Minister of Comms dumps ICASA into a financial crisis

April 30th, 2019, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Yesterday (29 April), the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) filed an urgent interdict in the Pretoria High Court to compel the Minister of Communications, Thembisile Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to release the quarterly funding which was due to ICASA in early April. The Minister had instructed the Department of Communications to withhold payment because she is apparently not happy with the Annual Performance Plan (APP) which was filed by ICASA.

Acting ICASA Chairperson, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, at the urgent media briefing.

At an urgent media briefing called by ICASA, acting chairperson, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, said that the Minister had acted outside her jurisdiction and violated South Africa’s constitution and the ICASA Act. “ICASA was established under the constitution and no person or organ of state may interfere with Chapter 9 institutions, and this includes ICASA”, Modimoeng said. “The authority is independent and is subject only to the constitution and the law.”

He said that withholding their quarterly funding was a major blow and placed ICASA in a difficult position and would send ICASA into an overdraft situation in order to meet commitments to suppliers, contractors and staff.

ICASA annually collects over R1,3-billion in license fees which are directly deposited into the state coffers. In the 2019/2020 budget, the Minister of Finance had allocated R45-million through the Department of Communications to fund ICASA. A quarter of the allocation is paid into ICASA’s account at the beginning of each three-month period. The first payment should have been made at the beginning of April. The Minister withheld payment because she apparently does not agree with ICASA’s position on 5G. Modimoeng did not want to elaborate as the APP has not yet been made public.

A question on many minds is, what happened to the “I” in ICASA? Is the minister applying political pressure and does she expect ICASA to become a puppet on her string? Modimoeng explained that the roles are quite clear. The Minister and her department develop policy which is approved by the Cabinet, and ICASA interprets policy and works with in its frame work. It is also not up to the Minister to approve the APP.

Since her appointment, it appears that the Minister and ICASA do not agree on how spectrum should be made available to telecommunications providers. In his State of the Nation Address, the President announced that frequency spectrum would be made available as a matter of urgency. The Minister of Finance in his budget speech also made reference to this, but is looks like the Minister of Communications has her own ideas about urgency and the way it should be done. Last week she is allegedly had said that the new Communication Policy would be released by the end of April, and that is today! Maybe a miracle will happen before midnight. The minister seems to use funding as an instrument to get her way, recently the SABC experienced the same treatment.

The Department of Communications was approached for comment on the situation, but no response was received by the time of publishing.

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