While Dina Pule sorts out her life, the broadband flame is dying

May 16th, 2013, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Hans van de Groenendaal, EngineerIT

Broadband for all! 2020 Vision! Government to focus on broadband! How many more times will Government make these statements? From President Zuma to just about every ministry we hear about the wonderful plans about broadband yet they remain empty words.

The minister of communications, Dina Pule, is fighting for survival. Pule is the subject of investigations by both the Parliamentary Ethics Committee and the Public Protector. The latter is expected to present the findings of its investigations by the end of this month.

While all this is carrying on the Department of Communications appears paralysed, with nothing happening to advance the role-out of affordable broadband. Even a country like Kenya has far overtaken us.

South Africa attended the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) World Radio Conference   in January 2012 (WRC12). Yet to date the WRC Industry Preparatory group which advises government on agenda items has not received feedback. The group has also not been invited to participate in discussions on how South Africa should vote on the agenda items  for WRC15 which will be held in Geneva from 2 to 27 November 2015. Time is running out. The process is lengthy as it includes consultation with SADC countries and the African Telecommunication Union (ATC).

In July 2012 the Department of Communication gazetted the Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill 2012 which sets out the establishment of a Spectrum Management Agency within the portfolio of the Minister of Communications. The agency will have the responsibility for the country’s spectrum. This was the job that ICASA, as an independent regulator, was tasked to do. With the bill the minister wants to take control of frequency spectrum management. Maybe ICASA was not the independent body we all believed it was, or is the minister uncomfortable that ICASA could make spectrum decisions without her consent? It gone all quiet!

Two weeks ago, Minister Pule called a press conference at which she attacked the Sunday Times, levelling sensational allegations against three of South Africa’s top investigative journalists, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Stephan Hofstatter, suggesting that Wa Afrika had attempted to blackmail her. She said the journalists had engaged in a smear campaign against her in an effort to ensure their own business and political connections benefited from the awarding of a lucrative tender for the manufacture of government-subsidised set-top boxes for digital terrestrial television.
The director general, Rosey Sekese was placed on special leave at the beginning of the year. It remains unclear what prompted the move, with the ministry insisting it was an “internal matter not for public consumption”. The move came two months after the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications found that Sekese had “misled” parliament regarding the signing of her performance agreement for the 2012/2013 financial year.

Two weeks ago Sekese he was apparently reinstated, but locked out of her office. Other reports said that she was escorted from the premises. As usual, no comment.

The latest in the saga is that Minister Pule has appointed a new spin-doctor, Wisani Ngobeni, who at a media conference this week defended the minister against all the allegations, and issued this bland denial: “For the record, the department wishes to reiterate that none of the allegations levelled against Minister Pule and the Department by the Sunday Times will stick. In the 10-month campaign against Minister Pule and the Department, the Sunday Times has failed to link minister Pule and the Department to any wrongdoing because none exists.”

It all started with allegations that the minister’s alleged romantic partner, Phosane Mngqibisa, benefited to the tune of R6-million from the ICT Indaba organised by the Department of Communications last year. While the Indaba was primarily organised to talk about how broadband would benefit Africa and how it was to be rolled out, the minister in her two official addresses talked more about the ANC Centenary than about broadband. At one point a delegate from Botswana suggested that the minister should start walking the talk!

And so the years go by. It is high time that the President of South Africa appoints a minister that understands communication,  and a director general that can lead the department!

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