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Ndabeni-Abrahams appoints SITA administrator, unveils changes for ministry’s entities

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 19 Dec 2019
Communications and digital technologies minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Communications and digital technologies minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Communications and digital technologies minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, has appointed Luvuyo Keyise as the administrator of the embattled State IT Agency (SITA) for a period of 24 months.

Ndabeni-Abrahams made the announcement during a media briefing in Hatfield, Pretoria this morning, providing an update on key priorities, portfolio changes and institutional capacity building across the departments and entities.

SITA has been under fire following accusations of corruption and lack of service delivery, among other issues. Faced with these challenges, Members of Parliament have also reportedly called for the IT agency to be closed, as it is failing to fix IT systems at several government departments.

At this year's GovTech conference, which is hosted by SITA, Ndabeni-Abrahams alluded to imminent changes at SITA, saying the IT agency of the past is not what is going to be seen in 2020/2021.

This morning, the minister detailed what these changes entailed, saying for too long the state IT agency has been acting as a procurement agency for government, but that has to change.

SITA has a bigger role to play in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), especially in affording an opportunity to the SMMEs and local solutions that must find expression to government, she emphasised.

“We had to make sure we appoint an administrator to take SITA through this process of it being repurposed and address the immediate challenges that have been raised by various departments in relation to the work that it is doing.”

According to Ndabeni-Abrahams, repurposing SITA is in line with government’s digital transformation plan, which requires an audit of current government IT spend and interventions in order to identify champions and priorities related to the ease of doing business and provision of crucial services to the citizens.

SITA is being repurposed as a new digital transformation agency to drive digitalisation, innovation, localisation and supporting a capable state, she indicated.

Speaking to ITWeb on the sidelines, the minister’s spokesperson, Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini, added that the appointment of an administrator for SITA does not mean the agency is being placed under administration; rather they are taking over the functions of the board, following expiration of the board terms.

Portfolio mergers

At the same event, the minister said her department will also develop a model for smart regulation, which will include the amalgamation of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), Film and Publication Board and .ZADNA, and explore new funding mechanisms for the new regulator.

Further, NEMISA will be positioned to be a digital skills institute that will train government employees and members of the public, she revealed.

On the issue of creating two state-owned ICT companies, one being an IT company and the other one an infrastructure company, minister said the department is currently finalising the business case and awaiting certification from the State Law Advisor and DPME.

SITA will be repurposed to create a State IT Company, while Sentech and Broadband Infraco (BBI) will merge to form the State Digital Infrastructure Company.

“We are further engaging our counterparts to ensure that non-broadband SOEs that self-provide broadband such as Sanral, Prasa, Eskom and Transnet are prohibited from entering the commercial broadband market as to avoid the state distorting a well-functioning liberalised market.

“We will also accelerate the repurposing of the Universal Service Fund into a 4IR Fund."

Road to digital TV

Turning to digital migration, Ndabeni-Abrahams said for the successful implementation of the revised Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) model, an administrator has been appointed at the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA).

Newyear Niniva Ntuli will serve as the administrator at USAASA also for a period of 24 months.

“Cabinet approved the delivery model that encompasses direct appointment of local decoder installers that are qualified and accredited. The second phase thereof will include the roll out of IDTVs, in order to ensure the success of the project, the department is exploring alternative funding options.”

South Africa missed the June 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for countries to complete the full switch from analogue to DTT. The ITU has called on nations to migrate to digital to allow radio frequency spectrum to be freed up for mobile broadband services.

The country's migration date has been moved numerous times, with July 2020 previously touted as the analogue switch-off period.

Ndabeni-Abrahams did not share how long it will take to complete the digital migration process, only stating that Northern Cape, North West and Free State have been prioritised.

Government has identified the BDM programme as a key project to improve the lives of South African citizens. The state is of the view that successful migration will empower it to bridge the digital divide, increase the competitiveness of the economy, create jobs and build social cohesion.

The country's switch to DTT will also make radio frequency spectrum available, which is currently occupied by analogue services, for mobile broadband and broadcasting services.

Board appointments

In terms of the department’s other entities, the minister said they have filled board vacancies at Sentech, pending the finalisation of its merger with BBI.

Those appointed are: Malande Tonjeni, Lisa Tele, Mxolisi Tsika and King Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko.

In terms of the South African Post Office (SAPO), the minister said the post office is also being repurposed to take advantage of the thriving e-commerce and financial services environments.

“The organisation is in the process of implementing its turnaround strategy which focuses on several key interventions including the launch of its e-commerce platform. Further, SAPO is in the process of finalising MOUs with Post Bank in terms of the operational relationship going forward, following the separation of the two entities,” she stated.

Ndabeni-Abrahams concluded: “We will, as guided by legislation, be bringing more changes in a number of our agencies in order to unearth opportunities presented by the 4IR for benefit of the citizens of South Africa.”