ICASA in turmoil… again

February 19th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Cyril Ramaphosa: “Our country is in a position to seize the opportunities and manage the challenges of rapid advances in information and communication technology”.

After several years of various councillors having turns acting as chairman of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), Rubben Mohlaloga was appointed in December 2017, despite a pending criminal case of fraud. Does this mean ICASA will soon again be without a chairman?

Mohlaloga has now been found guilty of defrauding the Land Bank of approximately R6-million in 2008. According to a Hawks statement, Mohlaloga, together with former Land Bank CEO Philemon Mohlahlane and other accomplices, conspired and transferred the R6-million into Masepule Dinga Attorneys’ trust account. According to the Hawks, after the money was received, the funds were distributed and a farm was bought for R2-million as well as a BMW X5 and BMW 118i for Mohlaloga, who was a member of Parliament and chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Agriculture at the time.

It is now in the hands of communications minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, who awaits her instructions from Parliament. Of greater concern is that when Mohlaloga was initially appointed as an ICASA councillor in July 2013, he had already been charged with the Land Bank fraud, although the case had yet to go to court.

It is claimed that the then minister of communications, Dina Pule, was unaware of the allegations against Mohlaloga. He had also not disclosed the matter to the department, despite holding a senior position. The Portfolio Committee on Communications confirmed Mohlaloga’s appointment after he was charged as there was nothing it could do to legally remove him. It is not clear if or when he will be removed from the ICASA Council.

In his recent state of the nation address, South Africa’s newly elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said: “It is critical that the structure and size of the state is optimally suited to meet the needs of the people and ensure the most efficient allocation of public resources. We will therefore initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments.”

Does this mean that South Africa may soon have one Department and Minister of Communications? And will it be a totally new one who will understand the business of communications? The president also said that he will soon establish a Digital Industrial Revolution Commission, which will include the private sector and civil society, to ensure that our country is in a position to seize the opportunities and manage the challenges of rapid advances in information and communication technology.

“The drive towards the digital industrial revolution will be underpinned by the availability of efficient networks. We will finalise our engagements with the telecommunications industry and other stakeholders to ensure that the allocation of spectrum reduces barriers to entry, promotes competition and reduces the cost to consumers”, said Ramaphosa.

Could this mean that the ill-conceived Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill will not be tabled in parliament and be scrapped or re-written? Comment on the draft bill closed on 31 January 2018 after the comment period was extended following outcries from industry and civil society.

It also appears that ICASA CEO, Willington Ngwepe, must have anticipated government initiatives to reduce the size of the civil service.  Or is it possible that he was instructed by Minister  Siyabonga Cwele to reduce staff, as the ECA Bill mentions a new spectrum management department outside ICASA? He recently initiated a process to streamline the operations of the Regulator – a new structure which is expected to come into operation in April this year. Current vacancies that arise from contracts ending in February will not be advertised and filled at this time.

We live in interesting times indeed!

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