Sentech pins hopes on minister

Johannesburg, 22 May 2007

Government signal provider Sentech is pinning its hopes on the communications minister`s budget vote speech this week to kick-start its wireless broadband network project - an initiative announced in last year`s budget vote speech.

While Sentech has appealed to government for funding of between R600 million and R1 billion to carry out the project, as mandated by the state, deployment has been hampered by delays in the approval of the funding.

Meanwhile, the Department of Communications, in its strategic plan for 2007-2010, says it expects phase one and two of Sentech`s nationwide wireless broadband network to be rolled out and monitored within the current financial year, which ends in March 2008.

The strategic overview also says additional funding will be structured for the project during this period.

However, the delays in funding approval prompted the company to express frustration with the situation. Sentech CEO Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane recently appealed to Parliament for its board to be governed by the Section 2 rules of the Public Finance Management Act, rather than the current Section 3(b) rules. This would give Sentech the flexibility to source finance to keep up with its commercial competition.

Investigation concluded

Sentech spokesman Pranill Ramchander indicates communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri could announce funding for the project in her budget vote speech this week.

Since Matsepe-Casaburri announced the nationwide project a year ago, government has been dragging its feet in awarding the required cash, saying it first needed to establish Sentech`s competitive position opposite the private sector.

Last month, Department of Communications director-general Lyndall Shope-Mafole said the investigation into Sentech`s role in the private sector has been completed. It was government`s intention, she explained, to satisfy itself that Sentech would not compete with private sector organisations.

While she suggested this opened the door for Sentech to receive the required funding, she could only say this would happen "soon", and refused to be drawn on a timeline.

"It is now up to National Treasury to allocate the money," said Shope-Mafole, but could also not say whether Sentech would receive the entire requested amount. The delays, she said at the time, could be blamed on government`s need to follow "due process".

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