Merged communications ministry takes shape

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 01 Apr 2020
Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams heads up the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies.
Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams heads up the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies.

The Department of Communications (DOC) and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) now operate as one central ministry leading the country’s ICT agenda, effective today.

This after president Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to consolidate the ministries in line with the reconfiguration of the national government in the sixth administration.

Even though the department has come to be known as the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), it was still working towards merging the functions and processes of the two ministries.

The DCDT confirmed to ITWeb that the functions and posts of the two departments have been merged.

“The start-up organisational structure, combining the organisational structures of the DOC and DTPS, was approved by the minister of communications and digital technologies on 13 November 2019, and the same was concurred by the minister of public service and administration on 15 November 2019.

“Whilst the merger is effective from 1 April 2020, the departments have been working closely together and to this end, have concluded a cooperation agreement to share resources to ensure they operate as the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, effective from 1 April 2020.”

Joining forces

In 2014, the DOC was separated by former president Jacob Zuma into the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and a “new” DOC.

At the time, former minister Faith Muthambi was appointed to head up the DOC, while Siyabonga Cwele took over as DTPS minister. They both replaced then communications minister, Yunus Carrim.

During its time, the “new” DOC was plagued by a number of issues, including leadership challenges.

Therefore, the decision to bring the DOC and DTPS back together was welcomed by the ICT sector, with pundits saying the merger will bring an end to confusion of roles and responsibilities, and the standoffs between the departments.

In becoming the communications and digital technologies department, a five-year strategy for the reconfigured DCDT has been concluded and is aligned to its mandate, reveals the department. “This strategy will inform development of the service delivery model and functions (new organisational structure) required to deliver on DCDT’s mandate and strategy.”

In addition to developing ICT-focused policies and legislation, minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams’s DCDT is tasked with the critical role in shaping the country’s response to the fourth industrial revolution.

Last year, Ndabeni-Abrahams revealed sweeping changes for her department’s entities as well as plans to drive the country’s digital transformation strategy.

In terms of the digital transformation strategy, the minister noted prioritising licensing of the high-demand spectrum, fast-tracking the rollout of the Broadcasting Digital Migration programme and skilling the nation, as key priorities.

Turning to institutional reforms, she said it is the DCDT’s top priority to repurpose the State IT Agency (SITA), to create a state IT company, and merge Sentech and Broadband Infraco to form a state digital infrastructure company.

Leading SITA through its journey of being repurposed is Luvuyo Keyise, who has been appointed as the agency’s administrator for a period of 24 months.

Ndabeni-Abrahams also indicated her department will develop a model for smart regulation, which will include the amalgamation of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), the Film and Publication Board (FPB) and .ZADNA.

ICASA’s functions include regulating the telecoms and broadcast industry, the FPB regulates the creation and distribution of content on public platforms, including social media, while .ZADNA administrates the .za Internet namespace.

The reason behind the merger, according to Ndabeni-Abrahams, is to eliminate repetition among the three entities.

Skills audit under way

With the merger of the two departments, the current staff complement is 312 permanent employees and 24 contract employees, according to the department.

Following Ramaphosa's merger announcement, the ministry announced it had established working groups, made up of senior staff members from both departments, to facilitate the merger.

The communications department issued a statement via its government communications agency, saying that department heads, Ndabeni-Abrahams and deputy minister Pinky Kekana, are looking to see the process through without any staff cutbacks.

The department had also indicated the working groups will embark on a skills-matching exercise.

“The matching and placement of employees on the DCDT establishment has been done in line with Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council Resolution 1 OF 2019. The skills audit is a work in progress,” reveals the department.

Furthermore, the department says the process of filling the posts of deputy-director generals is under way, adding that a new Web site for DCDT will go live soon.