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Parliament wants to know more from minister Dina Pule

Ethics committee to conduct investigation

question markThe parliamentary committee on ethics has been tasked by Parliament to learn more of what has been reported in the newspapers regarding minister Dina Pule’s recent involvements with communications conferences, large sums involving sponsorship – some of it from state utilities – and the involvement of a young male friend of the minister. Probably the question of her performance in general might arise.

To believe in South Africa is to believe in the parliamentary system, the major benefit to the South African way life next to an extraordinary Constitution, both of which emerged from the Kempton Park negotiations so many years ago. Without a solid parliamentary system, South Africa would have gone off the rails a number of times and undoubtedly would have been a much poorer place for the lack of it.

Witness the establishment by the joint committee on ethics and members interests in Parliament of an investigation into one of their own – minister of communications, Dina Pule.

Going back some

Ben TurokWith a solid background in parliamentary procedure and high personal moral standing, the experience of one of the great contributors to our parliamentary system, namely Ben Turok (ANC),has been called upon as one of the members of the joint committee. Turok knows the rules. He probably wrote some of them. Moreover, he is well known for being his own person.

The investigation will be conducted, as is always the case, behind closed doors until a finding is made and one has to assume that if Turok is involved, the findings will be impartial. In terms of politics and knowing the system, he is a wise old owl and what is needed here.

He himself has seen it all. Arrested in 1956 at the famous treason trial, he was released in 1958 and subsequently helped draw up the Freedom Charter. If Turok doesn’t agree with something, he says so. His work in the parliamentary committees over the years is legend.  Currently, he broke party ranks over the “Secrecy Bill”. His belief in personal integrity is intense, He remains one of the “fathers” of the ANC.

How it works

The joint committee on ethics is guided by the Constitution and subject to the rules of Parliament, constituted of members drawn from both the NA and the NCOP, with a chair person drawn from both.

As Turok himself says, “ the committee is neither an inspectorate nor a policing agency. It is a group of colleagues deliberating possible misconduct by one of their own”. The committee does not have the power to impose penalties but it can make recommendations on such and in some cases the committee may refer a matter to some other state agency for further investigation.”

Says Turok, “The hearings are run on an inquisitorial basis and the committee has discretion regarding the weight of different forms of evidence and the extent of cross-examination of witnesses”.

Judged by own peers

Turok is aware, more than most, of the place in our democracy that Parliament has since he helped underwrite much of what is good inDina Pule our system. No better person to bring the minister of communications to a point where she must give an account of her recent actions and be judged by those who are her own peers.

There have been a number of statements recently that parliament is ineffective, statements that are bound to arise in the case of country with a majority party with such a large majority. This round of quiet discussions behind closed doors will be a strong re-evaluation of the primary purpose of Parliament – to represent ordinary people and provide oversight on the state, their peers and its actions.

Associated articles archived

Posted in Cabinet,Presidential, Communications, Justice, constitutional0 Comments

Overhaul of broadband policy underway

At last, policy for comment….

A national broadband policy, stated by department of communications (DoC) as being to “enhance government policy objectives in the provision of education, health services, job creation, building sustainable rural communities and reducing crime and corruption”, has been published for public comment in a somewhat troubled communications industry.

An earlier strategy policy under the previous minister, the late Roy Padayachie, was introduced in 2010. This was reviewed and the new strategy, promised some time ago, and this represents the latest position.

New Bill the final product

Local commentators expect eventually a Green Paper and White Paper to be introduced to Parliament by late 2014, before a new Bill is eventually introduced completely overhauling the communications environment.

In earlier moves, the cabinet had established an inter-ministerial committee to finalise the new draft broadband strategy which had been so many years in the making.  More recently has been the introduction of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) Amendment Bill for public consultation.

Complaints and Compliance Commission

This was to provide for the establishment of the complaints and compliance commission (CCC) to replace the complaints and compliance committee, to deal further and more effectively with regulation on electronic transactions and to introduce mechanisms to ensure the accountability of ICASA itself to change the nature of the mandate of the ICASA CEO.

A tariff advisory council was proposed to tackle the operators over their tariffs.

The minister extended the public comment period on this draft Bill after considerable public concern had been expressed on the legal ramifications of electronic transfer proposals; the powers of the CCC in relation to ICASA; the rights of independent broadcasters; and tariff issues.

Policy backs existing strategy

The DoC, in a statement on the new broadband strategy, says that its new policy will complement the work that is already being done through its Strategic Integrated Project, which deals with expanding access to information and communications services with a special focus on broadband, digital terrestrial television and school connectivity.

“The proposed policy deals with the complete value chain of broadband rollout, including attracting related investment in broadband infrastructure, enterprise development, encouraging the manufacturing of end-user equipment locally in South Africa”.

Going public

Provincial road shows are expected to follow the public consultation period, the policy stating as an objective to align itself with National Development Plan, aiming to achieve an “e-literate society and 100% broadband access by 2030”.

Amongst the many aims expressed in the published policy are the objectives to ensure universal access to reliable, affordable and secure broadband services; prioritise rural and under-serviced areas to combat the digital divide, build an information society; develop a more integrated approach in the deployment of high-speed broadband to reduce costs. of broadband services that are blocking accessibility to the wider population.

Policy targets submarine cables

The policy document states that DoC will “encourage and support investment in broadband backbone network infrastructure including submarine cable systems.”

The policy also refers to sufficient allocation and appropriate licensing of radio frequency spectrum to promote universal broadband access and it says future allocation of the radio frequency spectrum for broadband “will also be aimed at advancing competition, black economic empowerment and quality of service”.

The minister has been criticised for delays occurring in the introduction of national digital television and the manufacture of set-top boxes for consumers to receive the new signal.

Associated articles archived

Posted in Communications0 Comments

Communications bill awaited setting up consumer body

Communications Bill awaiting tabling….

Dina PuleA draft communications bill probably to be entitled the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Amendment Bill, published in late 2012 for public comment is awaited in the form of a tabling by Minister Dina Pule.

The primary purpose of the proposed bill from the documents published for comment it seems is to set up a complaints and compliance commission (CCC) as a separate body from the independent communications authority of South Africa (ICASA) and thus gain consumer impartiality.

Electronic transactions the focus

The Bill also proposes a number of important provisions regarding electronic communications networks and services used in electronic transactions.   Mechanisms are also introduced to ensure the accountability of committees, ICASA and their councillors and for ICASA to relate more closely to the Public Finance Management Act.

Early 2013 tabling

The public participation period was concluded before the end of December and the new parliamentary session should see this Bill tabled in the next few months.

Posted in Communications, Justice, constitutional, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Protection of Personal Information Bill almost concluded

The Protection of Personal Information Bill, known as the “POPI” Bill, now has National Assembly approval.  It is in the process of concurrence by the National Council of Provinces. Provincial mandates are not called for.

The new and much debated Bill provides a new data privacy legislative framework for South Africa with an independent information regulator body formed to govern and decide on complaints, with powers to impose penalties, such a body being accountable only to Parliament.

The new POPI law when passed will apply to both state institutions and all private bodies and persons and as a basis of ground rules on the transfer and subsequent use of information.     The proposed law is based upon the requirement to obtain consent for the processing of information received and give explanations as to why such information is required.

One of the most important clauses concerns the issuing of information and states that such should only take the form which is needed to conclude a transaction and such information should be “adequate, relevant and not excessive”.    It should be made quite clear to any individual asked for information why such information is required.

The Bill is explicit that information may only be collected for a clearly defined and lawful purpose, although the length of retention of such information is not defined. Nevertheless, such retention should not be for “any longer than necessary”.    Measures must taken by the receiver of information on the security for such information and such should exercise due integrity as receiver.

As for the body to be known as the Information Regulator accountable only to Parliament, such will have the dual role of dealing with complaints in terms of POPI and the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2002.

The POPI law has been a number of years in the making and will bring “South Africa into line with data transfer in other countries”, the Bill says.

The regulator will be empowered to deal with “codes of conduct” for sectors of industry and commerce which may apply to a specific industry or process, specific activities or professions, to enable such bodies to meet the POPI requirements with specific regulations designed for them, thus making bulk transfer of information possible in terms of such codes and tailoring the law for specific applications.

POPI also deals with direct marketing by electronic communication, including automated calling, fax, SMSs or e-mail and prohibits such unless the individual’s consent has been received or the recipient is a customer. Solicitation will only be allowed when permission is obtained for further communication. Penalties apply in cases of abuse.

The new law, at present with the NCOP for final concurrence, also deals to some extent with international transfers of personal information, dictating that information may only be transferred to a foreign country if the receiving country has equivalent data protection laws and with provisos in some cases similar to domestic information transfers.

Posted in Communications, Finance, economic, Justice, constitutional, Public utilities, Trade & Industry, Uncategorized0 Comments

B-BBEE Codes for IT industry now regulated for by DTI

In a recently gazetted publication, the sector charter and broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) code for the information and communication technology (ICT) sector were published by the department of trade and industry (DTI).

According to a media statement published by DTI’s minister Dr Rob Davies, a 30% black ownership target has been set for entities in the sector, the ICT sector charter having much in common with DTI’s generic BBBEE code. However, the equity equivalent target for qualifying multinationals is 30%, this being 5% higher than the target in the generic code and similar to the new property sector charter .

The ICT charter, the statement says, “features a target of 5% net profit after tax to be spent on enterprise development initiatives aimed at growing and developing black-owned ICT enterprises”. The target for the generic codes is 3% net profit after tax.

The gazette also states that a spend of 1.5% net profit after tax is the target on socio-economic development initiatives, as distinct from 1% net profit after tax in the standard BBBEE code.

Communications minister, Dina Pule, will work towards establishing an ICT charter council within the framework of the much troubled charter, she said separately, to monitor the implementation of both the charter and the new BBBEE code for the ICT industry.


Posted in BEE, Cabinet,Presidential, Communications, Labour, Public utilities, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Second-Hand Goods Act on vehicles, copper, jewellery in force

Act, long time in the making, will assist police……..

A government gazette has confirmed the introduction of the Second-Hand Goods Act effective from 1 May 2012, the Act intending to regulate the business of dealers in second-hand goods and pawnbrokers, in order to “combat trade in stolen goods”.

Provisions and regulations that emanate from the Act also promote ethical standards in the second-hand goods trade with registration of traders and notifications of certain goods changing hands being necessary.

A SAPS website statement issued in the name of the police minister, Nathi Mathethwa, confirms that a police training on the application of the new law is being undertaken

Posted in Communications, Electricity, Finance, economic, Public utilities, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Eskom woes on unpaid debt and copper theft a problem

In written responses to two Parliamentary questions, minister of public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, clarified what appeared to be an extraordinary debt load being carried by Eskom in the form of unpaid electricity accounts.

He, secondly, clarified newspapers reports on copper theft which seems to be adding to the woes of Eskom, whose credit rating appears under pressure as it considers its funding options for the IRP.

Eskom is a major factor in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) formulated by the department of energy in terms of energy needs of South Africa for the next decade. Minister Gigaba told parliamentarians that insofar as the question raised on outstanding unpaid accounts, municipalities and government departments were reported to him as being 30-day arrears with Eskom to the tune of R543.4m.

He further said that 161 government institutions owed Eskom money, with municipalities accounting for the bulk this but the total had been R533m as at January 30. Of this, local, provincial and national government departments then owed R10.3m.

As was to be expected, the minister pointed out that the divulging of Eskom customer information could not go much further than this but added that generally municipalities accounted for 40.8% of Eskom’s electricity sales.

On the second question posed by parliamentarians on copper theft problems, Minister Malusi Gigaba was careful to point out that the cost was not just the value of the copper stolen but the security measures to improve the situation as well and these costs had escalated from R9.8m in 2006 to R35.3m in 2010/2011 for Eskom.

This has all followed a previous media statement by Transnet of a jump in 2010/2011 to R96.5m for copper cable theft and a significant jump also in Transnet’s spend of over R80m on increased security measures to combat this. So far in the current year on a month by month basis, figures were still increasing.

Posted in Communications, Electricity, Energy, Finance, economic, Fuel,oil,renewables, Mining, beneficiation, Security,police,defence, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Minister Pule lines up communications bills for the future

During media briefings in late January, communications minister Dina Pule said that the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill would be released for public comment during the first quarter of 2012 and March 2013 was the deadline for the changes that will overhaul much of the communications environment in South Africa

The draft was published in November 2011 for comment and withdrawn shortly afterwards and in the light of what was said, not only by the public sector but by opposition parliamentarians. The minister commented at the time that further consultation would take place within government.

The issues evolve around the role, powers and functions of the minister herself and her relationship with and the powers of ICASA, the independent regulatory body. Much discussion involves a very limited frequency spectrum and the exact wording regarding licences, the issuing thereof and conditions of revoking.

The most recent comment comes from the minister herself, who added in response to the Budget debate that further amendments would be subject to the national development plan. Much argument originally took place over how to differentiate between the functions of the ICASA council and the chief operations officer of the body itself.

The minister also finds herself deeply involved in banking regulatory matters due their infant, the Post Office, entering the banking world despite recent scandals regarding misappropriation of funds.   Legislation is expected shortly amending the anchor Post Office Bank Limited Act which came into effect in 2010 allowing this process.

Posted in Cabinet,Presidential, Communications, Public utilities, Trade & Industry, Uncategorized0 Comments

SA Budget – 2012/3

Having announced that South African finances were “in good health”, a silence echoed around the National Assembly debating chamber as finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced in this year’s budget statement a general fuel levy on petrol and diesel, which will go up on April 4 by 20 cents and the fact that the RAF levy would go to 88 cents, i.e. up by 8 cents.

A levy on generated electricity from non-renewable sources will increase by 1 cent per kWh from July and this will replace current energy efficiency initiatives.

Again, as per last year, Minister Gordhan has proposed personal income tax relief, this year amounting to R9.5bn. A further tax credit for contributions to medical schemes is to be introduced, with reform to tax treatment of contributions being planned.

The introduction of short and medium term savings exemption programmes is to be introduced and the capital gains tax for individuals goes to 33.3% from March 1 and for companies to 66.6%.

A number of measures are to be introduced to improve the corporate tax environment but ways to finance the forthcoming National Health Insurance programme have to be found, minister Gorhan said, and this could include an increase in VAT, a payroll tax or a surcharge on general tax.

However a grant would suffice in the meanwhile until 2014 when a workable system would have to be found  to provide” an equitable system of health coverage for all South Africans”.

Commentators, we see, have already discounted a possible VAT increase as politically dangerous for the ANC, pointing to a general payroll increase during the early stages at 0.5%, other government-watchers noting that such a welfare programme is likely to be introduced on a province-by-province basis in line with the hospitalisation infrastructure programme.

The minister clearly indicated that a carbon tax was to be introduced.

A budget deficit of 4.6% of GDP, with government debt reaching R1.5 trillion by 2014/5, was announced by the minister.

Considerable additional investments are to be put into health and education with, for example, a further R850m for additional university infrastructure and R426m for tertiary hospitals, plus R450m for nursing colleges.  R9.5bn is to be provided for investment incentives and the development of SEZ programmes, with R6.2bn to be spent on job creation.  R4bn is specially going to PRASA for passenger coaches (refer our post), with R4.7bn for solar water geysers; R1.8bn on water infrastructure and R3.9bn on informal settlement upgrading.

Total spending on infrastructure and similar developmental issues was expected to reach R1.05 trillion this coming year, rising to R1.15 trillion next year.

Posted in BEE, Cabinet,Presidential, Communications, Education, Electricity, Energy, Finance, economic, Fuel,oil,renewables, Health, Justice, constitutional, Labour, Land,Agriculture, Mining, beneficiation, Public utilities, Security,police,defence, Trade & Industry, Transport, Uncategorized0 Comments

New BEE Code targets

The trade and industry department has published a gazetted notice announcing new targets for the Codes of Good Practice, which are published in terms of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Act of 2003.

The Codes were first published in 2007 and were designed to provide principles and guidelines, government says, that will facilitate and accelerate the implementation of broad-based BEE “in a meaningful and sustainable manner”

The Codes also state the timeframes within which those targets must be attained.

According to the notice, the 0-6 year targets came into effect on 9 February 2012.

The new targets apply to those entities whose measurement date falls after 9 February 2012.

Posted in BEE, Communications, Energy, Finance, economic, Health, Labour, Mining, beneficiation, Trade & Industry, Transport0 Comments

Gas Act changes closer to implementation

Following the November 2011 LP Gas conference in Johannesburg, the minister of energy , Dipuo Peters, has revealed in a written reply to a parliamentary question that  the energy department is in the process of finalising a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) strategy in the form of a new Bill to be introduced shortly.

Cabinet’s approval will be shortly sought and the result opened up for public comment, she said.

The minister indicated that she intended to table the bill in Parliament before the end of the current financial year, saying that the review process at the conference in 2011 had enabled her department to study “some of the challenges experienced by current and prospective players in the gas industry, as well as shifts in the industry landscape”.

At the end of the conference, she told the media that a strategy was being drawn up as part of government’s response to challenges of over-dependence on electricity and greenhouse gas emissions and that she wished to encourage low income households to move from paraffin and “biomass” to LP gas, wanting to see1.5 million households using LPG by 2016.

She also told the National Assembly in her responses that clarity had to be sought on issues involving the importation, storage and distribution of both LNG and CNG and that PetroSA and iGas would consider importing LNG.   Dealing with another question, minister Peters confirmed that her department was drawing up a “road map for the energy sector” on energy and climate change, which plan would be implemented in the next financial year.

Posted in Communications, Energy, Finance, economic, Fuel,oil,renewables, Land,Agriculture, Mining, beneficiation, Public utilities, Trade & Industry0 Comments

DTI to form multi-billion rand incentives fund

The Minister of Trade and Industry has released the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Bill for public comment. The SEZ Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament later this year and Minister of trade and Industry Rob Davies says that in his view it is one of the most important developments of 2012 in order to achieve the objectives of the country’s economic planning programme.

DTI has now briefed the parliamentary trade and industry committee on the concepts behind the proposed legislation. According to the minister, the main objectives of the SEZ bill are:

• for the designation, development, promotion, operation and management of SEZs

• for the establishment of the SEZ board

• to regulate the application and issuing of SEZ operator permits • for the establishment of the SEZ fund

• decentralisation in the economy-broaden location of industrial development

Whilst claiming, as did the minister, that “the country now has a really effective plan to offer the investment community”, Lionel October, DTI’s director general, admitted the exact amount of finance at his department’s disposal to fund new special economic zones (SEZs) in South Africa still remains to be negotiated, although the matter has been agreed to in principle at cabinet level.

Nevertheless, he countered questioning at a parliamentary trade and industry committee presentation on this subject ,by saying that “Whilst we still have to fight a significant battle with Treasury on the size of a multi-billion rand incentives fund, it was significant that the DTI now has a proposal along the lines offered in China, Brazil and India”. (BRICS)

This plan, he said, will be supported by a Bill shortly to be introduced to Parliament and which would provide “the necessary predictability to such financing.”

October said the main problem in the past was that the present IDZs were not driven by incentives.   Only one development had taken place at Richards Bay, for example, he noted.  “Although any business plan must make economic sense as a first priority, we have learnt that any growth plan, as in BRICs countries, must be attached to incentives. “In the past, we were de-incentivising many potential areas just because they did not have a port, for example”.

In the new proposals, said October, the country would move away from very long plans and do what the Chinese have done successfully and focus on five-year plans.  He added that the competitive factor, where IDZs competed with each other, had to be stopped and that a “joint marketing proposal approach” had to be adopted for the whole country.

“This was the purpose of dividing the country into SEZs”, he said, and to build a national team to market the country’s proposals.

In terms of the new Bill, there were to be different categories of SEZs, such as industrial development zones, industrial parks or estates, science and technology parks, spatial development corridors and sector development zones.   October quoted successful examples of SEZs in Shanghai, Oman and Malaysia.

Problems had been encountered, October said, with the previous concept of the smaller IDZs over the past few years and the idea had not worked particularly well. Main problems had been that previously designated areas favoured those with international airport or seaports and penalized other areas for not having such.

The DTI’s contribution into the four areas of Richards Bay, East London, Coega and OR Tambo and Saldanha for forty projects had been 5.3bn or an approximate 5.7% return.

Lionel October emphasised that the IDZ programme had not been incentive driven. There had also been too much emphasis on infrastructure, whilst other issues such as logistics, marketing and skills supply had been on the back-burner.

The IDZ programme had “lacked a unique value proposition”, he said, and too many messages were going out to the investment community. There needed to be a single strategy and message from one place, said October.

He noted that now, with the promise from Treasury in October’s medium term budget that R10bn would be put aside for investment purposes, the new plan, supported by legislation, had become an exciting prospect and the new national regulatory environment would not only give the host zone but the whole region total involvement and the added ability to put in place longer term planning for an entire area.

The new Bill also provided for five parties to be involved in the process; namely, the DTI, Treasury, all three tiers of government, Eskom and Transnet, all parties being involved on a SEZ board set up by the new Bill. Other important parastatals could be added if relevant, October said.

MPs commented that no such plan would work unless government parastatals were on board to help plan infrastructure needed.

When asked by an ANC MP why labour was not represented in the planning structures, Lionel October responded frankly by saying that such a planning process could not be subjected to the issue of collective labour bargaining at that stage of the investment process, although the supply of skilled labour was a major issue.

He detailed the financing instruments as a fund to be established by the minister of trade and industry in consultation with the ministry of finance and development finance institutions (DFIs), which would play a major role in the development of a particular SEZ, liaising on marketing, capacity development, skills strategies, infrastructure, business incubation, environmental protection, technology and R&D and, finally, quality and productivity.

He would not talk on the subject of specific incentive numbers, saying that incentives had always been granted in the past but that in the future any incentives and incentive programmes would be the subject of far more focus with proper funding to make more things possible.

Posted in Cabinet,Presidential, Communications, Education, Electricity, Energy, Finance, economic, Fuel,oil,renewables, Health, Labour, Land,Agriculture, Mining, beneficiation, Public utilities, Trade & Industry, Transport0 Comments

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