More state powers for ICASA proposed

ICASA to get policing role

Parliament has met to consider a proposal to convert the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the regulator of the communications world, into an industry “watchdog”  in order to ensure adherence to government policy. The portfolio committee on communications is currently considering a mandate to bring forward a proposal for ICASA to become an Institution Supporting Democracy (ISD).   In terms of section 181(1) of the Constitution of South Africa there is provision for the establishment of ISDs in order “to strengthen constitutional democracy”. In debate, the committee indicated examples of such institutions as the Office of the Auditor General, the Office of the Public Protector, the Public Service Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality in this category.

Committee upset

Failure of the CEO of ICASA, former Vodacom executive, Pakamile Pongwana, to arrive for the parliamentary meeting in question considerably upset MPs.     Pongwana,  previously a deputy DG for telecommunications policy in the previous department of communications, was heavily criticized for his absence, with  MPs commenting that he “should know the ropes and be here “.   Chair, Joyce Moloi-Moropa  said in her view “the situation was unacceptable. What could be  more important to a CEO than the future of his institution?”, she asked. In debating the issue, ANC parliamentarians felt that the move would have the effecting of upgrading the role of the institution from one of a communications regulator to an entity that could become a ‘watchdog’ in order to ensure that the communications sector in general adhered to the “principal pillars of South Africa’s democracy.” Opposition members, however,  noted with concern that the proposals could enable “a dispensation where government through ICASA would have increasing control over the entire communications sector ranging from telecoms, radio, to TV and even print media”.

All too powerful

The possible change in the status of ICASA follows the decision of President Zuma upon the commencement of his new government to split the communications  portfolio between the previous broader department of communications and a new telecommunications and postal services department appointed with a separate minister. Stakeholders in the industry have complained in the media that such a move could have serious repercussions for  business and the investment climate, since  general uncertainty would be the result of granting too much power to a state entity at the expense of the private sector, bearing in mind that state utilities controlled many factors in  the industry. Following this  initial parliamentary debate, an amendment to the anchor legislation, the ICASA Act would be the next step, say commentators.   This would involve the normal process of public hearings and deliberations thus providing an opportunity for concerned parties and stakeholders to make input and comment. Other articles in this category http://parlyreportsa.co.za//communications/communications-bill-sets-up-consumer-body/ http://parlyreportsa.co.za//communications/parliament-gets-final-dates-digital-tv/

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