Is ICASA covering up for its minister?

October 16th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: EE Publishers


In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, the chairperson of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), Dr. Stephen Mncube,  said  that  ICASA does not appoint councillors nor can it decide on the end date for its councillors. “The appointment of councillors is done through the minister after a Parliamentary process and the term of office of councillors is four years. The minister last week requested councillors whose terms of office are ending to complete their handover and wrap-up their activities a month after the end of their terms of office.” Is he covering up for his boss, the mnister of communications, Faith Muthambi?

Minister of Communication, Faith Muthambi

Minister of communications, Faith Muthambi

Why would the minister do this as the replacement process has not been started? According to the ICASA Act, outgoing councillors have a 45-day hand-over period.

Yesterday morning EngineerIT emailed the spokesperson for the minister, asking for confirmation that the minister had indeed  instructed councillors to leave by the end of October. We also asked: “The process of appointing new councillors has not yet started;, when will nominations be called for and how does the minister expect parliament to approve the appointments to allow ICASA to operate smoothly and in the interest of communications in South Africa?  An unconfirmed statement says that the minister will change the number of councillors. If true, when will the proposed amendment to the ICASA Act be tabled? Or how else will be minister implement this?”

We know the email was received but as of this morning it was not opened and no reply has been received.

Minister Muthambi has a somewhat chequered past. She was the controversial former municipal manager at the Makhado municipality and although she has been a member of parliament’s portfolio committee on communications, Muthambi has no real experience in communications.

“Between September and October 2014, the terms of office of four ICASA councillors come to an end; which is no surprise to the ICASA council and was taken into account during its planning at the beginning of the financial year. In planning for the end of terms of councillors, all council activities were headed by a councillor whose term was not to end during the current financial year, and supported by the outgoing councillors,” said Dr. Mncube. He also said that accordingly, the Authority is confident that it has put in place sufficient measures to accommodate the departure of some councillors; and that this does not take away the invaluable contributions outgoing councillors Currie, Lebooa, Ndhlovu and Stucke had made.

The media statement further said that the chairperson and remaining councillors would like to thank the outgoing councillors for their contributions and wished them well in their future ventures.

The ICASA Act, as amended, provides for the continued and legitimate decision-making by the council of ICASA, even in instances where there are fewer councillors in office at any given time, as has been the case previously. There have been periods in the past when there was less than the full complement of councillors in office, but this did not impede decision-making or bring into question the legitimacy of decisions.  ICASA says that recent media reports are mischievous in creating an impression that the ICASA council and its activities will be hindered.

I believe the whole point of the media frenzy is that one cannot replace the experience of the four retiring councillors with four new councillors yet to be appointed. Surely a 45-day handover period would have been useful, to say the least.  The question can also be asked  as to why the minister is in such a hurry as she has not  yet called for nominations. One can also deduce from this that she is either planning to reduce  the size  of the council or replace the outgoing councillors with people that will toe her line, whatever that may be. Are we heading for another SABC-type disaster?

And where does Minister Cwele, the minister of telecommunications and postal services, fit in? He is off to attend the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary meeting later this week, a meeting where important telecommunication policies are discussed and new ITU leadership is elected. Should Minster Muthambi not also attend?

President Jacob Zuma should give serious consideration to bringing  ICASA and telecommunications under one ministry as it was before; and  bring back Yunus Carrim, who achieved more in his short term as the minister of communications than several of his predecessors combined.

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