regulator had some challenges, for instance, it encountered difficulty in attracting and retaining highly qualified staff. Furthermore, it was underfunded, inefficient and had lengthy processes in key processes such as licensing. These factors undermined the credibility of the regulator in dealing with operators who could not provide services in rural areas and under-resourced areas where it is not profitable to do so.
In 2006 Icasa received a qualified audit report. There were irregularities in the tender procurement processes. The auditor also identified a deficit of R33 million whereas a deficit of only R5 million was reported. It was also recorded that its performance evaluation system was not implemented properly to measure individual performance against predetermined objectives. This led to staff members being paid bonuses totalling R2,4 million in equal proportions.
In May 2007-08 Icasa's audit report was unqualified. However, at the end of the 2007-08 financial year, the Auditor-General identified the following matters: a councillor whose term had expired in May 2007 had not been replaced; a performance management system to evaluate the performance of the chairperson and councillors was not properly implemented; and the statement of financial performance identified that there were fruitless and wasteful expenditure that the regulator incurred. This relates particularly to money lost due to bookings for a conference that did not materialised; and the regulator paid the SA Revenue Services approximately R1 million in penalties for the late payment of the Pay As You Earn and other deductions. The Auditor-General also identified irregular expenditure resulting from the interests charged for the late payment overdue accounts. Currently, the Portfolio Committee on Communications will be advertising for nominations to fill the position of an Icasa councillor. This initiative is necessitated by the fact one of the councillors' term will expire at the end June.
I will be bringing in another dimension in terms of Information Communications Technologies, ICTs, a dimension on gender development. It is important to note that gender equity also runs through all pieces of legislation in South Africa. In this regard, emphasis has been on promoting access to employment, skills development and violence against women and related legislation including the following: the Promotion and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000; Employment Equity Act of 1998; Skills Development Act; Public Service Act 199; the White Paper on the Transformation of Public Sector; Electronic Communications Act; and several others like the Black Economic Empowerment Act and the Black Economic Empowerment ICT Charter.
The operations of the Department of Communications and its entities in the communications sector are mainly guided by the Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005. The Electronic Communications Act, ECA, states clearly that one of its objects is to provide for the regulation to promote the empowerment, in particular, of women in the country's Information and Communications Technology sector. Furthermore, it states that broadcasting services viewed collectively should cater for a broad range of services and specifically the needs of women among other groups.
In addition, the ECA requires that the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa, Usaasa, must, in the selection of the staff, promote the empowerment of historically disadvantaged persons, including women among others.
Usaasa's policy on gender is informed by the SA National Policy Framework for Women Empowerment and Gender Equality and in the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998. Its objectives are to create an enabling environment for translating departmental commitment to gender equality into reality, to accommodate for the promotion of a new attitude, values, behaviour and culture of respect of all human beings in line with the National Policy Framework.
The policy is due for evaluation at the end of the year. At Icasa these policies are embedded in their operations, including its licensing procedures where gender representation is one of the requirements necessary for providing a licence. [Time expired.] Thank you. [Applause.]
The DEPUTY MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS
END OF TAKE
Ms M R MORUTOA
The DEPUTY MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS: Chairperson, hon members, captains of industry, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to join the Minister in paying tribute to the late Comrade Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who led the Ministry for the past 10 years. Similarly, I would like to also acknowledge my predecessor, Comrade Roy Padayachie, who also served in this portfolio with dedication and passion. Let me also hasten to indicate that, similarly to these two cadres of our glorious movement, I am committed to serve my country in this portfolio of communications, to the best of my ability.
This Budget Vote speech takes its lead from the state of the nation address delivered by the President of the Republic, Mr Jacob Zuma, earlier this month. In his address, our President announced 10 key priorities of the Medium-Term Strategic Framework in line with the ANC's election manifesto.
In this regard, I will speak of the department's contribution in our endeavour to achieve these priorities, namely improving the health and education of all South Africans, speeding up growth and transforming the economy to create decent work and sustainable livelihoods; strengthening the skills and human resource base and pursuing African advancement and enhanced international co-operation.
President Zuma spoke about interventions to create an enabling environment for investment. The Department of Communications' contribution to the priority areas of economic growth will be to ensure that we accelerate competition of electronic communications services as we increase uptake and usage of the Independent Telecommunications Corporation, ICT. We note the increased demand for services that will foster growth in the sector. Affordability of services is our primary goal in the development agenda and programme. One of our policy objectives is to lower the cost to communicate, as the Minister had already alluded to. The Department of Communications is concerned that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa, needs to be better capacitated to regulate, without fear or favour, in the interest of the citizens of our country.
In the President's call of ensuring that the Training and Skills Development Initiatives in the country respond to the needs of the economy, the Department of Communications will lead the skills revolution and massively increase the production of ICT Skills through the Meraka e-Skills Institute and Further Education and Training Centres partnering with Universities. Working together with the abovementioned training centres and in partnership with the private sector institutions and relevant Sector Education and Training Authorities, we aim to produce in the medium-term, roughly up to 10 000 ICT graduates.
The private sector has an important role to play in these initiatives. We have established an e-Skills Council to ensure a co-ordinated approach towards ICT skills development. The Council will bring together a variety of role-players in the private and public sectors, academia and civil society, to ensure alignment between the supply and demand of skills. This Council has done a lot of work in critically analysing the e-Skills challenges in the country and will advise us on how best to tackle the skills development challenge in our sector. This will ensure that we create a pool of job-ready individuals to meet the skills demands of the ICT industry. Supported by the Department of Communications, the Council is developing a toolkit, which will inform with accuracy what the skills production should be on an annual basis.
Another initiative is the Meraka e-Skills Institute, an ICT Higher Education and Training Institution, that supports and augments other existing initiatives to address the e-Skills development challenge. In the third quarter of this year, we will request Cabinet's approval of the business plan in relation to its establishment through the Joint Economic Development and Human Capital Development Cluster.
One of our state-owned enterprises, which also contribute significantly to skills and human resources development, is the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa, Nemisa. Despite the global economic meltdown, Nemisa was able to raise R11 million in revenues through a combination of training as well as content development projects.
In the previous financial year, Nemisa surpassed its target of 350 learners by training a total of 648 through fulltime programmes, learnerships and skills programmes delivered as part of strategic alliances. The Institute also secured accreditation for five of the six programmes on offer in the areas of graphic design, television and radio production, broadcasting, engineering as well as end user computing. The animation programme will be finalised before the end of the year. The department supports Nemisa as it continues to extend the opportunities for training and development to a wider pool of needy and deserving young persons and to secure appropriate mentorships for them for this year.
In line with the World Summit on Information Society's, WSIS, commitments, and in keeping track with the rapid technology development, South Africa is committed to the building of an inclusive and development-oriented information society. Working together with our sister departments, and in understanding that ICTs cut across various areas of our government system, both for data processing and transmission of information, they are indeed an enabler for economic and social development.
The Information Society and Development Plan, as our National e-Strategy adopted in 2007, remains one of our blueprints that guides our engagement in the building of an advanced information society. The continued implementation of this plan will bring along opportunities for creating decent and sustainable jobs, especially targeting our youth through the Youth Information Society and Development Programme.
Let me hasten to indicate that the building of the Information Society is sharply linked to the accessibility and affordability of critical ICT infrastructure to all citizens. The Department of Communications will upscale the development and placement of e-Co-operatives through the SMME's development initiatives, which are already underway. Our focus in this area is to upscale the usage of ICTs by government, thereby finding solutions to address health challenges. We will improve service delivery using electronic systems targeting various municipalities in the whole country. This initiative includes Web development and maintenance by young people in rural municipalities. The Department of Communications will continue to lead our work to connect schools and health centres as well as Thusong Service Centres as part of infrastructure provision through our state-owned enterprises in underserved areas.
One of our initiatives, which we will prioritise in this financial year, is to connect education centres through networks provided by various role-players in the ICT sector and using various technologies to achieve high impact in education and on the schooling system. In this regard, the Electronic Communication Act of 2005 also makes provision for the e-rate system as the means of promoting connectivity to education and training centres. The implementation of the e-rate dispensation will be assisted by the process being undertaken by the Universal Services and Access Agency of South Africa, which includes the definition of the universal service and universal access concept.
In line with our commitment to make ICTs relevant to the people and with government's broader commitment to invest in social and economic infrastructure, the Department of Communications has guaranteed the provisioning of the ICT infrastructure and services towards the country's successful hosting of the Fifa Confederations Cup and 2010 Fifa World Cup. These guarantees cover the provision of connections between Telkom's Public Telecommunications Exchanges and the 10 Fifa stadia venues, as well as the International Broadcast Centre.
This has led to significant investments in ICT infrastructure, which will in the long run, provide the country with increased bandwidth capacity that will enable advanced ICT services to the public. Implementation of the ICT guarantee is on track, as demonstrated by the fact that ICT infrastructure is operational at all four of the Confederation Cup stadiums. We will continue our active participation in our sector-specific institutions such as the International Telecommunication Union and the Universal Postal Union, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, and other relevant bodies to advance the interests of the country and the continent.
The Portfolio Committee on Communications has been interacting regularly with the department regarding its work and we look forward to a continuous constructive engagement with our colleagues. The Ministry has also been engaging the state-owned enterprises that report to us and will continue to do so on a regular basis. The private sector and civil society are also important role-players in the work of the department and we look forward to deepening this relationship.
As I conclude, provincial and local government spheres are our leading partners in implementing our ICT programmes. The ICT Intergovernmental Relations Forum remains our most important platform of engagement in these two spheres of government, as well as the House of Traditional Leaders. We will be working together with them in the design of Provincial ICT Strategies, whilst supporting the implementation of provincial growth and development strategies, integrated development plans and rural development strategies.
Lastly, may I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his unwavering support, the acting director-general, management and the staff. It is important to note that our strength lies in the realisation that the whole is greater than its constituent parts. Certainly, working together with our stakeholders, we can do more using ICTs. I thank you. [Applause.]
Mr S N SWART
END OF TAKE
The DEPUTY MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS
Mr S N SWART: Chairperson and the hon Minister, the ACDP believes that the regulatory debacle over the listing of Vodacom was shocking to say the least. Whilst we accept the apologies by the ,Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa, chairman, Mr Mashile, the regulator conducted itself in an appalling manner. Had the urgent application to stop the R84, 4 billion listing succeeded it would have done incalculable damage to our image as a destination for investors. The repatriation of R20, 6 billion invested would also have a dire consequence for our volatile currency - and as it was the currency dropped by 3%.
As the ACDP we encourage the Portfolio Committee to continue its investigation as to who succumbed to political pressure. Those responsible must be held accountable, at the very least, for the estimated R5 million for wasteful expenditure on legal costs.
Whilst the crisis at the SABC has been conveniently placed at the foot of the board, clearly it has been caused by internal division within the Majority Party in the run-up to and following the Polokwane conference. This is the direct result of the cadre deployment policy to the public broadcaster. The ACDP is, however, fully aware that this crisis has hamstrung the whole SABC and must be speedily resolved. Yet, it was Parliament that selected the board members and it must take the responsibility for that process.
It must be clarified that the board's remaining members cannot be removed without the due process. Should they resign, they are obliged to serve a three month notice period, thereafter Parliament must interview candidates to fill the vacancies with the President signing the names off. The ACDP trusts however that we can speedily resolve this crisis to improve the tarnished reputation of the public broadcaster without compromising on due process requirements.
To conclude, as the ACDP we wish to congratulate the hon Minister and the Deputy Minister on their appointments and thank all the officials for their dedication and commitment often under very challenging conditions. I thank you.
Mr S E KHOLWANE
END OF TAKE
Mr S N SWART
Mr S E KHOLWANE: Chairperson, Minister and Deputy Minister, hon members, guests, friends and comrades, indeed, communication will continue to play a major role in deepening our democracy, promoting a culture of human rights and as a key pillar in the transformation of our country.
We are consciously aware that the media and communications are contested terrains. Therefore, by no means neutral as it reflects the ideological battles and power relations based on race, class and gender in the society. Indeed, as a committee in this fourth Parliament, we should be able to assess the progress made in the third Parliament to make sure we are moving in strengthening ourselves to be able to exercise our oversight role.
During the third Parliament, a commission, led by Professor Kader Asmal, was commissioned to deal with the Chapter 9 and associated institutions. The issue of funding of an Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa, came high on that agenda. I think it's time, hon Minister, to focus on Icasa's funding model so that it can be able to execute its duties.
I'm told that Icasa is collecting more than a billion per annum, but its budget doesn't even make a half of a billion. Now, one can agree with Icasa's chairperson when he says they are navigating in a sea invested with sharks, which are ready to bite them, because they don't have the leverage of finances to take on the core challenges of the industry. I think it will be important that, as a committee and the department, we make sure that Icasa is properly funded.
Presently, Icasa accounts to the committee only twice, that is, at the beginning of the budget and later to present their annual report. In our view, it is not sufficient enough, because, more often than not, we are following problems which have already occurred. We need to make sure that Icasa comes to the committee more frequently so as to be able to identify and deal with issues, early.
One other issue which has already been highlighted is the evaluation and performance of the councillors of Icasa. I think the hon Minister and the department should assist in ensuring that the process kicks off in order to be able to evaluate the councillors. I'm raising this matter because it has been noted that they spend much of their budget to seek advise from outside. Therefore, that attributes to the fact that the issue of skills might come into play - I don't know, but what I'm saying is that we must make sure that their performance is evaluated to assist them with their weaknesses.
I'm not aware of the issue which has been raised relating to Icasa being pressurised to submit to political pressure. When Icasa came before the Portfolio Committee, which I'm serving, its Chairperson indicated that there was no political pressure and denied the alleged pressure from Cosatu.
The public broadcaster plays a crucial role in shaping opinions and building society values, including the moral fibre of our society, socioeconomic transformation and building of a united, patriotic nation. Furthermore, the crucial role of the public broadcaster, particularly, the SABC Africa in promoting our vision regarding African Renaissance, African union, and Nepad, is very large. It is based on this understanding that the 52nd national conference of the African National Congress did not discuss the issue of the SABC Board, but its funding, because we believed that was a critical matter.
In that conference said it was decided that we need to make sure that, at least by 2010, we must be able to fund the SABC with 60% not, vis-à-vis, the current 2%. That is what the conference was preoccupied with, not the issue of the board, because that is solely left to the portfolio committee in Parliament.
Around the issue often raised in public discourse is the issue of the utilisation of the labour broadcast, it has come to our attention that one of the state entities, namely the Post Office, is to a certain extent engaged in these activities. We, therefore, request the Post Office to come before the committee, especially its human resource section, to take us through their engagement in the labour broadcast, because we believe that they cannot adjudicate their responsibility of employing and standing for the rights of the poor workers. Hindsight will not be applicable to the Post Office, but all public entities reporting to this committee must be able to contribute on this matter if they engage in this practice.
The Deputy Minister has already alluded to the e-rate issue, but there is a policy matter, hon Minister, which needs to be dealt with. There are schools that cannot afford the 50% discount for the internet. We think that should be discussed to make sure that those schools declared as no-fee schools should be able to get free access to internet by using the Universal Service Agency Funds which are available to be linked with the broader society. [Applause.]
Regarding the issue of Sentech and Infraco, it is the view of this committee that, from the inception of Infraco, it should be relocated to the Department of Communication. We will appeal to the Minister to make sure that part of the ongoing restructuring process engages relocating Infraco into the Department of Communication, as the committee anticipates.
I would also like to raise the Presidential National Commission, PNC, issue. This structure has become another structure within the Department of Communication. We, therefore, appeal to the Minister to relook this, so that, as the restructuring process is going on in the Presidency and other departments we can see where to place this structure. If necessary, it can be relocated in the Presidency, in our view; but if not, it will be the honourable thing to dissolve this structure, because now we have created another bureaucracy within the Department of Communications itself.
I don't understand why ANC members are to be blamed in the Department of Communications. The last time I checked, there were also members of Cope, the FF Plus, the DA, and so forth. They should also have to explain why there is a mess in the department and what their contribution was. It cannot only be the ANC which has to be blamed, whereas they also have members in the department.
In conclusion, as I've indicated in my introduction, we don't want to take a defensive stunt as members of the ANC in the committee, but to enable ourselves to review the laws we have passed; and to plan on how to capacitate ourselves as a committee to do effective oversight. The ANC, undoubtedly, supports the Budget Vote. [Applause.]
Mr T J BONHOMME
END OF TAKE
Mr S E KHOLWANE
Mr T J BONHOMME: Chairperson, hon members, comrades, distinguished quests, good afternoon. It is my brief to share with you the situation of the SA Post Office in this Budget Vote debate. Before I proceed, let us call to mind the words of our honoured comrade, Mr Ahmed Kathrada, on the eve of his release from life imprisonment in 1989. On a Saturday night of 14 October, when prison officers said to him that they had just received a fax which said he was to be released the next day, which was a Sunday. His first question was, "What is a fax?" This statement demonstrates that the world of communication has changed dramatically since his arrest in the 60s.
The cornerstone of the national policy for the postal sector is the provision of a universal service at an affordable price and to provide essential postal delivery services. Some of the major achievements of our Post Office are as follows: partnering with the Department of Health to distribute antiretroviral medicine to hospitals; launching the "postboxes for all", which is aimed at giving each household a postal address throughout South Africa, no matter how remote the households are; introducing a new system of postal addressing; and a system of postal codes that complies with international best practice, which makes South Africa the 17th country in the world to be Universal Postal Union, UPU, S42 compliant. In essence, postal codes refer to destination points rather than distribution points, as it is at present.
Furthermore, parcels are delivered within three to five days. If Mr Vadi, our chairperson, posted a letter to his relatives in India in the 60s, the letter would have taken almost a quarter of a year - three months - to reach its destination. Today, that letter reaches its destination within seven days.
Other achievements by the SA Post Office are as follows: introducing the track and tracing system that tells its customers exactly where posted mail items are in the system; recorded profits without compromising its universal service obligation; extended postal outlets in order to ensure that the SA Post Office complies with its licence agreement to provide one Post Office to every l0 000 South Africans; introducing Postbank, which is an option for pensioners to draw pension payouts from at the post offices; and introducing motor vehicles licence payments at 11 branches in the Limpopo province in March 2009. The motor licensing function is also available at selected post offices in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and the Eastern Cape. The SA Post Office also facilitates the payment of traffic fines.
Furthermore, we installed a conveyor belt system at the Johannesburg International Mail Centre office of exchange in order to improve efficiencies and security in respect of international items and introduced e-mail addresses for life for customers in accordance with their mandate from government. The Post Office contends that in the generic sense, the e-mail facility is also mail. The SA Post Office is committed to providing an alternative to those customers who prefer an electronic means of communicating. In this regard, the Post Office notifies customers of their postal items for collection from post offices by SMS or e-mail; it reminds customers to pay postbox rentals through SMS or e-mail; it allows customers to do a search for postal codes by SMS or e-mail; it allows customers to search for locations of Post Offices by SMS or e-mail; and provides for the payment of various postal services online, for example, the postbox rental. Villages are already enjoying the benefits of the electronic age. Almost 700 post offices have public internet terminals.
We hereby confirm that the Post Office forms an essential component of the social and economic fabric of our country and our developing continent of Africa. The role of the Post Office has evolved considerably to take into cognisance the advances in technological developments generally and the ever dynamic nature of our societies and their challenges in particular. Among other things, this means that, more than ever before, the Post Office stands a bigger chance to provide our rapidly growing economy with integrated solutions in the crucial postal areas of mail, logistics, communications and government services.
The Post Office is government's preferred partner in service delivery, and it forms the biggest service network with more than 2 000 outlets nationwide spanning over all nine provinces. This unparalleled network allows our Post Office to reach the urban and rural citizens located in the most remote parts of our country. It enables them to access such government services as grants, pensions and various critical documents like Identity Documents and driving licences.
In addition, we are ever-mindful of the fact that the Post Office faces the increasing challenges of the technological substitutions of globalisation, increasing pressures of deregulation, growing customer expectations and, above all, fierce competition. The SA Post Office is committed to the building of a better society, stronger communities and a prosperous economy through the services it provides. The ANC supports this Budget. Thank you. [Applause.]
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG
END OF TAKE
Mr T J BONHOMME
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG: Mr Chairman and hon members of this House, the DA will not support the dissolution of the entire SABC Board if it means that the ANC will replace current board members with partisan appointees. [Interjections.]
Mr C T FROLICK: Chairperson, on a point of order: It is quite clear that the hon member has got up to respond to his own speech that he delivered earlier. May I state that we became aware of the fact that the hon member is debating twice in the same debate, which was introduced by the hon Minister of Communications, to which he will respond at the end of the debate. That is the grain of how we conduct Budget Vote debates in this House. This action has been brought to the attention of the DA Whips over lunchtime. Although they mentioned that there is no Rule, and we agree that there is no Rule, there are certain conventions and practices in the National Assembly that we cannot simply ignore. We thus ask you, Chairperson, to make a ruling in this regard, since the inclusion of the member for a second time to respond to his own debate is not only flying in the face of prevailing practices, but it is also undermining the co-operation agreement that we have in this regard. [Interjections.]
The TEMPORARY CHAIRPERSON (Mr M R MDAKANE): Order! May I just make a ruling? Can you take your seat? [Interjections.] Hon members, I am giving a ruling based on the understanding of the situation.
There is no Rule that indicates that a member is allowed to do this, but I think the hon Frolick has raised a matter of concern. Just bear in mind that all of you have a copy of the Rules. You will note that in terms of Rule 59 of the National Assembly Rules:
The presiding officer shall call members in accordance with a list of members who are to speak in a debate with the time allocated for speeches by members of different parties.
I have called members in accordance with the list of speakers before me. The Rules are of course silent on whether a member can speak twice in the same debate. Practice has, however, been that it is only when a member sponsors a debate that the member will open and close the debate. The current arrangement is therefore unusual and not in keeping with the established published Rules. Notwithstanding, the above, of course, and in the interest of smooth proceeding, I will allow the member to speak based on the speakers' list before me. I will, however, recommend to the Speaker of the National Assembly that this issue be referred to the Chief Whips' forum for processing with a view to reach a common understanding on this matter.
Hon members, I beg the members to allow the member to speak. We are going to refer the matter accordingly for a final decision. Thank you very much.
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG: Chairperson, we will work with all other parties on the Portfolio Committee on Communications to find a solution to the present situation at the SABC. However, we believe that the ANC's callous attempts to overthrow the corporation's entire board and install their own Jacob Zuma-aligned cadres are cause for serious concern. We cannot continue to have a situation where the SABC is merely an extension of the ruling party. However, this will be the case if the ANC gets its way and installs an interim board that will be handpicked by Luthuli House without any public participation or transparency in the process. We will continue to argue that the first priority ought to be replacing the board's chairperson, and thus reconstituting the board and allowing board members to return to the urgent business of managing the corporation's affairs.
On the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, Icasa, it is established as a fact that a deal has been struck between Cosatu, the SACP and a senior Icasa councillor to persuade the communications authority to attempt to block Vodacom's listing in exchange for the reappointment of that councillor. Then that councillor must resign or be fired. In turn, Cosatu and the SACP must also undertake the appropriate steps to investigate their role, identify those responsible for brokering the deal and take appropriate action against them.
If such a deal did indeed take place, it would violate sections 3(3) and 3(4) of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Act of 2000. This Act requires that Icasa be impartial and independent at all times, and that it should function without any political or commercial interference. As a result, and if the facts support the various media reports on this issue, the DA will consider pressing charges against the councillor in question as such a deal would constitute a criminal act.
In addition, my colleague, Dene Smuts, has today submitted a question to the SACP's secretary -general and the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, to ascertain whether he directly ... [Interjections.]
Mr C T FROLICK:Chairperson, on a point of order: The hon member has just stated that a colleague of his submitted a question to Parliament today. This means that the matter is in front of the House, and yet the hon member discusses the matter before the hon Minister of Higher Education and Training had a chance to respond to it. I ask you to rule on that matter, please.
Mr W P DOMAN: May I respond to that?
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! What is the response, hon member?
Mr W P DOMAN: I need to respond to that point of order, because ... [Interjections.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! No, there is no need for a response, hon member.
Mr W P DOMAN: Give me a chance, please. [Interjections.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order, please! I thought you had a counter point. You must not respond. If it is a counter point that clarifies the matter, then I will allow you to speak.
Mr W P DOMAN: May I have a chance to speak?
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Yes, on a counter point.
MR W P DOMAN: Chairperson, on a counter point: There is no point of a question being raised in this particular debate. All this indicates is that there is a question that is going to be put forward. The question is not put before the House. It is as simple as that, Mr Chair, and I would like that to be retracted under the circumstances.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order, please! You said that the matter has been submitted to the Minister. Therefore, the matter has not yet reached the House. It is still a matter at the Minister's level, so the House has not yet received it. I am not sure whether, in the debate, this was an indication to tell us about your other actions or whether it was an indication that the matter should be considered in the Budget Vote. Obviously there is no relevancy of the issue to the Budget Vote. However, if this is a matter of procedure, where you have already submitted the issue and this was just additional information, it is fine within the context of the speech. To conclude on the matter, you can therefore proceed.
Mr C T FROLICK: Chairperson, on a point of order: May I ask the National Assembly Table to look into this matter so that we can ascertain if indeed the hon member, during this Budget Vote, is discussing something that is in front of the House? If the question has been sent to the hon Minister of Higher Education and Training to respond to, then the hon Minister of Higher Education and Training will have the appropriate time to respond to that question. So, the information that is currently being given here ... [Interjections.]
THE HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! The House has not yet received the matter. That is what I said. [Interjections.]
Mr C T FROLICK: But the matter has been submitted ... [Interjections.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Therefore, I said if the context in which it was raised was just to alert us that he has submitted the matter, then it is fine. But I also said that it should not be for us to consider the matter in the Budget Vote because it has no relevancy there. This is what I said in my concluding remarks. [Interjections.]
Mr C T FROLICK: Chair, on a point of order: Can I respectfully ask you to look into the matter, please?
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): We will look into the matter then. Continue hon member.
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG: Chairperson, I love these interventions and so on. It is very, very nice. [Laughter.]
In addition, my colleague, Dene Smuts – I just want to repeat this - has submitted today ... [Interjections.]
Mr Z LUYENGE: Chairperson, is the hon member prepared to take a question?
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! Hon member, are you ready to take a question now or later?
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG: Chairperson, I will take a question at the end of my speech, if there is time left of the four minutes allocated to me.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): If there is time, the question will be asked.
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG: Chairperson, under President Mbeki, those loyal to the President in particular, and to the ANC in general were routinely appointed to key positions in independent institutions with the purpose of making those institutions compliant with the ANC's political agenda. With the advent of the 2009 elections, President Mbeki might no longer be overseeing the direct influence of the ANC ... [Interjections.]
Mr C T FROLICK: Chairperson, on a point of order: The hon member is casting aspersions onindependent institutions in this country with the statement he is currently making. [Interjections.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order, please! Order! The hon member at the back, you can't be coming up with another point of order whilst we are still dealing with the first. It will be out of order for you to do so. [Interjections.]
MR W P DOMAN: Chair, on a point of order: I was just going to request you to give me a chance to respond.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! No, you don't have to respond to a point of order. [Interjections.]
Mr W P DOMAN: Chairperson, it is matter of public interest. [Interjections.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): It is meant for the Table. The Table will do that, unless this was a counter point. You are not putting a counter point. We will just comment on this issue from the Table before we adjourn.
Just conclude your speech. Your four minutes is almost over. Continue, hon member. We will comment on the casting of aspersion.
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG: Chairperson, where was I? [Laughter.] I must tell you, Mr Chairperson, that I will never forget my maiden speech in Parliament. [Laughter.] What excitement!
With the advent of the 2009 elections, President Mbeki might no longer be overseeing the direct influence of the ANC over state affairs. There is a growing amount of evidence that he has simply been replaced by those members of the tripartite alliance who wield the ever-increasing influence in the Zuma administration.
The political programme of Cosatu and the SACP is not that of South Africa. They have no right to try and subvert democratic processes to their own will. To do so is to show absolute contempt for proper procedure and, in turn, for the South African public, whose interests they would have bypassed in pursuit of their own agenda.
I want to conclude by saying that the ANC can try their best, but they will not derail the DA in their proper discussion of matters in the House of Parliament. At least the members of the ANC can hear what I am say. I thank you. [Applause.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! There is still half a minute left for your question. [Laughter.]
Mr Z LUYENGE: Chairperson, I just wanted to find out if the hon member is related, in any way, to the world-renowned Tereblanche.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! Hon member, it is up to you to respond or not respond to the question.
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG: Chairperson, I just want to say that a beard does not belong to Eugène Terre'Blanche. What about my colleague over there, Mr Vadi? [Laughter.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order, hon members! Order! The EPC is still in session!
Ms M N MAGAZI
END OF TAKE
Mr N J VAN DEN BERG
Ms N C MAGAZI: Chairperson, good afternoon, hon members. Let me start by saying, Mr Van den Berg, I am surprised today that you are not supporting the dissolution of the SABC. You have been having a standing question and you normally call it five times. Today you have heard, when the SABC was presenting, that surely there are problems amongst the board members. The SABC board members have said: Yes, the centre is not holding. I don't know what your intention is with those statements from the board members.
Let me go straight to my speech. It is my brief in this Budget Vote to debate on Sentech and on the Universal Services and Access Agency of South Africa. Sentech Ltd was established in terms of the Sentech Act, 1996 as a common carrier to provide broadcasting signal distribution for broadcasting licensees. Over the medium-term, Sentech will focus on the digitisation of its signal infrastructure and the roll out of the ICT infrastructure required for the 2010 World Cup.
As part of its Apex projects, government has started with deploying wireless broadband to 500 Dinaledi schools and targeting clinics, hospitals, libraries, post offices, Thusong service centres and government centres in the same coverage areas. This will help, not only to increase the uptake and use of ICTs, but also to enhance inclusivity in the building of the information society.
Other noteworthy achievements regarding that in the financial ending in March 2009 are: the promotion of universal access to television and radio by rolling out nine low power transmitters sites in the Karoo and Kgalagadi; more sites are on the way, and it is reported that during the on-site visit to Kgalagadi the local residents there said that for the first time they felt that they are South African, because previously they did not receive any broadcast of South African television.
Many of the radio services that Sentech provided to people in South Africa had not been experienced by these people because the network was out of reach. It had really been meaningful to people in outlying areas to be supplied with 19 additional community radio stations and one community television, which is Cape TV.
Successfully so, Sentech switched on the accelerated digitally terrestrial TV two days before the target date. The event was celebrated at an international summit that was held in South Africa, and for the first time on the African continent and it was indeed a momentous and a proud moment for Sentech.
In terms of Confederations Cup, Sentech achieved their target of providing satellite infrastructure for the games. The stadiums at Mangaung, Royal Bafokeng in the North West, Ellis Park and Loftus had been completed. Sentech handed them over to Fifa on 11 June 2009. [Applause.]
Sentech is partnering with various organisations to enhance the
e-services, such as the Mindset Learning and Health projects. These VSat links to the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, wireless platforms to 103 Home Affairs mobile unit, as well as 78 community radio stations are linked to Government Communication and Information Services.
The Portfolio Committee on Communications is aware that Sentech has incurred a shortfall of R558 million. There is a view that this calls for greater consultation and consensus between the Minister of Communications, the Minister of Finance and the Portfolio Committee on Finance. Parliament is aware that the socioeconomic mandate of Sentech is not financially viable.
With reference to the mega telescope, the portfolio committee is reliably informed that South Africa and Australia are the only two countries remaining on the shortlist to site the telescope. A final decision is expected by 2010. In March 2007 government approved the establishment of a new state- owned enterprise, SOE, that will provide long-distance connectivity to the country's telecommunications market on a cost basis.
Broadband Infraco, which became a stand-alone state-owned enterprise in January 2008, has succeeded to operationalise and strengthen the national long-distance network, as well as providing additional capacity. Infraco has increased its footprint by 30% and doubled its capacity. It has also provisioned root connectivity services and regional expansion sites. Additional fibre roots were added to close the long-distance ring and to provide redundant capacities.
The Africa West Coast cable will be prioritised by government to meet the 2010 objective, as well as other short to medium-term strategic projects. Infraco brings together fibre optic cable networks originally build by state companies Eskom and Transnet. With reference to the Universal Services and Access Agency of South Africa, also known as Usaasa, it operates under the regulatory. [Time expired.] Thanks you. [Applause.]
The MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS
END OF TAKE
Ms N C MAGAZI
The MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS: Chairperson, this was certainly a very lively and hilarious maiden speech and maiden debate. [Laughter.]
With regard to Mr Vadi's comments regarding the timelines for broadband digital migration, I have spoken about underfunding for the Broadcasting Digital Migration programming in my input, but Sentech, which will provide the backbone infrastructure to enable this migration, has been funded to the tune of almost 90%. However, the funding for operational expenses, such as dual illumination and content development has still to be sourced.
Regarding internal audit functions, there were problems filling the management positions in the internal audit function. An offer was made to fill the chief director post in 2008; however, the capable candidate withdrew the offer on the day of assumption of duty. The other candidates were not appointed due to the challenges on probity checks. The position was readvertised and interviews were held wherein suitable candidates were identified for the chief director and director positions. On the vacancy rate, all funded positions have been filled for the 2008-09 financial year. The rest of the vacant positions are not funded as the department's structure was only approved on 31 January 2008.
On the South African Post Office, Sapo, and the labour brokers, of course, they will go before the portfolio committee, but we have engaged with the labour brokers and they did inform us that they have reduced and are making interventions to ensure that labourers are not unduly exploited by labour brokers, and the reason why they have to use labour brokers or casual labour is because of the seasonal nature of their business. For example, when there are grants they have to mobilise people to work there.
On the Presidential National Commission, we will take the comments that have been made by members and look into the issue. On the board of the SABC, I must say that I find some of the discussions and comments made very disconcerting, because I think we are dealing with a very important institution, which belongs to the public, and as much as it is possible we should try not to politicise independent institutions. I think that what we should accept is that there are problems in the SABC.
I think that in the spirit of the President's overture to all to try to work together to solve the problems of the country, I would personally like to appeal to everyone to work together to try to solve problems. I know that the issue of the public broadcaster is now largely in the hands of the portfolio committee as well as the National Assembly, and I want to believe that all of us want to solve the problems, because, in the end, not the people who are running the SABC, but ordinary people will suffer.
The SABC is in dire straits. We need to find solutions to address the problems in the SABC; whether these problems reside in the board or management, we need to collectively engage in order to find solutions and not try to score political points. [Applause.] I therefore want to appeal to everybody, because, as the Minister of Communications, other people and stakeholders look to me; people and stakeholders within the SABC look to the Ministry to try to resolve their issues.
The independent producers look to the Ministry, and we have meetings scheduled to try to resolve the issues; ordinary workers, the unions, look to the Ministry to try to resolve these issues. And I will be engaging with them in the next few days after my Budget Vote. I would like to believe that, as we do so, as we engage with these stakeholders, there are earnest efforts in Parliament, in this House, to try to resolve the issue of the SABC so that all of us will go forward and try to ensure that the national broadcaster is up on its feet and running as soon as possible. It is not in the interest of anybody to delay decisions that will bring the public broader to its feet again. I therefore want to appeal to everyone to ensure that we help one another in that regard. Thank you. [Applause.]
The MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS
QUESTIONS FORWARDED TO THE MINISTER
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Order! Before we conclude on the business, there were two points of order and we want to give ruling on them. And before I do so, I just want to point out that points of order are raised from time to time in order to assist in the House and also in the EPC, and they are quite useful instruments for the maintenance of the decorum and the dignity of the House, because sometimes members tend to go out of the way and become unparliamentary in their language or sometime undermine the very rules that govern us.
It is quite in order that, from time to time, such points of order are raised. Sometimes they are just aimed at being distracting and also entertaining at the same time, which is not wrong. That is why we allow heckling to happen within Parliament, as long as it is not overrun. Obviously the points of order that came, to some extent, did achieve that.
Mr Van Den Berg, you admitted that you'll never forget this maiden speech. [Laughter.] At one point you even lost your line on your written text. So, sometimes they are intended to achieve exactly that.
However, the following are my rulings: The fact that a question has been forwarded to the Minister does not prevent members from referring to the matter. The Rule of Anticipation applies in respect of matters that are on the Order Paper and that have a reasonable opportunity of coming before the House. In any case, this written question, unlike an oral question, will not be coming before the House. The member was therefore not out of order. We do this because it is an Extended Public Committee that may not meet until next year. Sometimes it doesn't even meet every year.
With regard to the second ruling, on the point of order regarding a remark made by the hon Van Den Berg regarding state institutions. Mr Frolick contended that the member had cast aspersions on the integrity of Chapter 9 Institutions. My ruling is as follows: The Rule states that no member shall reflect upon the competency or honour of a judge of a superior court or of the holder of an office whose removal from such office is dependent upon a decision of this House except upon a substantive motion. The member didn't reflect on the competency or honour of the office bearers mentioned above. He made certain references to some of these institutions. While this is not necessarily out of order, I wish, and I think the Minister has also made an appeal now, to caution members that in their references to these institutions, they must be mindful of the status of these bodies in terms of the Constitution. The member was therefore also not out of order on this point. Thank you. [Applause.]
The Committee rose at 18:47.
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