“Let’s just get things done”: Carrim

New communications minister, Yunus Carrim says he will be “exercising stringent strategic and political oversight” of the Department of Communications, following meetings with the senior managers and the general staff in the department.

The minister’s comments were contained in a Draft Strategy and Programme for the Department of Communications (DOC) for the period until the 2014 Elections.

The minister said he would also focus on State owned companies (SOCs), Icasa and Telkom as key entities within his portfolio, following a series of meetings.

“These meetings were mainly to hear what they had to say about where they are and what support they wanted from DoC, and to also communicate that we intend to be very active in our engagement with them within the Constitutional and legal framework that defines our role,” the minister said.

The minister called for a more effective DoC: “We are working on greater unity and coherence of the Department of Communication (DoC), filling in the critical vacant posts, and ensuring the Department functions in a more consensual way with ICT stakeholders and is more sensitive to the needs of consumers,” he said.

“Where there are genuine cases of corruption, and not smears and false accusations used to settle conflicts of power and hegemony within the department, we will act decisively within the law. Clearly, DoC can and must perform better. A major aim is to put DoC on a firmer foundation to perform better during the 2014-2019 term,” Carrim said.

“Let’s just get things done,” he said further, adding that government cannot do it alone.

He warned that there was much to do and with the elections looming, very limited time, “and we may not be able to get all that we want to do done. But we should certainly try”.

Yunus Carrim
Yunus Carrim

“While we will seek to get as much done as possible in the period until the elections, the main aim, ultimately, is to set a firmer foundation for the Communications sector to deliver far more effectively in the 2014-19 term,” Carrim said.

Carrim provided parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications with a detailed list of the projects, with deadlines, his department will focus on up to the 2014 elections.

The minister said that certain key aspects of the program will be prioritized, and where possible fast-tracked.

The table below lists these projects, with deadlines.

Prioritized aspects of the DoC program
Program Description Deadline
Broadband Policy, Strategy and Plan There has to be significant and realistic progress in broadband becoming more extensive, affordable and speedier. DoC completed a Draft Broadband Policy yesterday and the Draft Broadband Strategy and Plan will be completed by the end of September. However we will still have to discuss the Policy, Strategy and Plan with other relevant government departments before we take it to Cabinet. 30 November 2013
Develop an Effective Spectrum Policy A Spectrum Policy to facilitate the deployment of wireless technologies in support of universal access and economic development will be developed by March 2014. Consistent with rolling-out Broadband, we will finalise our policy including high demand spectrum for Broadband. March 2014
Furthering Reducing the Costs to Communicate We have to sensibly and sensitively set a firm foundation for a further reduction in the costs of communication. The needs of the users and the service providers will both be taken into account. A new policy directive on transparent pricing policy will be finalized by the end of September. By the end of September we will be convening a pricing workshop as part of a consultative process on the cost-to-communicate. We are also engaging ICASA on their  reviewing of Mobile Termination Rates. 30 September 2013
Beginning the Roll-Out of Digital Migration We have had several meetings with the broadcasters and other stakeholders in this regard. SENTECH has already provided about 80% of the country with the network for Digital Terrestrial Television and intends to reach 84% by March 2014. The remaining 16% of the country that cannot be accessed by the terrestrial network because of their geographic character will be serviced by satellite. The major stumbling block to progress are the disputes about whether the Set Top Boxes (STBs) should have “Control” or not. We have met the contending parties separately and have encouraged them to meet together, but there has not been much progress. We have therefore decided to bring the contending parties together by mid-September with a consensually agreed facilitator who combines technical expertise and negotiating skills to, under the broad supervision of the Ministry, work towards consensus on STB issues. Yes, as government we accept our share of responsibility for the delays in digital migration, but unless we get a measure of consensus among the  broadcasters and other contending parties we are not going to be able to move swiftly forward. Provided we get consensus among the contending parties, we will be able to begin the roll-out digital migration within the next few months. However, if we fail to get consensus, we will of course go ahead after having considered all views. No specific deadline
Greater focus on the rural and other underserviced areas The digital divide between the haves and have-nots needs to be reduced, and we are going to place much greater stress on delivering in rural and underserviced areas. We intend to connect 788 schools by the end of the financial year. This figure will be higher if our current negotiations with some of the operators on implementing their universal service obligations go well.   SAPO has also committed to building 50 new post offices by the end of the financial year. The project on the National Address System will also be taken significantly forward. Discussions have already begun with the DoC, Statistician-General, CoGTA and SALGA on this matter. 31 March 2013
Towards Greater Stability in the SOCs The SABC and other SOCs and public entities in the ICT sector need to be made far more stable and effective. They need to be properly resourced, bearing in mind major budgetary and other constraints, but related to this, they have to use their available resources more productively. They also have to be more skilled. Joint Task Teams (JTTs) have been established with most of them including representatives of the SOCs, DoCs and other relevant structures. Without interfering with their operational autonomy, and consistent with corporate governance rules and norms, we will, as the shareholder, be providing clearer shareholder compacts and exercising more stringent oversight of the SOCs. No specific deadline
Corporatisation of Postbank Among the key issues to be addressed are: the Postbank Amendments Bill and South African Post Office Amendment Bill that are before Parliament; and the finalization of the licence issues and the Board members. No specific deadline
ICT Policy Review A National Integrated ICT Policy Green Paper will be ready within 3 months. Public hearings will follow and a White Paper will be finalized either shortly before the 2014 elections or soon thereafter. Our programmes and activities will, to the extent possible, feed into and take into account the emerging Integrated ICT Policy. 20 November 2013
National ICT Forum A National ICT Forum bringing together government, the industry, trade unions, and other civil society roleplayers will be held in late November or early in 2014 November 2013 or Early 2014
Community Media There are about 133 licenced community radio stations which account for about 25% of the total radio listenership in the country. More needs to be done to support community media and the department will finalise a new Community Broadcasting Support Policy by the end of the financial year. 31 March 2013
Legislation Of course, we recognize that the parliamentary terms are brief in view of the elections, but we hope that the 4 Bills before Parliament will be processed before the 2014 elections. These are the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill, ICASA Amendment Bill, South African Post Office Amendment Bill, and the Postbank Amendment Bill. Before the 2014 elections

The DoC admitted that the draft was “somewhat incomplete”, adding that it would be finalized shortly, following further consultations with stakeholders in the sector.

“We are still in discussion with key stakeholders, not least the state-owned companies (SOCs), to finalise more precise deadlines, and will do so shortly,” it said.

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“Let’s just get things done”: Carrim