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Private sector should lead SA Connect

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SA Connect – the nation’s ambitious plan to roll out broadband connectivity to 90% of the poulation by 2020 – needs its SAPO moment if it is to make progress.
This is according to Shadow Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Marian Shinn, on South Africa’s broadband rollout and its slow rate of progress in the following statement:
The failure of Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Dr Siyabonga Cwele, his department and entities reporting to him, to attend [yesterday’s] meeting of the parliamentary portfolio committee on the progress of South Africa Connect, the nation’s broadband rollout plan, indicates that they have been defeated by the scale of managing this massive programme.
The politically brave move last year to appoint Mark Barnes from the private sector to rescue the South African Post Office, must be copied here.
It is time for National Treasury, realising the critical need for South Africa to becomeĀ  part of the interconnected global economy and for government to boost service delivery to its citizens, to insist that private sector energy and initiative take the lead in drivingĀ  this programme’s funding initiatives and implementation.
The moribund Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, which failed to meet 21 of its 29 targets in 2014/15, clearly does not have the expertise, capacity or management skills required for SA Connect.
In Presidential question time in the National Assembly last November 17 I asked President Jacob Zuma why the private sector was being ‘shut out’ of the implementation of SA Connect. He replied that ‘we are not shutting anybody out’. It is now time for him to make good on this response and ensure that the best brains and skills in the SA ICT sector are galvanised into delivering SA Connect.
SA Connect, adopted by Cabinet in November 2013, is an ambitious deliver broadband access to 90% of the population by 2020 and 100% by 2030.
In the 2015 Budget National Treasury allocated R739-million over the Medium Term Economic Framework for SA Connect. There is no clarity from the DTPS on whether the first tranche of R200-million in the current fiscal has been paid to the department against its implementation plan, which was due at the end of 2015.
There has been no clarity on how the R739-million was to be spent. In a reply to a parliamentary question on this last August Minister Cwele responded: ‘The monies will be used to provide broadband connectivity to the targeted government sites in the Phase 1 districts.’
These are the eight district municipalities identified by President Jacob Zuma in last year’s State of the National Address as the pilot sites for SA Connect.
In a letter to the portfolio committee chairperson making his excuses for non-appearance at today’s committee meeting Minister Cwele said it would be inappropriate to discuss in the committee that may pre-empt anything that may be contained in the February 11 SONA.
In his SONA 2015 speech President Zuma announced the legally dubious decision that JSE-listed Telkom would the lead agency for SA Connect, which has prompted industry-wide condemnation. In repose to a parliamentary question on November 27 2015 the Minister replied that the ‘lead entity’ for ‘SA Connect had not yet been appointed, and that the scope of the work for this entity would only be finalised once the appointment of the service provider has been finalised.’
In December, Deputy Minister Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize said the government would proceed with the decision to have Telkom as lead agency and that it has offered government a 47% discount on wholesale prices.
There has been no sign of a public participation process in any decision to appoint a lead agency/entity which may be contrary to the Public Finance Management Act.
Independent Information Communication Techology (ICT) research firm BMI-TechKnowledge last December released the first comprehensive review of the state of South Africa’s networks and the 33 000 public sector connection points, and found that ‘progress to date has almost entirely limited to various uncordinated initiatives by provinces and metros’.
BMI-TechKnowledge estimates that the country needs to double its national fibre cable network to support SA Connect’s ambitions. Telkom has laid 30 000km of fibre, yet it is estimated that an extra 60 000 km is needed to deliver on SA Connect’s promise.”