Communications ministers follow their leader in low scores

December 2nd, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT


Minister Cwele invites your views on ICT policy

Minister Siyabonga Cwele

When the Democratic Alliance, the largest opposition party in parliament, published its ministerial scorecard last night it was no surprise that both Faith Muthambi, minister of communication and Siyabonga Cwele, minister of telecommunications and postal services, joined the president in scoring 1/10. The DA had at least compliments for one cabinet member, the minister of science and technology, Naledi Pandor, who scored 8/10.

After their appointments and the splitting of the Department of Communication after the elections earlier this year,  industry asked the question “What was the President thinking?” – hoping that that Yunus Carrim – who achieved more in the short period when he was the minister of communications than several of the predecessors – would continue as the minister.

Regarding Cwele, the DA said in its report card that it is “difficult to discern” his grasp on policy as he has “not made any bold moves to date. In his July budget speech, Cwele made a number of commitments — none of which have been realised”.

The biggest challenge facing the minister is the battle for control between his department and the communications minister. Cwele also promised to set a date for the digital broadcasting switch-on by the end of October 2014 but “failed to meet this deadline”. Now Muthambi seems to have taken control of the process as well as the saga around set top boxes.

Last week media reports rumoured that the presidency would issue a protocol  to clarify who will be responsible for what and give Cwele and Muthambi directions as to what the president perceives their responsibilities to be. To date the protocol has not been issued.  Clearly “Cwele seems to be standing in the shadows, waiting for someone to take a firm line with Muthambi so he can get on with his job”, as the DA said.

When Carrim, as minister of communications, was ready to finalise the broadband policy, it was held up pending the elections. Then Cwele postponed it and put more fuel on the fire when he said on Friday, in response to industry’s request to have more time to comment on the final draft:  “I am toying with the idea to extend the comment deadline”.

Muthambi’s claim to 1/10 is clearly linked to her handling of the SABC saga and the interference with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa when she dismissed retiring councillors, without allowing them to serve the 45 days handover period. The irony of that saga is that new councillors have not even been proposed, let alone appointed.

If the scorecard was just political point scoring by the DA one could laugh it off, but the situation is real and the consequences for the communications and broadcasting industries are serious.

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